Why Being a People Pleaser is Killing You, and How to Stop

This post originally appeared on arianadagan.com in June 2020

For some people being a ‘people pleaser’ is something that happens occasionally. Usually, it’s someone they love deeply and make a decision that benefits the loved one instead of themselves. It’s commendable really. Self-sacrifice should be part of the unconditional love you have for someone. But in a healthy way of course.

For others, people-pleasing is a way of life. It’s built into their personality, it’s how they get through their day, and it’s how their relationships are created. For these individuals, it stretches far beyond their intimate and close-knit family relationships. It extends into their relationships with colleagues, bosses, even the librarian or the grocery clerk. It’s a never-ending cycle that beats down on you and disrupts the way you think about yourself, further causing you to make often inappropriate decisions.

Signs you are a people pleaser

If you think you are a people pleaser, then chances are you are one! But many people don’t have a clue that’s what they are doing. Here are some of the more obvious signs:

  • You often feel like a doormat, or that people are abusing you.
  • You find yourself feeling selfish if you think about how something may benefit you.
  • You constantly apologize for things out of your control, or simply shouldn’t be apologizing for.
  • You feel responsible for other people’s feelings or general happiness.
  • You have a fear of letting people down.
  • You find yourself often saying the opposite of what you want to say, or incapable of saying no.

This is not an exhaustive list however, in fact, there are some less obvious signs you may be a people pleaser as well, here are some of those:

  • You never ask for help from others.
  • You avoid giving yourself credit when it’s due.
  • You seem to be surrounded by people who always need your help, or ‘rescuing’.
  • You find your personality seems to change, even day-to-day or hour-to-hour, depending on who you are with.
  • You feel a great sense of burden, exhaustion, or even resentment all the time.
  • You feel heartbroken if someone doesn’t like you, even if you don’t like them.

Whether you find yourself agreeing to all of these or just some, there is importance in recognizing how healthy the level of people pleasing you are doing is, and reducing the level when necessary.

What happens if you are the opposite of a people pleaser

For some, you may find yourself the opposite of a people please, this too can have both positive and negative repercussions. Being a people pleaser is about self-sacrifice, putting your own needs behind someone else’s. Doing so for loved ones or occasionally when the greater good requires it is not a bad thing. It only becomes unhealthy when its too often, or for people who are not willing to do the same for you.

Similarly, never being willing to self sacrifice calls into question your ability to unconditionally love someone. It paints you as selfish, heartless, and even a narcissist. However, it doesn’t mean you are. There could be issues with trust, lack of someone special, a history of being hurt by others, etc. These are genuine reasons, for not allowing yourself to put anyone above yourself, but this can lead to a very lonely road, so being willing to open yourself up should still be a priority to grow into.

How people pleasing differs from your intimate relationships

At its core, people pleasing is about putting someone else above yourself, even when it hurts you. We’ve touched on this a bit, but relationships should have this built-in. When you love someone, it should be unconditional – it should require nothing in return for the love you give. This means the other person’s happiness is more important to you than your own. Self-sacrifice in this way is beautiful and natural and healthy.

It can become unhealthy if you realize you are giving far more than receiving. Now I don’t mean you should keep score, but if you notice this discrepancy without keeping score, that could be a red flag. It also could mean a situation is affecting this so consider if this has been ongoing for a while, or if it’s new and what could be causing it. Communication is key, so if you feel you are being used, talk to your partner!

Remember, there will never be a perfect balance in any type of relationship. Some personalities more prone to self-sacrifice, while others are more prone to self-preservation. As long as communication of expectations, love and trust are involved the balance should still feel healthy.

How being a people pleaser can hurt you AND those around you

I think at this point it’s obvious how being a people pleaser can hurt you. If you find yourself being treated as a doormat, you are probably being abused to some degree, whether physically, emotionally, sexually, or mentally (or any combination of above).

But the truth is, being a people pleaser hurts those around you as well (albeit in a very different way). Consider these silly examples:

  • A close friend asks you an opinion on a misfitting outfit, you respond positively to avoid hurting feelings. This won’t stop others from speaking candidly and force a mistrust of you.
  • Boss asks your feedback and you go along with what the majority says out of anxiety, though you internally disagree. As a result, the project fails, causing financial issues that require layoffs.
  • A coworker asks you to help with responsibilities, you agree to make them happy, though you are overloaded and projects begin to miss deadlines.

Every choice your make has a consequence. These consequences may be small and add up over time, or they may have a large unintended one from the get-go. But these consequences end up hurting the people around you just as much as they hurt you. Lying, betraying, disrespecting, and avoiding in the name of “not hurting” others will almost always end up hurting everyone worse than being honest and trustworthy in the first place.

The truth about people pleasing

The harsh truth is, people pleasing is a disease based entirely on fear. Fear of being left behind, fear of losing people, it’s an irrational fear of upsetting or hurting someone you care about. It’s a disease because it infects your mind, your heart, and your soul. Symptoms include forgetting who YOU are as an individual, living an inauthentic life full of fear and regret.

6 Steps to stop the cycle and stop being a people pleaser

If reading any of the above has made you more aware of your personality as a people pleaser, then be assured that awareness is the first step to overcoming. So here are 6 steps to help you stop being a people pleaser.

1 | WALK AWAY | The first step (well, after awareness) is walking away. Walk away from everyone you find yourself needing to “please”. If possible take a week vacation (solo) and get back to your roots. Figure out who YOU are without others influencing you. If a vacation isn’t possible, then exclude yourself from every situation absolutely NOT required of you being there. If needed, tell people you have a date with [insert your name here].

2 | FORGIVE YOURSELF | You have made mistakes, and you will continue to make mistakes. Forgive yourself. It takes time to change, it takes time to evolve and unfortunately, this is a process, not an overnight event. Forgive yourself for your past mistakes, and future ones as well.

3 | FALL IN LOVE WITH YOURSELF | The truth is, a huge part of the internal need to please others, is the fear of not pleasing yourself. A lack of self-esteem and love for yourself will cause you to seek this from others. It’s important to step back, focus on yourself, and fall in love with the beauty within before you try to find anything in those around you. Time to focus on self-care and fall in love with the face in the mirror.

4 | BE AUTHENTIC | Putting together the last few steps, it’s time to find yourself and more importantly, be yourself. Whether it’s expressing yourself creatively, finding a new hobby (or dusting off an old hobby), writing in a journal, or anything in between, being authentic means being true to yourself and following your joy. Stuck? Try this quick test to find your passion in 5 minutes, or try a tarot reading to help you decipher your mind.

5 | LIVE FEARLESSLY | Living authentically means letting go of inauthenticity. It means walking away (permanently wherever possible) from things that bring you down aka the things that bring you to fear. Figuring out what your fears are, is the first step. Are you afraid of failing? Afraid of losing someone or something? Afraid of unhappiness? Afraid of being an imposter? Afraid of being alone?

6 | SET BOUNDARIES | Trace your fears to triggers (and vice-versa) and LET THEM GO! Sometimes that means leaving friends or family behind. Sometimes it means finding a new job or even a profession. It could mean you need to find a coach to help work through certain fears. But to live fearlessly, you need to set boundaries between yourself and your fears.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a quick event, it’s an ongoing process that takes effort and intention to commit to and build a habit from. But once you do, you will quickly find your life-changing for the better!

Feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, and struggling to appreciate the day-to-day? IN PURSUIT OF JOY is a printable eWorkBook providing real-life encouragement, a mindset refresh, and practical self-care activities to help you rediscover the joy of being alive! Every purchase helps keep the blog alive and supplied with free material, so thank you! ♥

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