A people-pleaser is exactly as it sounds – a person who is always trying to make other people pleased with them. This is even if it means they have no time left for themselves.
People-pleasing is not an official mental health diagnosis. But it is a mental health condition that can be seen in many people today and it often leads to emotional and mental health problems.
Many people-pleasers are compassionate people who have a great deal of empathy. Yet for people-pleasers the issue is deeper than merely wanting to be kind and considerate.
A great deal of the driving force behind someone who is a people-pleaser is low self-esteem. Esteem is a word that derives from Latin aestimare, meaning “to estimate” – so self-esteem simply means how you value yourself.
So their continual enthusiasm and need to please other people comes from this low self-worth. They think that by saying yes to everything and everyone it will mean they are worth something and loved.
Parent-pleasing to people-pleasing
It is frequently that their people-pleasing started in childhood when the child learned to become a parent-pleaser. To try and get their needs met and feel valued they ran around, often with a constant smile on their face, trying to please one or both parents.
People-pleasing can easily be confused with simply being kind and selfless. If someone else (or the please-pleaser themselves) questions why they can never seem to say the word “no” they will reason something like: “I’m just trying to be kind” or “I can’t let them down.”
A people-pleaser has a craving to feel needed and invaluable because they do not really value themselves. So they are looking continually for external validation.
It works to a small degree. But it is tremendously away from what they really need, which is to know self-love and self-worth.
So this often means they let other people take advantage of them. For this reason it’s not uncommon for a people-pleaser to end up in an abusive relationship – with the abusive partner taking from them all the time and the people-pleasing partner constantly giving all of themselves all of the time.
Codependency and people-pleasing
In a healthy relationship there’s an equal amount of give and take between the partners. It’s also why most codependents are people-pleasers, although not every people-pleaser is codependent.
Being a people-pleaser is an extremely stressful and frequently painful way to live. Because no matter how much they give to others they don’t ever get what they are truly seeking. The real solution comes from within.
As a result, people-pleasers frequently suffer from depression, stress and anxiety. They will bottle up emotions, such as what they really want to say to someone who’s always taking from them.
Then there might also be addiction issues as they try to push down negative feelings of frustration and anger, some of which is at themselves for not ever seeming to be able to say no. More often than not, they have no “me” time or any spare time at all because they are always doing things for other people.
10 Major signs of people-pleasing
Saying yes when meaning no In their head is the word “no” because they know they don’t have enough time (and it’s the hundredth time this person has asked them to give their time in the past month) and yet what comes out is: “Yes.” Then there is the remorse and beating up of oneself that follows. This can spiral into depression.
Cannot cope with anger It’s because a people-pleaser is desperate to be liked. It’s always good to be liked, but sometimes we need to make the choice between being liked or being respected. But a people-pleaser will avoid anger aimed towards them at all costs. They also find it virtually impossible to get angry at someone else in situations where this might be needed – for instance, when making it clear a healthy boundary has been breached.
Feeling in charge of someone else’s emotional state Someone who’s a people-pleaser finds it hard to accept that they cannot help someone to move into a better mood. So they will do all they can and often consequently incur the wrath of the person they are trying to help, which then creates a vicious cycle.
Avoiding conflict A common phrase of a people-pleaser is: “I just want a peaceful life” or “I don’t want to cause any trouble.” This is mostly, but not always, to do with a partner whose behavior is frequently unacceptable. But a people-pleaser is terrified of conflict – and that is often the result of growing up in a household that resembled a war zone rather than the safe sanctuary a home should be.
Can never say they feel negative emotions Someone who’s a people-pleaser will not be able to let anyone know when their feelings are negative, such as when they feel sadness, embarrassment or disappointment. It’s to do with their low self-worth and the mistaken belief that no one should bother with them because they’re not really worth it. This means that their relationships are shallow. It also means that a people-pleaser will deny their true feelings.
Having no time People who are people-pleasers never have any time for their own hobbies or work or even simply to relax – because they are always doing something for someone else. This means that they are very often in a stressed state because they are having to squeeze in some things for themselves they must do. It can make for anxiety as well as lack of sleep, with all the emotional and physical problems that can bring.
Imitating those around When someone has low self-esteem it means they also have a low sense of self. Because a people-pleaser is so desperate to please they will copy other people’s behavior. This can often be detrimental, such as drinking too much when they don’t really want to drink at all. Not being true to themselves in this way, although difficult as they are unlikely to know their true self anyway, leaves them with a gut feeling that is painfully uncomfortable. This can lead to self-loathing.
Seeking praise at all costs It’s human nature to enjoy being commended or congratulated for something we’ve done. But a people-pleaser has to have this sort of praise and will do almost anything to get it. Unfortunately, this often means not being who they truly are and that leaves them feeling bewildered, exasperated and quite frequently in deep despair too. Another problem is that people-pleasers are often attracted to people who never give out any praise. So they end up in a relentless chase for praise – and that is exhausting, infuriating and frustrating. If they do get praise it gives them such a temporary high that they will chase that again too – and it can become like an addiction.
Constantly saying sorry A people-pleaser cannot seem to stop themselves from apologizing all the time. They are continually blaming themselves – and even if someone asks them in a kind way to stop saying sorry so often they find themselves replying: “Sorry.”
Agreeing with someone even when disagreeing People-pleasers will nod their heads and agree even when they don’t agree, even when they really think the direct opposite – and sometimes when they might even know for a fact that what someone is saying is wrong.
Dr Dyer told the story of Ivan Ilyich, who was novelist Leo Tolstoy’s character in his story called The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Ilyich was a leading high-court judge in 19th-century Russia who was seen as a hugely successful person in his society’s eyes.
But when he was struck down with a terminal illness, he increasingly developed deep bitterness towards everybody he met. One major reason for this was he could clearly now see the shallowness of those who he thought cared about him.
That included his wife who he realized only really loved his money and status; his colleagues who were more excited than sad because they knew one of them would get promoted to fill his position; and even his doctors who only viewed him as a challenge, a sick high-profile person who they could use to show how good they were at keeping him alive for longer than anyone expected.
By the time he became surrounded by these people, close to taking his last breath on his deathbed, Ilyich knew the answer to his question: “What if my whole life has been wrong?” He made that stark and terrible realization – yet with no opportunity whatsoever to do anything about it.
He had never been true to his real self, and so he had never known who he really was – and neither had the world. He had climbed the ladder of success, but finally realized it was always up against the wrong building.
He had died with his music still inside him.
Being true to ourselves
Most of us can relate to why a life can be lived like this. From our first memories we are asked what we are going to be when we grow up.
As children if we answer with something that really excites and inspires us we are often looked at quizzically while a wry smile forms on the onlooker. That could be our parents, or other caregivers including teachers or it could be a career advisor when we reach our teens.
We are steered towards other occupations and ways of living. Safer options than, say, being a musician or traveling the world in an RV.
But so often this means not being true to ourselves. Because the pressure of both family and cultural expectations is relentless and intense.
Frequently it’s merely because it’s what has been in the “family blueprint” for generations, such as: “In our family we are always physicians or lawyers.” The pressure and moral obligation is strongly put on every young person in such a family.
They actually feel pangs of painful guilt should they even think about breaking the family’s moral career code. There seems no escape.
Unlived lives of parents
Sometimes it can be too that it’s one or both of the parents attempting to live their unfulfilled lives through their children or seeking external validation as they try to fill up their own emptiness through one of their children.
Not being able to fulfill our potential and be who we truly are is one factor behind many mental health issues, ranging from anxiety and depression to various addictions. Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote about this in his bestselling self-help book Man’s Search For Meaning when he said that people need to find their true meaning in order to find happiness.
Until you leave your family and your culture behind you’ll never find out who you are. So you’ll never find your true self.
This is because there is a pressure and an inflexible expectation of who and how you should be, of what you should do and achieve. It’s programming, it’s belief – “Because my father and grandfather did” is often the reasoning.
Then there are celebrity stories in the media and people see a certain celebrity’s impressive mansion and their amazing car and they think that’s what society is telling me I need in order to be happy and to be someone.
This is much easier to ignore if we have a strong sense of self. But it’s this sense of self that is so often forced out of someone when they have little choice as a child.
This is where gut instinct comes in. Many people are living a life that sits uncomfortably, when their insides don’t match their outside.
Some experts such as psychiatrist M Scott Peck, author of bestselling recovery book The Road Less Traveled, felt that the pain of mental health problems could be seen as our true spirit trying to get our attention to come back to it when we have gone too far away.
Jung wrote on this in his Red Book: “My soul, where are you? Do you hear me? I speak, I call you – are you there? I have returned, I am here again. I have shaken the dust of all the lands from my feet, and I have come to you, I am with you. After long years of long wandering, I have come to you again. … Give me your hand, my almost forgotten soul. How warm the joy at seeing you again, you long disavowed soul.”
It is something that deep down, if we are all honest with ourselves, we know. It’s one reason we admire those people who have stayed true to their real self, such as many musicians, actors and authors, but equally that person we can sense is so happy because it’s clear they’re doing what they really love. They have gone with their heart, followed their bliss.
However, it does take great courage and a real sense of duty to break free from cultural and family expectations. But it is possible, especially under the guidance of someone with expertise in these matters.
It doesn’t mean that you love or care any less for your family or your nation. But it does usually mean you will find that you love your life more and care for yourself better.
That means everyone around you will truly benefit too. They might even love the music that would otherwise have remained trapped inside you when they hear it.
Developing emotional health takes time and dedication. It is not something that is an overnight success – but it is an essential aspect of living well.
As with most things in life, the reward corresponds to the effort put in. Because it takes time and dedication, the reward is substantial.
The first steps are to become aware of and then accept your role in changing behavior patterns that are not serving you well. This is in everyone’s own hands.
But as soon as someone accepts that they are free to choose how they respond to situations, their emotional health will start gaining strength.
Being emotionally strong means you will have learned not to give time or waste energy on negative emotions such as self-pity, excessive pride or envy.
In place of these you have room for the positive stuff in life – uplifting emotions such as hope, trust and love. You will tend to increasingly and automatically look for the positive.
You become someone who can embrace change rather than resent and fear it. You are comfortable in your ability to make choices that previously most likely would have left you procrastinating because you were full of anxiety.
Being emotionally strong means having the right tools in your emotional toolbox. You know how to use these tools – and as a result life in general gets progressively better.
Here are six major signs of strong emotional wellbeing:
1. You learn from your mistakes
Emotionally strong people may say the mantra: “There are no such things as bad things, only things to learn and grow from.”
We are all human – therefore we make mistakes. It’s totally acceptable.
By seeing mistakes as learning exercises we save ourselves from negative feelings of remorse, guilt and overwhelming anxiety. These all steal our energy.
In fact, people with the strongest emotional health, while perhaps not inviting bad things into their life, almost immediately know that everything can be learned from. This means they can continue growing.
Then, when something similar arises, they can deal with it in a much more efficient manner. It also means they are able to help other people who seek their guidance when a similar situation happens to them.
2. Recognizing when things are out of your control
A phrase often heard in recovery circles is: remember that you are powerless over other people, places and things.
But what we do always have control over is our attitude. That means we are in charge about how we react to someone or something.
It’s why the serenity prayer that’s said at many Twelve Steps meetings is so helpful to so many people. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Understanding that certain things are out of our control allows acceptance to come much more swiftly. This stops a self-imposed burden from pushing down on our shoulders.
It allows us to be emotionally healthier and stronger. This means that when things do come along that are in our control we have much more energy and clarity of mind to deal with them in the right way.
3. You have healthy boundaries
A big step in becoming emotionally strong is to have healthy boundaries. It means that you know yourself and have enough self-love and self-assuredness to set and keep these boundaries.
It is that you are comfortable enough to say no to certain requests that cross your boundary. It means you can stand up for yourself when someone is threatening your healthy boundary.
Having a healthy boundary stops someone from being a people-pleaser. It is all a part of being aware enough to choose positive patterns of behavior.
4. You live one day at a time and deal with problems as they happen
Avoiding problems that come along only allows the issues to fill up your head. By living each day at a time and staying in the now you will free your mind of yesterday’s issues and tomorrow’s worries.
It is pointless to regret the past as it won’t change a thing. Likewise, to worry about the future.
In fact worrying about the future only guarantees one thing: you will ruin the present moment due to the worrying.
Swiftly dealing with problems and putting them to bed keeps your mental and emotional filing cabinet in good order. It gives a sense of job done, and that gives priceless peace of mind.
Epictetus, one of the most influential people from the Stoic school of philosophy, said this much way back in the 3rd Century BC: “Caretake this moment. Immerse yourself in its particulars. Respond to this person, this challenge, this deed. Quit evasions.
“Stop giving yourself needless trouble. It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in now.”
5. You express gratitude
By focusing on abundance and what you have in life rather than lack and what you don’t have, you’re giving yourself emotional strength.
Daily gratitude lists – when you write down things for which you are grateful – will keep your focus on the positive things in life. These are often things taken for granted, but that we would miss if we didn’t have them.
You can include your health, your five senses, your family and friends, your home, food in the fridge, running water and even smaller things such as having a pair of trainers or a comfortable cushion that you love to put your head on to relax.
Expressing gratitude helps to keep you in the present moment too by focusing on things around you and in your life. Gratitude is very powerful towards having strong emotional health – and such as depression and anxiety cannot exist alongside gratitude.
6. Letting go of your resentments
By quickly being able to recognize a resentment and dealing with it you will boost your emotional strength. You remove the power a resentment usually holds over you – and so can swiftly get on with your life.
Strongly connected with this is forgiveness. People who have strong emotional health know that forgiveness, while also good for the world around, is amazingly positive for themselves.
Frequently, when we have a resentment against someone, that person cannot feel a thing, and yet we go on feeling terrible or consumed with anger as we think about them. We are hurting ourselves.
It’s been said to be the equivalent of drinking poison, and then waiting for the person we resent to die…
So not having – or swiftly letting go – of any resentments, and then forgiving gives an immense boost to our emotional health.
Our expert team has decades of combined experience in helping people achieve strong emotional health and wellbeing. If need be, we can also initially guide people to achieve emotional rehabilitation.
Discover how we can help you or someone you care about by contacting us today.