Going too far to make others happy? People-pleasing can cause immense stress and anxiety, and even damage your relationships. We tell you all about why you should stop, and how.
Any personal or professional relationship in your life will need kindness, compassion and compromises. But if you find yourself breaking your back to accommodate others’ needs and feelings at all times, at the cost of your own physical and mental well-being, you might be a people-pleaser. If you are a people-pleaser, you will put in extra time and effort to make sure that you meet the needs of your family, friends and colleagues, even when they do not reciprocate with the same energy. You may also give up on your own opinions and beliefs in order to avoid conflict, even if it causes you discomfort or makes you unhappy.
This behaviour stems from an ingrained desire of wanting to be liked by those around us, which makes us want to do whatever it takes to make someone else happy and receive their approval and validation. “We usually learn people-pleasing from a very young age,” says Benaisha Kharas Dongre, integrative personal counsellor and image consultant based in Mumbai. “Perhaps we had strict parents, or parents who had high expectations and demanded a certain kind of behaviour from us. We grow up wanting to stay out of trouble, and fulfill their expectations. When we socialise with outsiders later in life, it’s hard for us to let go of those patterns.”
People-pleasing tendencies can display themselves in various ways. You might dress like your friends or copy their mannerisms in order to receive their approval. You might fulfill every demand your child makes as you mistakenly think that will make them more receptive to your requests. You might assume that going along with every decision your partner makes is the best way to sustain your relationship. “But other than a diplomatic discussion, there is no situation where people-pleasing is helpful to anyone, which is why it is important to check such behaviour,” says Benaisha.
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Why Do People Try to Please Others?
1. They are scared of getting rejected or feeling judged.
2. They have low self-esteem, which makes them undervalue their own worth and time.
3. They have unhealthy tendencies of perfectionism, which makes them want to meet every demand and keep every request, no matter how draining it can be.
4. They believe self-sacrifice to be an expression of love in close relationships.
5. They are anxious about letting others down or disappointing them.
6. They wish to avoid conflict, and find it easier to go with the flow rather than assert themselves.
Signs You Are A People-Pleaser
1. You find it hard to say “no” to any request.
2. You pretend to agree with everyone on every topic.
3. You are never assertive about your own opinions or needs.
4. You say sorry often, even when you are not at fault.
5. You say statements like “I’m okay with whatever you are okay with”.
6. You don’t admit when you are physically or emotionally drained from doing things for others.
7. You go to great lengths to avoid any conflict.
8. You feel guilty about setting boundaries.
9. You dress or behave like the people around you in order to fit in.
10. You let people take advantage of you very easily.
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Why Should You Stop People-Pleasing?
1. You create unrealistic expectations for yourself.
Expectations are a part of all relationships. But what people-pleasing makes you do is take on more responsibility and give more effort to meet the demands of anyone and everyone, creating an endless cycle of unrealistic expectations that you are unable to fulfill. “You might say ‘Yes, I will do this’ to your partner, your friend or your boss, but then you might not have the physical, emotional or mental capacity, or inclination, to actually do that thing,” says Benaisha. “This can even cause guilt and anxiety within yourself when you are unable to meet their requests.”
2. It is impossible for you to please everyone.
The biggest drawback of people-pleasing is that no matter how much effort you put in, there is no guarantee that the other person will be satisfied. You might take up tasks that your colleague delegates to you in order to be polite, but that does not mean that you will suddenly become friends with them. “People will always want different things, and you can never behave in a way that will please everyone around you,” Benaisha points out.
3. You have limited resources left for yourself.
If you are overtaxing your time and energy to do things for others, you will not have sufficient energy left to take care of yourself. “Your goals and needs will take a backseat so you can take care of others,” says Benaisha. “This will make you feel resentful and frustrated.”
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4. You lose sight of your own self.
“People-pleasing involves the sacrifice of your own authenticity,” says Benaisha. “You often have to give up on who you are and what you need in order to be agreeable with others.” It can leave you feeling as if you don’t know yourself at all. If you are a people-pleaser, you may tend to agree with others’ opinions and beliefs even when you do not think the same way. This can damage your relationships down the line when your friends or partner think you have changed, when you try to assert your own opinions.
How to Stop
1. Evaluate your priorities.
“Ask yourself, is this something I really want to do, or something I actually agree with?” advises Benaisha. When you try to please others, it might seem like you have no other choice. Understanding that you can say no to certain things, and that some conflicts can be healthy, is the first step.
2. Take small steps to be assertive.
Changing behavioural patterns overnight is impossible. Start by saying no to small requests. Try to be assertive while being polite. Say things like “I wish I could do this for you, but I do not have the time right now”. If you disagree with someone, rather than avoiding conflict, let them know your own opinion by saying “I hear what you are saying, but I don’t agree with this.”
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3. Set your own boundaries.
“There’s a difference between being approachable and being available at all times,” says Benaisha. “The latter involves letting anyone take advantage of our time and energy for their benefit, without them being there for us.” Setting boundaries might be scary, and make you feel guilty at first. But you have to be specific about what you are willing to do for someone, and be assertive about establishing these boundaries.
4. Seek professional help.
People-pleasing behaviour can be rooted in past traumatic experiences and toxic relationships, in which case it will be difficult for you to get rid of such patterns by yourself. Seek therapy with a professional in order to address the underlying cause, and eliminate the guilt and anxiety you might be feeling.
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