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Are You a People Pleaser?
Some might say there are two kinds of people in our world: givers and takers. From this perspective, people pleasers would appear on the surface to be givers. They seem to have only positive qualities: accommodating, kind, generous, thoughtful, etc.
However, pleasing can also be a way to influence others in order to win approval, acceptance, safety, stability, and love. People pleasers don’t like conflict or any type of emotional discomfort. They avoid it at all costs—usually at a high cost to their self-esteem and psychological health. Often if there is conflict in their lives, they believe the conflict is their fault and experience strong feelings of having failed to prevent it.
People pleasers will go to great lengths to make others in pain around them feel better while ignoring their own suffering.
Some traits of people pleasers:
• Being afraid of failure or rejection, or both
• Being passive-aggressive
• Harbouring resentment
• Easily embarrassed
• Over-explaining or over-justifying their behaviours
• Avoiding conflict and confrontations
• Being afraid of others’ judgements
• Making decisions based on their own assumptions but rarely seeking clarification
• Difficulty in making decisions
• Lacking a sense of self
• Usually partnering with an over-controlling person
How Do We Become People Pleasers?
Many of our behaviours are learned from the family systems of our childhood. Unhealthy family systems tend to be closed and rigid, featuring multiple unspoken rules about how family members should interact with each other and with the rest of the world. Some of these rules may be about hiding negative feelings, keeping problems within the family, and putting others’ feelings first. In families like this, it is often unacceptable to say “no” to someone, to openly disagree, or to make choices based on your needs rather than those of others. Much of the time, people pleasers start off their lives being parent pleasers—attempting to manipulate an emotionally unavailable parent into providing nurturance. For example, the daughter of a depressed mother may have to devote a significant amount of emotional energy to caring for her parent, rather than the parent being able to care for her. Through the act of being her mother’s caregiver, she receives attention and approval. Over time, however, the daughter finds that providing emotional care to her mother is not a relationship dynamic that allows the daughter’s own developmental needs to be met. Only by being a “good girl” and focusing her attention on her mother’s emotional needs can she receive approval from her mother.
In families like this, authentic emotions and behaviours are discouraged. Instead, the family focuses on looking normal and okay to outsiders. A child in this type of family is often told to “put a smile on your face” regardless of how the child is actually feeling. The message to children in these families is that they are valued for their ability to keep up appearances, rather than for their actual value as individuals with unique needs and desires. Living with an emotionally unavailable or narcissistic parent teaches a child that the only way to earn acceptance is through people pleasing behaviours. Thus, in adulthood, people pleasers tend to assume blame for any problem that occurs in order to maintain the love and approval of the other person.
People Pleasers in Intimate Relationships
In adult relationships, people pleasers tend to choose outwardly strong and controlling partners. It is often a partner with narcissistic behaviours who have the same controlling qualities as the unavailable parent from childhood. People pleasers step into a codependent role by becoming obsessed with the needs of the other person to the detriment of their own needs. At an extreme, they rely on their partner for feedback about their worth, as they have not been able to develop a sense of their own identity as a person. They may be emotionally reactive, taking other people’s opinions as a personal affront when someone disagrees—and if it is the partner in the love relationship who disagrees, it can feel devastating and prompt a fear reaction. People pleasers may possess a sense of learned helplessness, allowing their controlling partners to be more in control which inevitably reinforce their 'helplessness' or inability to make decisions.
The people pleaser continually gives and gives to the narcissistic partner, who rarely reciprocates. However, the people pleaser continues to hope that the other person will change. This type of relationship is built on the idea that love means sacrificing oneself for the sake of the other person. Over time, people pleasers begin to feel empty, resentful, and sad on realising that the other person will never be able to provide authentic love. The people pleaser may even believe that he or she will never be able to find real love, due to the negative effects of codependent behaviours, the lack of one’s own sense of identity and self-esteem. People who are playing a codependent role in relationships often make relationship choices out of fear rather than out of love or true desire. They allow their partner to make all of the major and minor decisions in the relationship due to their own lack of clarity about what they want personally.
In general, people pleasers have a poor sense of emotional boundaries between themselves and others. In order to feel helpful and strong, people pleasers need their narcissistic partner to continue supplying emotional drama so that there are tangible problems to be fixed. They may feel unhappy in their current relationship but believe that they are helpless to change their circumstances and that it would be too difficult to begin again with a new partner. Due to this need for constant input by the other person, people pleasers generally are not able to tolerate being lonely or living alone.
IS THIS YOU IN A RELATIONSHIP?
• You are tired of giving and giving without getting much in return.
• You let your partner have his way but feel overwhelmed with hurt and resentment.
• You tolerate irresponsible and hurtful behaviours from your partner
• You have trouble identifying your feelings and thoughts and or you repress them/shut them down.
• You feel sorry for yourself and confused about why this is happening to you, but you don’t know what to do about it.
• You try to convince yourself that the problems you are experiencing aren’t really that bad, because others have it worse.
• You try to reassure yourself that you are a nice and giving person, but all the while you feel like a failure.
If you see yourself in this article, it is time to seek help from an experienced counsellor or psychologist. For many, the experience of the therapeutic alliance in counselling has been the first time that they have felt able to truly trust another person and to feel safe, heard, comforted, and validated in a relationship. We invite you to uncover your own strengths and find your authentic voice. If you see your relationship in this article, our couples counsellor experienced in this area can help save your relationship. For a confidential discussion call us now on 0400 999 918 or send us contact us via email.