Understanding The Costs of People-Pleasing
One of the hardest parts of recovering from people-pleasing is that it can be so damn rewarding. Why give up behaviors that have served us well and been reinforced socially? Well, because when we people-please we are usually doing so at our own detriment.
In today’s post, let’s break down some of the costs of our people-pleasing behaviors.
But first, what do I mean when I say people-pleasing?
A people-pleaser is someone who helps others, gives often, and is very attuned to the needs and emotions of others. That in itself doesn’t sound so bad. And I agree. Most people-pleasers I know, myself included, are often empathetic and considerate.
The label people-pleaser is applied when that helping becomes almost compulsive and is tied to someone’s ability to feel socially safe and wanted.
People-pleasers usually help to the point of burning themselves out and abandoning their own needs. Yes, they are attuned to others, but usually at the lack of paying attention to themselves.
Other defining traits of people-pleasing include:
- being overly agreeable,
- struggling to say no,
- scared of rocking the boat or creating conflict,
- feeling unworthy,
- frequently striving to do more,
- and feeling overly responsible for other people’s emotions and needs.
Does that sound familiar? If so, read on.
So, what are the drawbacks of people-pleasing?
- Exhaustion – As mentioned above, people-pleasers give themselves to the point of exhaustion and burnout. Because they feel their worth is tied to “doing” and struggle to say no to anything, they go and go and go until they run themselves into the ground.
- Resentment – And what happens when they keep running themselves into the ground for others? Resentment and anger. Few people can reciprocate on the level that people-pleasers are operating at, so it often feels that others aren’t noticing their efforts or not giving them what they need in return. This issue is compounded by the fact that people-pleasers also struggle to address and ask for their own needs to be met . . . so that means they don’t get what they need. The resentment festers.
- Disconnection from self – One reason people-pleasers don’t ask for what they need is because they can become so disconnected from themselves that they don’t even know what it is they need. Their focus is always turned outward, so they don’t check in with themselves. They don’t listen to their own needs and wants, or they regularly sacrifice them in order to try to meet someone else’s needs instead.
- Low self-worth – People-pleasers tend to feel poorly about themselves and are highly self-critical. This feeling of unworthiness can be a driving force behind the people-pleasing behaviors. They are trying to make up for their perceived lack by over-performing and over-giving to “earn” worthiness or at least to keep people close.
- Feeling like a victim – As mentioned, people-pleasers sometimes project their unrealistic standards onto others and then feel like a victim in the relationship when other people don’t meet those needs. People-pleasers are also very likely to not set boundaries, which means they frequently allow themselves to be taken advantage of.
- Lack of authentic connection – Because people-pleasers constantly try to keep everyone else happy, they try to be what they think other people want them to be. That means that they hide parts of themselves from others and never let anyone see who they truly, entirely are. Never feeling seen and accepted for who you are can feel incredibly isolating and can increase feelings of shame. It’s hard to have a satisfying relationship if you are constantly wearing a mask around others.
- Disregarding personal values – Again, people-pleasers often lose touch with who they are, including knowing and acting from their own values. Values are the things we hold in high regard and are often the guideposts in our life. Living in alignment with our values usually contributes to living a fulfilling, meaningful life. Unfortunately, people-pleasers fears of being disliked, abandoned, or found out to be lacking tends to steer their behaviors rather than acting out of their values.
- Suffering – All together, people-pleasers are often silently suffering. Their feelings of shame, guilt, and unworthiness fester inside, and they struggle to find any healthy outlets to express those difficult emotions. They work so hard with so little reward, but they find themselves trapped in these cycles without knowing how to break out of them.
So what can people-pleasers do about it?
Well, awareness is always the first step into creating any kind of change. If you are a people-pleaser, start to notice all the ways people-pleasing shows up in your life.
How often are you saying yes when you want to say no?
How much do you censor yourself and not share your true feelings or opinions?
How much are you giving in relationships that don’t give much back to you?
Notice all the ways you hide and shrink yourself.
Then gradually start trying small ways to say no, set boundaries, and prioritize yourself. It can be helpful to have a support person, such as a therapist, help you practice these skills, hold you accountable, and keep encouraging you when it gets tough.
You can also look at the underlying needs and beliefs that drive your people-pleasing behaviors. Again, therapy can be very helpful with this step. I could (and probably will) write a whole separate blog post on just some of the origins of people-pleasing.
It’s a tough journey, but overcoming people-pleasing is absolutely possible! There’s no quick fix, but awareness, support, and practicing assertiveness skills goes a long way.
I’d love to help
If you would like to work on anything discussed in this article, I’d love to chat. As a recovering people-pleaser, I love helping other people-pleasers grow and break out of these harmful patterns. You deserve to reconnect with yourself and lead a more fulfilling, peaceful life.
I offer free 15-minute phone consultations for new potential clients.
Keep an eye out for the next cohort of my group Find Your Voice: Recovering from People-Pleasing!