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People Pleasing

People pleasers are typically some of the nicest and most helpful people. They never say no. You can always count on them for a favor. They spend a great deal of time doing things for other people and trying to anticipate their needs. They do their work, are always available to do work for others, make all the plans, and take care of all of the details. People pleasers strive to keep everyone around them happy and content. They frequently self-sacrifice and put everyone else before themselves. That continuous effort comes at a cost.

Helping others makes people pleasers feel good, temporarily. However, there is never an end point where they can relax because there is always something else they could be doing for others. People pleasers may have difficulty making their own wants and needs known. They may deny having any issues in their life because they do not want to burden others with their problems. They are usually overworked and overstressed because they are over committed. They often feel selfish and guilty if they can't "do it all." Wanting to help others is not a bad thing and can have numerous positive outcomes. However, excessive people pleasing has the potential for numerous negative consequences. They may experience fear of rejection and disappointing others, have low self-esteem, difficulty making independent decisions, and difficulty setting healthy boundaries.

Negative Consequences of People Pleasing:

  • Neglect self: If you are a people pleaser you may devote very little time to taking care of your own health. Your efforts to take care of others prevent you from being able to take care of your own needs. Balance is needed. Taking care of others at the expense of personal well-being is harmful. Plus, taking care of yourself makes you better equipped to give more of yourself because you will be healthier and more energetic. You cannot help anyone if you are unhealthy and exhausted. Think of the time you put into exercise, de-stressing, and eating healthy as your time for rejuvenation.
  • Passive aggression and/or resentment: Over time, you can become silently angry and resentful at others, especially if you feel taken advantage of or unappreciated. In the short-term, you can suppress your anger, but it may turn into passive aggression (e.g. comments, jokes, or sarcasm that subtly allows negative feelings to show). Resentment destroys relationships and can result in distancing or disconnecting from relationships instead of expressing how you truly feel.
  • Reduces ability to enjoy other people and activities: Excessive people pleasing can increase stress to levels where enjoyment is reduced or eliminated. You have so many commitments, you can rarely be present enough to enjoy the current activity because you are constantly thinking of all the things you need to do next. That disengagement is often noticed by others who may notice you being distracted and distant. If mentioned, that can create more anxiety because you feel that you are failing to be a good friend, partner, etc.
  • Stress and Depression: Unhealthy stress is having more demands than you can handle. Excessive people pleasing is a vicious cycle of chronic stress and unhealthy behaviors. It is when you constantly feel like you are too busy and doing everything for everyone else but yourself. If pulling out of the cycle seems overwhelming, identify one small place you can start. Identify one responsibility you have taken on that you can cancel to free up some time for yourself. Work from there. Find one person in your life to share your plan with and ask them to help you implement it.
  • Taken advantage of: People may take advantage of your kindness by asking for more than is reasonable. You may become the target of exploitive people because they know that you can't say no. Even people who are not exploitive may take advantage of you without realizing how much you are doing for others. If boundaries are not set, people won't realize when they have crossed the line. Teach people how to treat you through the behaviors you accept or reject from them. Set boundaries about what you can and cannot do, and what you will and will not accept. Those who are used to you saying no may be disappointed at first. You will probably feel guilty, but it is your right to take care of yourself.

Strategies for interrupting people pleasing tendencies:

  • Stall: Whenever someone asks you for a favor, it's perfectly OK to say that you'll need to think about it. This gives you the opportunity to consider if you can commit to helping them. Ask for details about the commitment and use that information to decide if you have the time, energy, and ability to commit. If the person requests an immediate answer, you can say no because once you say yes, you have committed. Initially declining a commitment can provide an option to reconsider at a later time.
  • Set a time limit and boundaries. If you do agree to help out, limit your availability. Specifically tell the person the time, date, and location where you can be available and stick to that. We all have limits and it is important to recognize them and let others know what they are. Being consistent means that others learn how to treat you and gives you an opportunity to address any boundary violations if it happens.
  • Realize you have a choice: People-pleasers often feel like they have to automatically say yes when someone asks for their help. You have a choice about whether or not you say yes or no even if it feels like you don't.
  • Set your priorities: If your to-do is too long or you have competing demands on your time, knowing your priorities and values helps to organize what you need to do. Ask yourself, "What are the most important things to me?" and use that to decide which task to do.
  • Consider if you're being manipulated. It is important to watch out for manipulators and flatterers, who claim, "Nobody does this better then you, can you help me out." They may coax, flatter, or repeatedly request you to do something. They may preface it by saying, "I know that you are free this weekend, can you…" Pay attention to when they have made the decision for you, before actually asking.
  • Create a mantra. Identify those individuals, friends, and family who repeatedly get you to do things you don't want to do by automatically picture a big flashing"No" or"Stop sign" when they appear or call. That way you won't be caught off guard when they ask for yet another favor.
  • Say no with conviction. The first no is the hardest. State it simply and purposefully. You are saying no for a good reason and you don't have to offer any explanation about why you are not able to help. Keep it simple. It's tempting to defend your decision and offer a lengthy explanation. The more information you give them, the easier it is for them to argue or negotiate you into helping. This isn't a debate and you don't have to offer any more information than an answer to their question.
  • Use an empathic assertion. If you want to increase the likelihood that the person you are saying no to feels heard use an empathic statement. Let them know that you understand where they are coming from and how much it might mean to them, but unfortunately, you cannot help our right now.
  • Start small. Take baby steps and give yourself opportunities to practice setting boundaries on a meaningful, but realistic scale. Taking a step in the right direction, no matter how small, gets you closer to where you want to be. If you are preparing for a challenging conversation, write down what you would like to say beforehand. That way you don't have to come up with the words on the spot. It also gives you practice formulating how you would like to say it.
  • Don't apologize if it is not your fault. People-pleasers tend to apologize non-stop even if they are not at fault for the situation. Are you apologizing for something negative you did or are you simply apologizing because that is what you do when you think someone is displeased?
  • Don't be scared of the fallout. People-pleasers often worry that saying no will destroy the relationship. It rarely is. It is likely that the other person is not as worried and invested in the outcome as you are. It might be challenging and surprising for them at first, especially since they are used to you always saying yes, but changes are they will adjust.
  • Consider who you want to have your time. Newman suggested asking yourself, "Who do I really want to help?" As she put it, "Do you want to be there for your parents or some friend from college who lived down the hall who you partied with a lot who's back in your life and really demanding?"
  • Recognize when you've been successful. Give yourself credit for your successes. It is easy to focus on all of the"mistakes" you have made, but make sure not to dismiss positive changes.
  • Realize that you can't be everything to everyone. Trying to make everyone happy all of the time is impossible. Their happiness is temporary and then you feel responsible for maintaining their mood. The only thoughts and feelings you can change are your own.