What does it really mean, and more importantly, how do you stop being a people pleaser?
On the most basic level, people-pleasing is changing your behavior to make others happy. Sometimes, in relationships, we change how or what we do to enhance the relationship, so what is the difference between relationship peace vs. acquiescing to relationship demands?
Like many things, intention is the difference between a helpful habit and one that causes harm. You can change your behavior in a caring and selfless way; instead of rinsing your dishes and leaving them in the sink, you can rinse them and then put them directly into the dishwasher – one of my favorites! That is not what people’s pleasing is: being part of a family or community and respecting one another’s boundaries.
According to researchers, the difference is that people-pleasing involves putting others’ needs and wants before their own and well-being, regardless of the consequences.
The underlying assumption with people pleasing is that:
- You believe the other person matters more than yours.
- You are trying to avoid a negative situation by acting to satisfy what the other person wants.
People-pleasing has an interesting relationship with manipulation. On the one hand, people-pleasing functions to minimize conflict between people: “Just keep the peace and do not say anything” or “Just do it their way, even if it does not make sense or is inefficient.”
Sometimes, keeping the peace has an emotional cost – mainly for the peacekeeper. Suppose the other person manipulates the situation with disappointment, irritation, or anger, assuming you will capitulate to people-pleasing. In that case, the hard work of compromise to meet everyone’s needs does not have a chance.
A person who people-pleases a lot is likely high in sociotropy, or, plain language, conflict avoidance. This trait is characterized by a strong desire for conflict-free relationships, often by seeking approval from others. Research shows that people high in sociotropy also have high levels of agreeableness (a desire to get along with others) and neuroticism (a tendency to have difficulty processing emotions).
So, what happens when a people-pleaser struggles with regulating their emotions? It is a recipe for unfulfilled desires – wanting to avoid conflict with others but, at the same time, feeling conflicted within oneself. The result is feeling disappointed, frustrated, and dissatisfied!
How To Be A People Pleaser
Most of the time, when an individual becomes a people pleaser, it is because the alternative – peacekeeping outweighs the trouble of conflict. They could also have not learned another way to resolve differences. Aaron Beck, a pioneering psychologist, claimed that people please because they have overly rigid and unrealistic expectations. Most people pleasers have a powerful desire to be accepted by others. Their perspective is that it can only happen through positive interactions, so to use an old-fashioned phrase, they do not want to “upset the apple cart.” When a negative interaction occurs, they often feel at fault and assume they do not have the skills or abilities to handle conflict. When people pleasing is a regular way to interact with others, receiving near continuous approval from others results in feeling safe and well-liked.
So, how does this pattern happen in the first place? Like most patterns established early in life, their attachment style with their primary caregiver shapes future social interactions. If someone is insecurely attached and their fear of rejection is also high, putting other’s needs before their own can prevent rejection. Many people are taught to prioritize others with messages such as, “Think of others before you think of yourself.” In Western cultures, women tend to engage in people pleasing more often than men due to cultural norms.
How To Stop Being A People Pleaser
Have you heard of the Golden Rule of Self-Care? The golden rule of self-care is to treat yourself with as much respect, kindness and compassion as you do others. Viewing needs as mutually important can help decrease negative perceptions of conflict around meeting them when you acknowledge the importance of your own needs, more to gain by resolving conflict.
To stop being a people pleaser, you can
- identify healthy boundaries to get your needs met
- put yourselves first when you need to
- be proactive to ensure that you are consistently taking care of yourself
People-pleasing is a habit that you can change. Understanding how and why people-pleasing exists can help you better grasp what you must do to change it. When you break the people-pleasing habit, your life and relationships can improve and become more satisfying and fulfilling.