Ah, people-pleasing--or, as I like to call it--Emotional Stretch-Armstronging. We over-commit and over-extend ourselves to the point where we’re spread so thin we hardly recognize ourselves. We think things like:
I couldn’t possibly disappoint anyone.
But I feel baaaad! I don’t want to say no.
I couldn’t possibly make someone (cringe) angry with me.
I want them to like me.
I could never tell them how I really feel!
Does any of this sound familiar? I know it does to me. I totally have the “disease to please” (I’m currently in recovery). It took me years of working on my own personal growth to see how debilitating it is to constantly strive to make everyone else happy and never acknowledge my own needs and desires. But after seeing how much changing this behavior has improved my life and the lives of women I coach, I’d say the need to please may be the single largest reason many people don’t achieve fulfillment on a deep level. Here’s why:
When you’re constantly people pleasing...
YOU RARELY GET WHAT YOU NEED OR WANT!
I know, crazy, right? I have to actually acknowledge that I have needs to get them met!? Nooooooooo….
Your needs matter. Your WANTS matter. They are aligned with your core value system and are the keys to living a fulfilling life. So let’s get down to brass tacks then, shall we? Why do you continue this people-pleasing behavior if it’s clearly not serving you? The answer is a four letter F word.
You guessed it--fear. You’re scared (we all are for the record). You’re afraid of having wants or needs because that makes you feel weak, a.k.a vulnerable. You’re afraid of asking for what you want and having it denied. You’re afraid of rejection.You’re afraid that if you stop making everyone else happy and being so nice and agreeable you won’t be loveable.
Yep, it always come back to that. Love. We all want it, we all need it. And somewhere along the line something happened in your life and you decided that meant that you’re not loveable unless…(you fill in the blank). Maybe unless you’re liked by everyone? Unless you’re selfless? Unless you’re giving nonstop?
So after this thing happened and this unconscious belief was born, you decided that in order to get your most basic need met (love) you had to curate yourself and show only the most likeable, agreeable parts to those around you.
In her book The Disease to Please, renowned clinical psychologist Harriet B. Braiker points out that people pleasers often adopt these behaviors out of a need for control. We unconsciously think things like: If I can just make everyone else happy, the spotlight will stay off of me. No one can criticize or judge me when I’m so nice. Of course this completely backfires because no one can fully love you or accept you when they don’t fully know you so you wind up feeling isolated from the people in your life. Not loved. Not seen.
This is why many people pleasers have a tendency of attracting partners who are takers. “You have needs, I have a need to be needed! Match made in heaven!” Ugh...try hell, or purgatory at best.
I myself had this pattern for years in my early dating life. I had always thought if I was “needy,” I’d be too much for someone. I valued myself as being an independent lady who could take care of business all on my own. The problem was that by not acknowledging my needs, I didn’t attract a partner who could meet them. And because I wasn’t getting my needs met in relationships, I started having negative feelings about relationships in general which only made the cycle worse!
Luckily a lightbulb went off for me one day and I saw the entire pattern so clearly. I had been depriving anyone I was in a relationship with of the simple human need to contribute! I was “needless” so they felt worthless. It made so much sense to me. I had to give and receive. That’s what a relationship is! When I started thinking about the benefits I could actually get from being in a real relationship and acknowledging I had needs that someone else could meet, suddenly being in one was much more appealing. That didn’t mean I was desperate for it--it just meant that I was finally ready to show who I really was to someone else and if they couldn’t handle it, they weren’t the person I was looking for. Funny enough, the year I had this epiphany was the year I started dating my husband. Coincidence? I think not.
The truth is ditching people pleasing can transform all of the relationships in your life. All too often people pleasers have relationships that are co-dependent, one-sided, or contingent on what they’re doing for someone else. But when you set boundaries and say no to friends or family, or even colleagues, you’re able to have deeper connections that are based on honest communication. You’re saying “This is who I am. This is how I feel.” You’re trusting that your relationship isn’t contingent on what you do for them, but on mutual love and respect. It doesn’t mean you don’t do nice things for people! And it doesn’t mean that you never put someone else’s needs in front of your own. It just means you do things because you want to, not because you feel obligated to or fear you won’t be loved if you don’t. This makes what you do so much more meaningful! It’s about authenticity. It’s about owning your truth and living it and trusting that the people who love you will love you even more the more YOU that you are!
So have I convinced you to ditch the need to please yet? If so, I have to warn you: You’re going to be tested. Once you decide to change this operating system you’re going to be asked to do a favor for someone you don't want to do. You’re going to be made angry by something someone does or says and have to decide whether to ignore it and shove it down (like you usually do) or admit that you were hurt and even...wait for it…ANGRY by their words or actions. Once you decide to make this change you’re going to realize all the myriad ways you’ve been hiding from your true feelings. So my warning, my friend, is it won’t be easy. But my promise is you will feel so much more connected, powerful, fulfilled and loved once you decide that WHO YOU ARE IS ENOUGH and ditch the need to please for good.