Why It’s Time to Stop People-Pleasing
How to identify whether you're putting your needs aside and what to do about it.
Posted January 20, 2021 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina
Do you struggle with standing up for yourself? Are you fearful that others will reject you, malign you, or punish you if you assert your needs? Then this article is for you.
Why We People-Please
It's understandable why many people feel the need to bend over backward for their family members, friends, and even strangers. We’re socially wired to want social approval. From an evolutionary standpoint, when we engage in altruistic acts, we’re more likely to be included in the group. At a basic level, this improves not only our chances for survival, it also increases the likelihood that our descendants will be cared for.
Many people also grow up in families where they are conditioned to people-please because it is how they learn to feel safe and loved in the family unit. Whether it’s done with intention or not, family members can try to enact control by taking advantage of agreeableness. Over time, this can lead to deeply entrenched patterns where a family member can internalize that they are only loved or worthy if they do, feel, and act exactly as their family members would want.
When Does People-Pleasing Go Too Far?
When you’re losing sleep at night, when your finances are hurting, and your truth is being swallowed for the sake of keeping the peace, these are some indicators that your people-pleasing may be going into overdrive. Even though we may lean into agreeableness with the best of intentions, we have to note when we’re forgoing our values and needs for the sake of others’ comfort.
Signs of People-Pleasing
What are some indicators that you may be engaging in people-pleasing behavior? Here’s a short list:
- You find yourself wanting to speak up but you stay silent for fear that the person will be angry or upset with you
- You swallow your opinion so no one feels threatened or confronted by a difference in viewpoint
- You worry that love, approval, and care will only be given to you if you are amenable
- You let go of your self-care and personal needs (physical, emotional, and/or psychological) so that the other person is satisfied
- You notice a smoldering resentment because you are not asserting yourself in your relationships
How to Let Go of People-Pleasing
Letting go of getting along with others can be one of the hardest tasks for a tried-and-true people pleaser. Because the person often believes at a fundamental level that they may be rejected if they do not agree or live up to the expectations of others, they will often be fearful of letting go of people-pleasing. In essence, people-pleasing becomes a defense mechanism that keeps relationships and families intact—even if it’s not always healthy or functional.
Letting go of people-pleasing takes true vulnerability. In those brave moments of dissent, when a people-pleaser disagrees or voices their true opinion, they are acting out in courage. This is because there is often a magnified reaction from others—especially at first.
Because people-pleasers are often surrounded by people who capitalize on their agreeability. Thus, when the person who usually nods their head expresses a disagreement, their social circle is often offended and even outraged that they are being challenged by the usual peacemaker. The dance is being disrupted and others will often do a double-take that their boat (that they’ve been the captain of) is being rocked.
It’s essential that people-pleasers find their voice, though. Without doing so, there’s often a lingering and burning resentment that builds over time. They start to feel taken advantage of, ignored, and eventually have a harder and harder time showing up authentically in their relationships. Thus, for the health of their relationships and the congruence of their inner being, it’s crucial that people-pleasers learn how to advocate for themselves. They’ll often see that their worst fears never actualize. People will either learn to respect them and their opinions or they will see that some people will minimize or belittle them for finally sharing their voice. This begs the question if this is a relationship worth maintaining.
If you’re a people-pleaser, give yourself a chance to find your voice and then share that voice for others to hear. You will quickly learn that some people will respect your opinion and care about you, even if you disagree. We call this a corrective experience. Others will demonstrate difficulty making room for you and your opinion. We call this helpful data. Do with it what you will.