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People pleasing

People pleasing is a common phenomenon that affects many aspects of our personal and professional lives. It refers to the tendency to prioritize the needs, expectations, and opinions of others over one’s own, often at the expense of one’s well-being, authenticity, and self-esteem. People pleasers may have difficulty saying no, setting boundaries, expressing their feelings, or asking for what they want. They may also experience anxiety, resentment, guilt, or burnout as a result of their excessive efforts to please others. In this article, we will explore the causes, consequences, and coping strategies of people pleasing in the workplace and personal relationships. We will also provide some tips on how to overcome the negative effects of people pleasing and develop a healthier and more balanced approach to interpersonal relationships.

What is people pleasing?

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People pleasing is a behavioural pattern that involves putting the needs, expectations, or preferences of others before one’s own, often at the expense of one’s wellbeing, happiness, or authenticity. People pleasers may have difficulty saying no, setting boundaries, expressing their opinions, or asking for what they want. They may also feel guilty, resentful, or anxious when they are unable to please others or when they receive criticism or rejection. People pleasing can stem from various factors, such as low self-esteem, fear of abandonment, lack of assertiveness, or a desire to avoid conflict. While people pleasing may seem like a way to gain approval, respect, or love from others, it can actually have negative consequences for one’s mental health and relationships. Some of the signs and effects of people pleasing include:

  • Feeling responsible for other people’s emotions and reactions
  • Sacrificing one’s own needs, values, or goals to please others
  • Having trouble making decisions or expressing disagreement
  • Feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or burned out from trying to meet everyone’s expectations
  • Having difficulty accepting compliments or constructive feedback
  • Experiencing low self-confidence, self-worth, or self-respect
  • Feeling lonely, isolated, or misunderstood by others
  • Feeling the need to change oneself to feel accepted by others
  • Developing resentment, anger, or bitterness towards those who take advantage of one’s kindness
  • Being vulnerable to manipulation, abuse, or exploitation by others

People pleasing is not a healthy or sustainable way of living. It can prevent one from developing a strong sense of self, pursuing one’s passions, and forming meaningful connections with others. It can also lead to chronic stress, anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.

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People pleasing in relationships

People pleasing is a pattern of behaviour in which one tries to accommodate the needs, expectations, or preferences of others, often at the expense of one’s own well-being, values, or goals. This can manifest in different ways in a relationship, such as:

  • Saying yes to everything, even if it means neglecting one’s own needs, interests, or boundaries.
  • Avoiding conflict or disagreement, even if it means suppressing one’s own opinions, feelings, or preferences.
  • Apologizing excessively, even if one is not at fault or has done nothing wrong.
  • Taking on more responsibilities than one can handle, even if it means feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or resentful.
  • Seeking constant validation, approval, or praise from one’s partner, even if it means compromising one’s own self-esteem, identity, or authenticity.
  • Changing one’s behaviour, appearance, or personality to fit what one thinks one’s partner wants or expects, even if it means losing one’s own sense of self.

People pleasing can have negative consequences for both oneself and one’s relationship, such as:

  • Feeling resentful, frustrated, or angry with oneself or one’s partner for not being appreciated, recognized, or respected.
  • Feeling exhausted, burned out, or depressed from trying to meet everyone’s expectations and demands.
  • Feeling insecure, anxious, or guilty for not being good enough, perfect enough, or lovable enough.
  • Feeling isolated, lonely, or disconnected from oneself and one’s partner due to a lack of honesty, intimacy, or trust.
  • Experiencing conflict, tension, or dissatisfaction in the relationship due to a lack of communication, compatibility, or mutual respect.
People pleasing in the workplace

People pleasing is a behaviour pattern that involves trying to please others at the expense of one’s own needs, feelings, or preferences. Such people often have low self-esteem, fear of rejection, or anxiety about conflict. They may also have a strong desire to be liked, appreciated, or approved by others.

In the workplace, people pleasing can look like:

Saying yes to every request or assignment, even if it means overworking, sacrificing personal time, or neglecting other responsibilities.

  • Avoiding expressing opinions, feedback, or criticism, even if they are constructive or beneficial for the team or the organization.
  • Agreeing with others’ views or decisions, even if they disagree or have doubts.
  • Apologizing excessively or taking the blame for things that are not their fault.
  • Doing more than their fair share of work or taking on tasks that are not in their scope or expertise.
  • Accepting lower pay, benefits, or recognition than they deserve or than their peers receive.
  • Not asking for help, support, or guidance when they need it.
  • Not setting boundaries or saying no to unreasonable demands or expectations.

Some examples of people pleasing in the workplace are:

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  • A manager who agrees to take on a new project without consulting his team or assessing the resources and time required.
  • An employee who never speaks up in meetings or shares her ideas for fear of being judged or criticized by her colleagues or boss.
  • A coworker who always volunteers to help others with their work, even if he has his own deadlines and priorities to meet.
  • A staff member who apologizes for a mistake that was caused by a system error or a miscommunication from another department.
  • A contractor who accepts a lower rate than the market value or than what she initially quoted because she doesn’t want to lose the client or cause any conflict.
  • A team leader who doesn’t ask for feedback from his subordinates or peers because he thinks they will think less of him or his performance.
  • A worker who doesn’t request a raise, promotion, or recognition for his achievements because he thinks he is not good enough, or he doesn’t want to seem greedy or arrogant.
Physical downsides of people pleasing

While it may seem like a harmless or even admirable trait, people pleasing can have negative consequences for one’s physical health. Some of the possible effects are:

Chronic stress: People pleasers often experience high levels of stress because they worry about disappointing others, avoid conflict, and suppress their emotions. stress can impair the immune system, increase inflammation, and raise the risk of various diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Poor self-care: People pleasers may neglect their own needs and preferences to accommodate others. This can lead to poor nutrition, lack of exercise, insufficient sleep, and substance abuse. These habits can compromise the body’s ability to function properly and prevent illness.

Low self-esteem: People pleasers tend to base their self-worth on external validation rather than internal values. They may feel insecure, inadequate, or guilty when they fail to meet others’ expectations or receive criticism. Low self-esteem can affect the mental and physical health by increasing the likelihood of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-harm.

The causes of people pleasing

People-pleasers may engage in this behaviour for various reasons, such as seeking approval and validation, avoiding conflict, or coping with childhood trauma or dysfunctional family dynamics.

One of the psychological theories that can help explain the causes of people-pleasing is attachment theory. Attachment theory proposes that individuals develop different styles of relating to others based on their early experiences with their caregivers. These attachment styles can be classified into three main types: secure, anxious, and avoidant. Secure attachment is characterised by a sense of trust and security in relationships, while anxious attachment is characterised by a fear of abandonment and rejection, and avoidant attachment is characterised by a fear of intimacy and commitment.

People who have an insecure attachment style (either anxious or avoidant) may be more likely to develop people-pleasing tendencies, as they may have learned to suppress their own needs and emotions to maintain connection and closeness with others who are inconsistently available or responsive.

People-pleasing can also be a sign of a more serious disorder, such as depression, anxiety, or personality disorders. People who suffer from these disorders may have low self-esteem, poor self-image, or distorted beliefs about themselves and others, which can lead them to seek external validation and approval through pleasing others.

Correcting a people pleasing behaviour

It is important to recognize and overcome the tendency to please others at the cost of oneself. Some of the ways to do this include:

  • Recognizing and challenging their negative beliefs about themselves and others. For example, they can question the assumption that they have to please everyone to be worthy or loved, or that others will react negatively if they say no or express a different opinion.
  • Identifying and honouring their own values, needs, and goals. For example, they can make a list of what matters to them, what makes them happy, and what they want to achieve in life. They can also prioritize their own self-care and well-being, such as getting enough rest, exercise, and hobbies.
    • Practising saying no and expressing their opinions respectfully using assertive communication techniques. Some examples of these techniques are:
    • Using “I” statements to express their feelings and needs without blaming or criticizing the other person. For example, “I feel overwhelmed when you ask me to do too many things at once” or “I need some time for myself today”.
    • Being clear and concise about what they want or don’t want, without being vague or apologetic. For example, “I would like to join you for dinner next week” or “I don’t want to watch this film”.
    • Acknowledging the other person’s perspective and showing empathy without agreeing or giving in. For example, “I understand that you are upset with me” or “I appreciate your point of view”.
    • Offering alternatives or compromises when possible without sacrificing their own needs or values. For example, “Can we reschedule our meeting for tomorrow?” or “Why don’t we watch something we both like?”.
  • Seeking support from people who respect and value them. For example, they can surround themselves with friends and family who appreciate them for who they are, not for what they do for them. They can also join groups or communities that share their interests or passions, where they can express themselves authentically and confidently.

People pleasing is not a personality trait that one is born with. It is a learned behaviour that can be unlearned and replaced with healthier and more authentic ways of relating to oneself and others.

If an individual finds it impossible to stop people pleasing, they may benefit from seeking professional help, such as therapy or coaching. A qualified mental health provider can help them explore the underlying reasons for their people pleasing, such as low self-esteem, fear of rejection, or trauma. They can also help them develop skills to assert themselves, communicate their feelings and preferences, and set healthy limits with others.

Further reading

If you are interested in learning more about people-pleasing, its causes, effects, and coping strategies, here are some weblinks that you can check out for further reading:

People-pleasing: Understanding the roots and consequences – This article by Marc McCormack, a therapist who specialises in anxiety, low mood, and trauma, explains the origins of people-pleasing behaviour and its impact on individuals and relationships. It also offers some tips on how to overcome people-pleasing and develop a healthier sense of self-worth.

8 Ways to Stop Being a People-Pleaser – This article by Kendra Cherry, an author and educator in psychology, covers the signs and causes of people-pleasing, as well as the negative effects it can have on your mental health and well-being. It also provides some practical advice on how to stop putting others’ needs before your own and assert your own boundaries.

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