Help! How do I stop this lifelong pattern of putting everyone’s feelings and needs before my own? It feels like it’s killing me emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Yet, I don’t know how to stop. Is it even possible? Is it just too selfish to even consider it? I’m exhausted. Depressed. Anxious. Downright disgusted. I am consistently praised by those I love and society for being so selfless and caring. Yet, I am stressed out and sometimes I feel like I’m dying inside. I feel like I’m drowning. If this sounds like you, then you may be a people pleaser.
What is a People Pleaser?
A person who is a people pleaser is someone who feels that they must please others, or put others before themselves regardless of the emotional or physical price. Often this pattern comes from a place of feeling that if we don’t do this then someone will be angry, disappointed, or may reject or abandon us. The thought of this may feel unbearable, so the pattern of people pleasing continues.
Is This What Life is All About?
Some of us are in denial about being a people pleaser. Explaining to ourselves that, “I’m just a caring, compassionate human being and I really like it. I love doing things for the people that I love and it doesn’t really matter how it affects me. I’m good with it.”
For others of us we do not feel that we have been people pleasing for so long that it’s just hopeless to even imagine changing it. We’ve always been the one to say yes despite the exhaustion of overcommitting ourselves. “Is this what I am destined to do forever? Please others and not myself?”
The Effects of The Need to Please
It is simply exhausting to be a people pleaser and always trying to figure out what the other person wants and needs. Especially when each person in our life wants and needs something different. Therefore, people pleasing depletes our energy—physically, emotionally and spiritually. We may neglect ourselves and our own needs and we might often become resentful. Yet we still don’t stop. Often this is where a psychotherapist can help us explore and work through these patterns.
How Did This Pattern Start?
For many of us, our people pleasing behavior was born and nurtured during our childhood. This behavior may have been a result of being raised in an alcoholic, or otherwise dysfunctional, family. Or becoming a people pleaser may have been because of being a middle child who may have felt invisible. Doing things for others may have been one of the only ways of receiving positive attention. We were the straight A student, or the child who always asked mom or dad “Can I help you?” thus, the son or daughter everyone wanted. Then the positive attention may have been reinforced by our parents, siblings, extended family and teachers. The need to feel needed and receive other’s approval may have made us feel important. We relied on this validation even if pleasing people caused us to feel stress and fatigue. Thus, this people pleasing pattern was brought into our adolescence and adulthood.
But What Will They Think if I Say No?
As a people pleaser in recovery, I really understand the pull and some of the difficulties in changing this emotionally unhealthy pattern. There can be some discomfort in acting on our decision since it’s not only us who are affected by changing our people pleasing pattern. So, too, are our friends and family when we don’t agree to every commitment and request. As a result, we may risk dealing with their discontent, disappointment, anger and perhaps resentment. Because we are no longer doing all the things we previously did, and we are no longer agreeing with whatever the other person says.
We may hear things like, “You’ve changed.” And more often, at least in the beginning, this statement is not a compliment or validation of our new healthy way of being, but it is a criticism like there is something wrong with us.
A people pleaser gets stuck emotionally because they are compelled to be nice instead of expressing how they really feel about things.David Simonsen, Ph.D., Marriage and Family Therapist
The Fear of Others Not Being Pleased with Us
Throughout the years, I have heard from many of my therapy clients who are working on their people pleasing patterns, that their partners, siblings, parents and friends say something like: Apparently, therapy isn’t helping you because…
- You’re different.
- You’re stubborn.
- You’re selfish.
- You’re disagreeable.
- You don’t really care about people anymore like you used to.
When the real truth is that as people pleasers, we tend to have cared too much what others think, want and need, and care very little about ourselves. We may have lost sight of what we authentically want in our own life. The good news is that in most cases, however, once our loved ones adjust to our new way of being—and they really can adjust—then they begin to see how destructive the people pleasing pattern was for us. Our relationships can begin to become more mutual and less of an unequal distribution of power. No longer is one person the caretaker while the other person is the receiver. This balance can permit our relationships to become more healthy, expansive and enjoyable.
Do You Need Help Learning to Say No?
If you struggle with pleasing others to the extent that you neglect what is important in your own life, speaking with a trusted psychotherapist at Nassau Guidance and Counseling located on Long Island can help. Our licensed therapists have helped many people identify their people pleasing patterns, and helped them work through the original wounds that caused it. They can also help you to find methods to establish personal boundaries, improve relationships, and receive the rewards of living a more fulfilling life.