People-pleasing. Why it pleases no one.
By dating (and extensively complaining about) a people-pleaser have I realised what a grande people-pleaser I have been all my life.
I came to see that this tendency killed my ability to be authentic, content with whatever I do and to be trusted by closest friends.
It’s fascinating to see how we spend our lives focused on what the people around us do wrong (while obviously we are PERFECT) — while we fail to notice our darkest and unhealthy behaviour patterns.
During this connection I found myself thinking:
“My relationship is perfect! He thinks everything is perfect!” — Little did I know that a realistic relationship rarely contains only sugar and rainbows.
At times, he would act extremely fidgety. When I would ask if everything is ok, the answer would be “It’s perfect! Don’t worry!”.
In other moments I would think: “He has the same problem that I have! That people don’t appreciate our kindness and availability!” — By seeing myself so much in this person that I would think we’re a match made in heaven, when actually
we had the same toxic tendency to achieve people’s approval to feel worthy.
I have realised this months after he’s ended the connection out of nowhere. It came as a shock that after 3 months of “Everything being perfect! PERFECT” — after all, nothing was perfect at all.
The only explanation I have found with my therapist (among other discovered patterns) was that we were both massive people-pleasers.
How do we identify a people pleaser?
As WebMD would define it, people pleasers:
- are extremely helpful in whatever situation you find yourself in — even though they cannot fix your car, they will offer to fix it (Good luck!)
- are constantly available, until they crash physically and emotionally
- agree to everything you mention — with the aim of achieving your liking
- Overly apologise for things that aren’t their fault
- are unable to say no to plans — they make up an excuse last minute rather than saying “no” from the beginning
- adapt their personality based on whoever is around them
All my life I have not been aware of this pattern of mine, until I started complaining about his tendency. When I was vocalizing his issues I realized: “Heck! I’m the same!”
We notice the faults of the people around us quicker than we notice our own.
Here’s some of the people-pleasing actions we have both done:
Never communicated what bothered us
All this time I thought everything was going really well: I have started to attach myself emotionally while denying some of the aspects which really bothered me too.
Until when he broke it off. It came as a huge shock and initially I had no clue why things went the way they went.
I realised that just as much as I have never communicated what didn’t work for me, he has piled up all the things that have never worked for him.
Slowly I realised that I’ve been doing the same all this time with my closest friends. I would say “It’s fine!” to everything that bothered me with the scope of not initiating a conflict and keeping the “peace intact”.
I noticed my tendency to people-please every time I would feel overwhelmed to communicate my needs and boundaries with close people.
Made more promises than he could keep
On Wednesday: “We should do XYZ this Friday at 5pm! I’m so excited” — cancels the plan at 4pm.
“I’m so excited for you cooking tonight!” — 2 hours later — “Sorry! I cannot make it anymore”
“I can show you around my town when you’re there!” — Never happened.
After such a wide variety of cancellations, and endless hours of anger as a result did I realise that I’ve been doing the same all the time. I would cancel last minute calls with friends various times and think it was “super fine to make up my mind”.
It definitely is normal to make up your mind, but when we do this various times — a pattern arises and there is a bit of a bug in our mind.
So, how does people-pleasing impact you?
You’re never truly authentic
As your likeability is one of your main sources of stability and contentment, you tend to push away your needs in comparison to the needs & opinions of people around you.
Your partner likes football? Well, you cannot possibly NOT like football! (Which by the way, is super normal for you not to have all the hobbies on the planet)
I have noticed myself starting to adopt passions just to achieve the liking of the people around me. I would never do my hobbies with as much determination as the hobbies of my partner. Therefore, I would never be truly authentic.
You never do what you truly wish to do
A friend asks you: “Would you like to go out for some drinks tonight?” — but you’ve been going out the whole week and been drinking every single evening, the last thing you truly want to do is add more alcohol to your body.
So what do you say?
“Sure! Would love that” — you end up in a situation you don’t want to truly be in for the scope of achieving the liking of your friend.
In essence, for you to be liked, you deny all your needs, in a way even lie about what your needs are.
Isn’t it paradoxical that in order to achieve someone’s liking, people-pleasers think they have to sculpt who they are in every single situation?
What I didn’t truly realise from the beginning was that people started to like a version of me which never existed. When I started to show my “true face” the same people weren’t as interested, action which my old self couldn’t have been able to accept.
Now, I see it more of a filtering mechanism.
The more authentic I am, the more I disagree with certain aspects of life, the more I don’t go to places I don’t want to go — the more I enjoy the places I truly want to be in and the more I attract the people who truly like me for me.
Not the “sculpted version” of me.
How does it impact your relationships?
You never truly communicate what you truly like, as you place the opinions of others above you.
Your relationships are slowly built on a sculpture which doesn’t last for the long-term.
Longer-term connections will notice inconsistencies in your behaviour and will slowly lose trust in your relationship, as you never show who you truly are.
I have found myself various times in coffee “catch-ups” where I would count the minutes until it is “acceptable” to say goodbye and leave. When the other party would suggest to meet up again, I would feel so overwhelmed that I would never reply again.
From the other side, it shows up as inconsistent behaviour — and from my side as anxiety.
Building a sculpted/ fake version of myself helped me feel momentarily:
Though I didn’t realise that I would never truly enjoy life and see it more as a “duty”.
How do we unlearn this habit?
- Understand why you people-please.
Most of our behaviour patterns are deeply rooted in our childhood. Understanding the source of our behaviours is the first step in our healing journey. Becoming aware helps us break these patterns.
My people-pleasing tendency came from a childhood where:
- all my grades had to be 10 (not even 9.5 — it would be a disaster if someone had a 10 and I had “only” 9.5)
- my mum never communicated and took ownership over her feelings so I had to always guess how she felt & adapt my behaviour to keep her mood up
- my opinion in family decisions (don’t worry — not talking about financial investments or buying houses as a 5 year old) when it comes to places to visit, or what to do together never really mattered. Having CEO parents usually comes with childrens’ opinions not being taken into account.
Later in life, unconsciously this pattern showed up in my romantic relationships:
I would completely ignore my needs to agree with everything my partners ever suggested, even though I strongly disagreed with them:
- In my first serious relationship I agreed to date a guy who believed in polyamory, even though the moment he confessed that to me I threw up (literally)
Later, my therapist recommended me a book from the specialist in stress, trauma and addiction: Dr. Gabor Mathe: When the Body says no . The book describes how when we deny our feelings and “shove it under the rug” — most likely it will show up in our body: as a physical reaction (such as vomiting, our gut closing, or clenching teeth) or as some sort of illness later in life, such as cancer.
- I never said a clear-cut “no” to a sexual-partner when I was grieving a potential cancer that my father could’ve had.
My favourite author and psychotherapist Esther Perel mentioned in her book Mating in Captivity that Eros and Grief can never coincide. Eros comes from a heightened level of joy and desire, while Grief is the complete opposite.
- Everytime a guy would cancel last minute a date, I would say “No worries! That’s fine!”. After sending the message, I would go to my closest friends and complain abouthow much of an “a*****e” he was by cancelling last minute, but I would keep seeing him.
I knew I didn’t deserve that behaviour. I knew that that wasn’t what I wanted. But as a classic people-pleaser, having that person by my side and being “loved” and “not bothering someone” was way more important for me than communicating my needs and setting my standards.
2. Analyse past experiences & learn from it
Think about the moments when you truly enjoyed yourself and moments when you didn’t want to be in a certain place.
Map them out in a list:
a) Moments you enjoyed & had a great time — and would definitely love to repeat
b) Moments you wish you never repeated
Think about the ones you wish you never did, and think what exactly you didn’t like about those moments. Later you can spot these momemnts and start practicing saying “No” (which for a people-pleaser is the worst nightmare):
- Practice saying “No” to small offers such as: trying a meal you don’t like, not saying that you like what you actually don’t like
2. Then practice saying “No” for bigger invitations such as: romantic dates from people you’re not interested in, work projects you won’t benefit from or you wouldn’t particularly be excited about.
By understanding where we come from, why we behave in a certain way, and getting to know ourselves and what works & what doesn't work — in time we will make the biggest progress to be the most authentic version of ourselves.
It’s a painful process. You might discover past trauma from connections you stayed in but wish you never did or you might discover current patterns with your family that no longer work for you.
Self-discovery is a bloody painful process which takes us to the most uncomfortable places we could ever be in, but it takes us through a journey of learning and reaching our most authentic version.