Have you been called a people pleaser, and you aren’t sure it is true? Or how you ended up this way?
Editor and lead writer Andrea Blundell explores.
What is a people pleaser?
So what is the meaning of ‘people pleaser’?
It refers to a constant need to put others needs before your own. This will manifest both in personal relationships as well as at work, and even in interactions with strangers.
Note that there is not a ‘people pleaser syndrome’, despite what the internet might have you believe. Although it is definitely a behaviour you can discuss and work on with your counsellor or psychotherapist.
How to tell if you are a people pleaser
1.You almost never use the word ‘no’.
‘No, I can’t’. ‘No, that doesn’t suit me’. ‘Not for me, sorry!’. How often do you say such phrases? If you are a people pleaser, saying no will be a rarity.
You will also spend hours, if not days, agonising over decisions that should have been simple, trying to work yourself up to say no. Only to convince yourself to yet again say yes.
2. Avoidance tactics are your go-to.
If people put you on the spot and ask you things in person, the word ‘yes’ is out of your mouth before you even have a moment to think.
So what better way to avoid having to say no than to avoid being asked things in the first place? This can look like not answering your phone, and skipping out on social events if you suspect someone who wants something from you will be there.
3. You have a physical reaction to letting others down.
There is a saying, ‘the body doesn’t lie‘.
Think of something you are being asked to do that you aren’t thrilled about.
Now practise saying, ‘no, I can’t do it’ in your head.
Does your stomach clench, your throat feel hot? Do you feel sick, or, more precisely, afraid? Pleasing others is connected to a fear of being seen in a negative light or as a letdown.
4. You don’t know your boundaries.
Can you list right now, quickly, five important personal boundaries? If you are a people pleaser, you’ll likely go blank or struggle. You might not even know quite what a personal boundary really is.
5. You hear yourself agreeing to things you don’t like.
It’s not just about being a ‘yes person’, but also about hiding your own opinions.
Do you have the impression that your mouth is owned by someone else? Or often feel slightly ‘out of body’, watching a person who is apparently you laugh at jokes that are distasteful, or agree with diatribes that are against your values?
6. You call others ‘selfish’ (but never to their face).
This is a type of psychological projection often practised by those who are people pleasers. Your own frustration with your over-giving leads you to think of others as ‘selfish’ if they dare have the very boundaries you wish you did.
Deep down you believe that people owe you. You attribute all your people pleasing to being a good person, but really you are giving to get.
7. You are often exhausted and stressed.
Again, the body doesn’t lie. Look at your energy levels and state of mind. Do you always feel like you are ‘running to stand still’, and just can’t keep up? Is your own life disorganised, are you often late, and have a feeling of being barely held together? It’s often because you are not setting boundaries.
8. You rarely if ever delegate.
You tell yourself it’s because ‘it’s just easier to do things myself’. But never asking for help can also happen if we are so used to meeting others needs we can’t imagine letting someone meet yours.
9. Me time last on the list, or never makes the list.
When did you last do a hobby that you enjoyed? Not one your partner enjoys and you don’t mind, or a thing your friend dreamed up, but something that was always your unique passion?
10. You compare yourself to others and come up lacking.
Do you feel that others are smarter, more together, more important? That you’ll never be at that level? Low self-esteem drives people pleasing. And in fact comparing yourself to others in the first place.
11. You can’t bear being criticised.
Even a small criticism in jest sends you secretly reeling, and turns you against the person who said it.
At the same time you can’t bear compliments, either, and deflect them. Oh, this old handbag, you like it? It was on sale.” You are mentally programmed to let others shine, not yourself.
12. You feel under appreciated.
You over-give, and then feel upset when others don’t seem to notice your great efforts to make them happy. Can’t they see how hard you are trying?
How did I end up a pushover?
Yes, there might be some genetic leanings to avoid conflict. We might, for example, have a sensitive personality.
But we also learn to be a ‘yes person’ through our childhood environments and experiences.
Often it’s down to parenting. If your caregiver was unwell, either physically or mentally, you might have had to be a caregiver, always trying to meet your parent’s needs. This can lead to a limiting belief that your personal value comes from pleasing others, and to an adulthood riddled with codependency.
Or perhaps your parent was not emotionally available, was inconsistent, and didn’t show you unconditional love and acceptance. You were loved when you were ‘good’ or ‘quiet’ but learned to hide the rest of you. This leads to anxious attachment, moulding yourself around others needs and panicking if you feel lack of approval.
Finally, childhood trauma and neglect can be at play. They destroy a child’s sense of worth and identity. You can end up an adult seeking a sense of self through what others think, and with a hidden belief you don’t deserve love but have to earn it.
Time to break the endless cycle of pleasing others at the cost of your own wellbeing? Harley Therapy connects you with respected London talk therapists. Or use our booking site to find UK-wide registered therapists and online counsellors you can chat to from anywhere.
Still have a question about being a people pleaser? Post in the comment box below.