Have you ever been called a people pleaser?  Do you see yourself as needy?  This behavior, sometimes a symptom of co-depency, may be driven by underlying dysfunctional ideas.

Dr. Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), encouraged his patients to become more self-directed, rather than to engage in excessive people pleasing.  Why did he do this?  So that their choices led to outcomes that served their best interests. Also encouraging a healthy balance between social-interest and self-interest, Ellis emphasized that focusing on another was not to the exclusion of taking care of the self.

  • Maintaining this type of normal balance between self and other in relationships, in addition to adopting a self-directed stance, allows you to have a relaxed view toward the approval or disapproval of others and begin to release excessive people-pleasing.
  • A self-directed individual maneuvers between self-and other-interests with relative ease, because ultimately, choices are based upon what is in the long-term self-interest of the person living with the choice.

In contrast, in a co-dependent relationship, a person restricts his or her behavior in order to attempt to control the emotional reaction of another; he or she yields to another to attain the other's approval or love (even if it is not in the interest of his/her long-term wellbeing). 

If your desire to please has turned excessive, look for an underlying idea that you "need" to please another person, especially an idea that you "need" his/her love and approval.  When you hold onto this idea, your initially balanced relationship quickly changes from inter-dependent to co-dependent.

In this extreme form, the trap of people-pleasing can even lead you into maintaining unfulfilling or abusive relationships, submitting to or performing self-defeating behavior (self-starvation, substance abuse, sexual acting out, etc.), or making choices to preserve this relationship over far better alternatives.

Underlying such needy ideas and resultant needy behavior is some variant of what Ellis called "musturbation", reflected by the demandingness upon the self, others, and life.  According to REBT, your musty philosophy gives rise to awfulizing, low frustration tolerance, and people rating.  For example, you may see some variant of these beliefs:

Musty philosophy on the self:  I must please this other person and must behave in ways they find pleasing. 

Musty philosophy on the other:  I need for this other person to love and approve of me at all times.

Musty philosophy on life:  Life must give me what I want--in this case, this person's ongoing love, approval, presence, and support.

Low frustration tolerance (I-can't-stand-it-itis):  If I don't have and keep this approval, I cannot stand it.  It will be unbearable to me.  I cannot be happy in my life without this person's ongoing approval.

Awfulizing:  If I fail to please this person, it would be totally horrible--the worst thing ever, so incredibly awful--it would be just terrible.

People-rating:  If I don't gain and maintain this person's love, I'm obviously a worthless, unlovable person.

Here are 5 challenges to your needy mindset, that may help you cut out people-pleasing:

1.  You can sometimes please someone, but not always.  Realize that it's like the old saying that you can please some of the people some of the time, most of the people most of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time.  Given that you cannot please everyone all of the time, you're bound to face the reality of disappointing another person, even if you're doing everything possible to please them. 

2.  Someone who is pleased with you at one time may not be pleased with you at another time.  Because another person's approval of you can be fickle and impermanent, it is not a sturdy place to harness your sense of self. 

3.  Even if someone is pleased with you due to your current pleasing behaviors, this doesn't mean that the behavior you’re doing now is what is what's ultimately best for YOU.  Sometimes what feels good in the short-term (social approval) may compromise your long-term best interests.

4.  Self-direction needs time and space to grow.  If you spend your efforts attempting to win and keep the love of another, you're probably not spending sufficient time developing yourself.  Work on tuning into your inner compass and growing your ability to make your own decisions.  Check out  Your inner compass, REBT, and developing your self-direction.

5.  Face the truth about the present state of your relationship.  Ask yourself, "What will happen when I inevitably displease this person?"  If you guess that the person will probably punish you in some fashion (rejection, humiliation, or worse), and if you realize that your behavior centers around heroic attempts to avoid this reaction, then ask, “Is what I’m gaining short-term from this relationship as important and valuable to me as what I’m losing long-term?”

Self-direction comes from work and practice of an independent mindset and self-sufficiency.  Although relationships can be fun and fulfilling, if your efforts are strictly attempts to avoid your own self-regulation, you’ll panic yourself over autonomy, instead of rejoicing in your freedom. 

To learn 5 tips for becoming more self-directed (so you don't live your life in the trap of trying to please everyone), go here:  Your inner compass, REBT, and developing your self-direction.

For more encouragement on becoming self-directed, you might care to subscribe to Insourcing, and to read The Power of Inner Guidance: Seven Steps to Tune In and Turn On, by Dr. Pam Garcy.

About the Author

Pamela D. Garcy, Ph.D.

Pamela D. Garcy, Ph.D., serves on the faculty of the Texas School of Professional Psychology at AU-Dallas.

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