I am a recovering people pleaser. My life used to revolve around making and keeping other people happy. I would worry that if they became the least bit upset with me, they wouldn’t like me anymore, or they would end our relationship and abandon me.
I worked so hard for so long at making others happy. I made plans, I organized gatherings, I remembered birthdays, anniversaries and other special moments. I bought cards for Easter, Thanksgiving and Halloween on top of the usual Christmas and birthdays. I threw dinner parties, I threw surprise parties, and I even went to a concert with an ex after I threw my back out (to keep him happy, of course).
Intimate relationships were the most trying. I bent over backwards in my relationships. I tried to anticipate my partner’s needs and meet them before he even knew what was happening. I tried to be who I thought he wanted me to be. I gave and gave and gave. I swallowed my anger and kept the peace. I put my needs and desires on the back burner so that he would be happy. His happiness was my only concern.
Are You a People Pleaser?
If you are a people pleaser, your behaviour is determined by other people - by their reactions, expectations and your assumptions about what they are thinking or might think or do. Check out the image below:
Other-Determined Behaviour (the givers/people pleasers): When your behaviour is determined by the needs of others or your perception of the needs of others.
Balanced Self-Determined Behaviour (the goal): When your behaviour is determined by your own needs while respecting the needs of others.
Self-Determined Behaviour (the takers): When your behaviour is determined by your needs alone at the expense of others.
You probably know people who exist at various point along the spectrum. Ultimately, the place that is most healthy for us to be is in the middle, engaging in predominantly balanced self-determined behaviour. Why? Because people pleasing behaviour comes with some big problems.
The Problem With People Pleasing
The problem with people pleasing is that eventually you burn out. More and more you start to notice that you don’t get back nearly as much as you give, if you get anything back at all. And even if someone were to give back, you likely have difficulty accepting help or receiving from others. And while you tell yourself you love to make others happy and that is enough, there is inevitably a part of you that’s giving in order to get something in return – whether that's love, approval, acceptance, gifts, or kind words.
After a while, you start to become bitter and resentful: “I’m doing everything for everyone else, and no one is taking care of me!” Exhaustion soon follows.
No one asks us to be people pleasers. We do this willingly, and then blame others when it doesn’t work out for us. And we often believe that if we stop taking care of everyone else, no one will like us anymore. And that’s the flaw in our thinking. In my experience, I have felt more respect and appreciation from my friends and those around me since I put myself first and dialled back on the people pleasing. Sure, I still like to do things for others, but I stop to check in with myself before I give about the “why” of what I’m doing, and I stop if I’m giving for the wrong reasons.
The Antidote to People Pleasing:
Put yourself first (scary if you’re a people pleaser!).
Give to others without wanting or expecting anything in return. Truly not wanting or expecting anything.
Trust that your genuine friends will understand your change in behaviour. Explaining it to them can help alleviate the anxiety that comes with changing the way you do things.
Check in with yourself to ensure you are giving for the right reasons before you make a move.
Each choice you make for you is a step towards balanced self-determinism. Remember, your choice to give less is for you, not against others.
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