I was listening to a podcast recently where I heard the following statement – “People pleasers are liars.” The host went onto explain her reasoning and I was captivated. She didn’t use the word “liar” in a derogatory way, but rather in a “you’re not being truthful to yourself” kind of way.
So many women wear the badge of “people pleaser”, especially mothers. On the surface using the term people pleaser seems so nice. It seems like all you want to do is make people happy and what’s wrong with that?
You may not even label yourself as a people pleaser, you just consider yourself a nice person. Doing for others allows you to feel loved and valuable. You also may believe that pleasing others is what a good mother, wife and friend does.
But like the previous statement says, what if the habit of pleasing other people means you are being a liar? What if you are actually attempting to manipulate people into liking you or thinking positively about you at the expense of your truth?
This week I’m going to explore the truth about people pleasing and how to recover from the need to people please and begin to, more importantly, please yourself.
The truth about people pleasing
In an article by Psychology today, the 10 signs that you are trying too hard to please are:
- You pretend to agree with everyone
- You feel responsible for how other people feel
- You apologize often
- You feel burdened by the things you have to do
- You can’t say no
- You feel uncomfortable if someone is angry with you
- You act like the people around you
- You need praise to feel good
- You go to great lengths to avoid conflict
- You don’t admit when your feelings are hurt
Does any of this sound familiar to you? After reading this list of people-pleasing signs I had a much greater awareness of myself. I’ve always tried to be my own person, not allowing myself to be taken advantage of, but I was honestly a little shocked at how many of the above items applied to me.
In general people-pleasing is a pattern of thinking and behavior where you prioritize what other people think over what you think. You are trying to please others and willing to sacrifice pleasing yourself to do it.
The reason the podcast host I previously mentioned was describing people pleasers as liars, is because you are not being true to yourself. You are in effect tricking people into thinking and believing something about you usually without being fully aware of the manipulation.
For example, you are invited to a party by a friend and deep down you don’t want to go but you say yes anyway. The reason you say yes is because you want this friend to think you are a good person; you want them to say nice things about you to other people instead of complaining that you didn’t go to the party.
It’s understandable that women suffer with the need to please others at their own expense because as young girls you are socially conditioned to make other people happy. You’re taught to go along, to not make waves and to not be difficult.
You eventually get the message as a woman and as a mother that prioritizing yourself is selfish. You’re taught by observing older females in your life that it’s your job to make sure everyone is happy in all your relationships.
For example, you’re going to dinner with your sister and need to decide where to eat. You don’t want her to think you’re controlling or difficult to please so you tell her “Let’s just go wherever you want”. The truth was that you wanted to go to a place that serves vegetarian options but you go along with what she wants to make her happy.
Before you know it you have created the habit of putting other people’s feelings before your own. Your brain now believes that this is what you need to do to be liked, to be accepted and to be valuable.
This habit can then become as strong as any other addiction. Whether it’s overusing food, alcohol or spending, the overuse of trying to control other people’s thoughts and feelings about you can create a life that is unmanageable.
How to recover from the need to people please
As with any addiction, the key is acknowledging there’s an issue. Without this acknowledgment there’s nowhere to go to; no future version of you that is free to just be.
Once you’ve acknowledged that you have a strong need to please, then it’s time to learn what’s really going on. It’s time to shine the bright light of truth on what you have been doing and why.
The truth is that you have most likely been making up a story in your mind about what you believe other people want or need, often without anyone making a request. You have been trying to control how other people perceive you.
You may make assumptions about what the other person will think and feel if you behave a certain way. You then create an expectation that can become a breeding ground for resentment.
For example, you may assume that your boss will be impressed that you worked extra hours over the weekend. However, when you let him know about your extra effort he doesn’t say a word and tells you the next project he needs you to work on. You walk away feeling resentful of his lack of acknowledgment even though he actually never asked you to work the extra hours.
On the flip side, others may have an expectation of you because they believe they will feel better if you meet that expectation. It’s easy to fall into this trap because most people aren’t aware that their thoughts create their feelings either.
For example, your aunt wants you to come to her house for Easter and she says that having you there will make her happy. She complains that no one comes to visit her enough. You’d rather stay home but you agree to go to make her happy. Then Easter day comes and she’s happy for about a minute but then her habitual thought patterns kick in and she’s thinking about the people who didn’t come. Now she’s no longer happy and neither are you.
So if you can’t control other people’s feelings, then why are you caught up in the vicious cycle of people-pleasing? It’s because you are using the actions you do for others as a way to either feel positive emotion or avoid negative emotion.
You want to feel happy and liked or you don’t want feel anxious and guilty. You believe that your actions will make you feel better without realizing the truth.
The truth is that you can feel any feeling on purpose by the thoughts you choose to think on purpose. You can skip the people-pleasing habit to feel better or to feel less awful because your feelings are always within your power; you just haven’t been aware of it.
You no longer need to manufacture a pretend version of yourself to feel accepted and liked because it never works. Other people have thoughts and feelings that you cannot control; but you can control yours.
If you want to do things for others as a gift to them, that’s not people pleasing. The key is in the no-strings-attached thoughts that create the desire to take action. Here is an example of the difference:
- Non people-pleasing thought – I want to help her with her laundry because she’s been working so hard; I’m feeling love and want to do something loving
- People-pleasing thought – I really don’t want to help her with her laundry but I want her to think I’m a good person so I’ll do it; I’ll feel guilty if I don’t so I’ll just get it done
What often creates the addiction to people pleasing is the desire for outside validation. The more you crave validation the more you will people please in order to get approval.
This addiction gives your brain a dopamine “feel good” hit which creates more beliefs and desires to please others. Over time though, the high stops feeling as good so the need for a “fix” becomes stronger.
If you are ready for an intervention then I suggest you take the following steps:
- Admit you have a problem and acknowledge that you are NOT in control of how other people think and feel
- Recognize what thoughts and feelings you want to have that are driving your desire to people please. Do you want to believe you are a good wife, mother, employee, etc.? Do you want to feel appreciated, happy, valuable, etc.?
- Start taking control of your own thoughts by choosing your thoughts on purpose; choose how you want to feel and choose the thoughts that create that feeling for you.
For example, let’s say you’ve been watching The Walking Dead with your husband because you want him to think you are a good/fun/cool wife but the truth is that you don’t like violence. If you’ve been trying to feel connected by trying to please him, you can instead practice thinking thoughts like “I can choose to not watch the show with him and still be a good wife” or “I can have a connection with my husband without doing something I don’t want to do”.
Depending on how strong and how long your people pleasing habit has been in place, your pattern-seeking brain will naturally resist your desire to change. It will give you all the reasons why staying the way you are is in your best interest.
So I’m going to give you a challenge – when someone enters recovery from alcohol or drug addiction, they are encouraged to abstain for 90 days to start with. It gives the body a chance to detox from its false modes of pleasure.
For the next 90 days I challenge you to say no to people pleasing. During this time of detox you may experience fear, resistance, bargaining or any host of negative emotions.
Let those feelings surface and write down the thoughts that are creating those feelings. This is where your power is! Once you are aware of those thoughts, you can begin to challenge their validity and choose better feeling thoughts.
Before you know it, you will be on the road to recovery by being in control of your emotional life in a way that your addiction has made impossible. It’s so worth the steps of awareness, acceptance and action in order to honor the most important person in your life…you!
- In general people-pleasing is a pattern of thinking and behavior where you prioritize what other people think over what you think.
- It’s understandable that women suffer with the need to please others at their own expense because as young girls you are socially conditioned to make other people happy.
- Once you’ve acknowledged that you have a strong need to please, then it time to learn what’s really going on.
- On the flip side, others may have an expectation of you because they believe they will feel better if you meet that expectation.
- You can skip the people-pleasing habit to feel better or to feel less awful because your feelings are always within your power; you just haven’t been aware of it.
If you’d like some help learning how to recover from people pleasing, please feel free to schedule a free mini session or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get to work together.