You always think the best of other people, you are a caring person and others describe you as really ‘nice’ and ‘agreeable’.
But at what cost to you?
What is people-pleasing?
People-pleasing is a pattern of showing up in the world that is deeply ingrained. I would go so far as to say it is a behavioural addiction. It comes from a low sense of self-worth and a need for external validation, love and approval. Like any addiction or bad habit, it brings temporary rewards, when others appreciate you, but it ultimately will not give you the love you crave and deserve.
To understand if this might be a pattern you follow, here are seven signs that you could be a ‘people pleaser’ and then we will explore what you can do about it.
7 Signs you are a People-Pleaser
You automatically say ‘Yes’ to everything
This could be with family and colleagues, but also with strangers! I used to always automatically say ‘Yes’ when a check out assistant in a shop would ask if I wanted an email receipt because it was my automatic response, even though I never wanted email receipts. It got me added to numerous email lists I never wanted to be part of.
I would automatically say ‘Yes’ to whatever my boss wanted me to do at work. I was keen to impress and get ahead and I loved being helpful. That led me to work long hours, not take proper breaks and ignore the pain that was growing in my hands, wrists and arms. I had to develop crippling repetitive strain injury (RSI) before I had no choice but to say ‘No’.
Saying ‘Yes’ will eat up your time and energy and can mean you end up compromising on your own values.
You avoid conflict at all costs
This is what I call the tortoise approach to conflict. I could never bear the feelings that came up when I had a disagreement with someone, so I would often agree when I didn’t mean it (and then beat myself about that) or keep quiet. The trouble is that other people aren’t mind readers, so if you don’t voice your disagreement, they will never know it.
If you can’t speak up for yourself, you won’t stand up for what you believe in.
You feel responsible for other people’s feelings
I believed that I was largely responsible for making my ex-husband happy. When he was unhappy I would move heaven and earth to find ways to make him smile again.
He was rarely happy. I would try harder and harder and it was never enough.
I thought his feelings were my responsibility.
I often talk with empaths who struggle with feeling others feelings and it often comes from a lack of emotional boundaries. This is something I have learnt about so that I can hold onto my own feelings, whilst still holding space for others to have their own feelings.
Other people’s feelings are their responsibility. Yes, you are responsible for your behaviour and what you say, but how other people feel about that is up to them.
Often rushing around after other people’s needs, but neglecting your own needs
You are a caring, kind soul and you probably think that thinking about your own needs is selfish. I totally get it.
I remember once walking five miles to work in brand new sandals. Half way there they began to rub my heels. Badly. I should have gone home. By taxi. But I was so other-focused that my commitment to show up at work on time and get on with my job that I continued my walk to the office. I refused to look at my feet until I got home. It was not pretty and I ended up needing to see a doctor and taking antibiotics.
When you give too much attention to others needs, you can end up neglecting your own physical, emotional, spiritual and mental needs.
You pretend everything is fine when it isn’t
I see you, oh master of the fixed smile! Whenever anyone asks you how you are, you reply with ‘Fine’, even though everything is nowhere near fine. You don’t want to be a burden to anyone. You don’t want to admit that you have needs.
As a teenager I was very depressed and self-critical and there were times I felt I couldn’t go on. But I could not admit that to anyone. What right did I have to feel so low when my life looked so comfortable? I would tell everyone that I was fine when I absolutely wasn’t.
It left me feeling empty inside and disconnected from other people and it became a vicious cycle.
When you don’t admit how you feel, you are keeping a distance in that relationship. If you don’t even admit to yourself how you feel, your emotions can build up until either you explode or implode.
You adapt to fit in with whoever you are with
Looking back, I think this is why I wanted to be an actress for a time – I felt much more comfortable in a role, or putting on a persona, than of ever showing up as myself.
I would be the smart employee, high heels and my ‘confident woman’ persona at work, dutiful daughter with my family, loyal giving wife with my husband and fun and kooky girl with friends.
You might notice that you behave like other people, you might even dress like them. All to ensure that you are accepted. But you never get to the real ‘you’, assuming you know who that is anymore.
You do things out of a sense of obligation
You do things to fit in with your ideals of what a ‘good’ mother, employee, sister, friend, etc should be doing. ‘Should’ is the operative word here – you are driven by ‘shoulds’.
I would spend hours listening to a friend complain about her life because I thought that is what a good friend should do. Even though there was never then time for me to talk about my life.
I never asked myself ‘Is this what I want?’ And I never questioned the validity of all the ‘shoulds’ floating around in my head.
Whilst we all have responsibilities in life, when you are driven by ‘shoulds’ you can end up feeling guilty and resentful a lot of the time.
How you can break the people-pleasing pattern
These are 7 signs that you may be a people-pleaser. And it highlights the impact that this can have on every area of your life, from your relationships, to your work, to your health and your finances.
If some, or all of these signs resonate with you, don’t panic! I know I started the article by talking about whether you are a people-pleaser. I actually don’t like labels. I use it because it is recognisable and it starts the conversation.
However, perhaps a kinder way of looking at this is that you have some people-pleasing patterns of behaviour. They may be very ingrained, but they are not fundamentally who you are.
Patterns of behaviour can be unpicked and we can begin to consciously choose new ways of showing up in the world.
You can start by starting small. What is the smallest ‘No’ that you feel comfortable with? Start with that and build gradually from there.
If you are really struggling with this, you might find the support of a coach or therapist will help you move forward, build self-worth, confidence and healthier relationships.