Understanding‌ ‌people-pleasing‌ ‌

Pleasing others

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.

Most people with low self-esteem grew up in a household where they were not truly valued. For some reason – that can include neglect and abuse – they did not feel validated and loved.

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

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.

Stop being a people pleaser

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.

Signs of people pleasing

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.

Our friendly expert team has years of experience helping people with all types of mental health problems and emotional issues. Call us today for a confidential chat about how we can help you or someone you love.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

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