Why People-Pleasing Can Drive Others Away
... and how to start letting go of the behavior.
Posted January 14, 2022 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
- People-pleasers engage in selfless behavior at the expense of their own needs, in an effort to be liked and to connect.
- People-pleasing can have the unexpected downside of making others feel uncomfortable and guilty, as well as subconsciously withdraw.
- Taking the time to examine one's motives in relationships can be a first step toward ending a pattern of people-pleasing.
Are you known as the person who “never says no” to anyone, even if it isn’t convenient?
People-pleasers are often the folks who have the busiest schedules and still seem to find the time to meet everyone else’s needs, usually putting others before themselves.
One would think that all of this selfless behavior would make a people-pleaser the most popular and beloved person wherever they went, right? The truth is people-pleasing often results in the opposite outcome; it drives people away, which is certainly not what pleasers strive for.
Why People-Pleasing Drives Others Away
When people-pleasers are engaged in their ingratiating behaviors, it can create a deficit in the reciprocation of the relationship. If one person is excessively giving or doing in a relationship, it shifts the power dynamic, and this can create a destructive pattern in which the receiver chronically feels guilty for not giving as much as they are getting. People-pleasers do not set out to make others feel obligated to reciprocate; they often simply want to be liked, appreciated, and valued. Instead, the receiver may begin to feel uncomfortable and withdraw subconsciously.
People-pleasers may also be sending an unintended message to others by not being able to set limits or say no. In work settings, particularly, these behaviors may signal to others that the person is underselling themselves, which may result in a bias that the pleaser is not as skilled and is trying to make up for that somehow. Coworkers may also view a pleaser as a suck-up to authority, which can create feelings of resentment or an underlying element of competition.
People-pleasers who engage in excessive self-deprecating humor may unintentionally drive others away. Others may feel the behavior is a ploy to gain praise or fish for compliments. It can be particularly uncomfortable if used in a comparison format, such as complimenting someone else’s hair by insulting one’s own. The pleaser may be trying to make the other person feel good about themselves, but the use of self-deprecation turns it into an awkward situation. The other person feels the need to frame a response that is supportive and mutually complementary, while not seeming conceited. It can quickly become weird and uncomfortable.
Sometimes, people-pleasers can inadvertently come across as insincere. It may be that the pleaser is simply trying too hard or overdoing it. This behavior can create a rift in relationships and make others feel like they are not seeing the real you. Even though the pleasing behavior is borne out of a desire to connect and be loved, it can come across as artificial; no one can please everyone all the time. No one is “on” all the time, and if one tries to pretend that they are, it often shows.
Moving Away From People-Pleasing May Help
The simple solution is, “stop being a people pleaser,” right? That is far easier said than done, since these behaviors come from many years of ingrained patterns, sometimes stemming from childhood or the development of one’s sense of self. Reducing one’s role as a people pleaser is an important growth task, but it is likely to require time and attention to the ways in which you interact with yourself and others. A good way to start is through examining your motives in relationships. Ask yourself:
- Am I presenting my true self and representing my own needs?
- Do I give excessively in comparison to what I get in this relationship?
- In conversations, do I insult myself while complimenting others?
- In work or volunteer settings, do I take on more than others or say yes when I need or want to say no?
The root of people-pleasing is connection and often the very behaviors that are meant to draw people in are inadvertently driving them away. When you step back from the desire to please others and present yourself honestly in the world, you will connect more authentically without compromising yourself in the process.
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