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In my previous article, I discussed people-pleasing (you can read it here), and I promised to provide some tools for managing people-pleasing tendencies this week.
People Pleasing = Manipulation
As I’ve mentioned previously, growing up, I developed strong people-pleasing tendencies as a way of keeping the peace in a complex family dynamic. Unfortunately, as I discussed in last week’s article, what can be a brilliant adaptive tool in childhood can become maladaptive in adulthood.
During my research into people pleasing, I came across this statement:
‘When we people-please, we are being manipulative.’
I must admit, that hit me hard! But it makes perfect sense if you look at that statement more deeply.
When we practise people pleasing, subconsciously, we are hoping that another person will like us and, therefore, are less likely to reject or abandon us. This behaviour is deeply rooted in our nervous system and comes from our basic survival needs.
As children, we cannot survive without our parents/primary caregivers. However, if we go even further back to the time of our early ancestors, if we were banished from the tribe, it meant certain death as there was little chance of us surviving for long on our own.
Nowadays, although we like to think that we are so sophisticated, we are still driven by our subconscious need for survival. Those drivers are deeply rooted within our DNA.
Interestingly, our pursuit of validation from others can be traced back to our deep-rooted need to be accepted and belong to the tribe. Today, that validation may come through ‘likes’ on social media, our boss/parent/significant other telling us ‘good job’, or people laughing at our jokes; it stems from a DNA-based need to belong to our modern-day tribe of choice.
Downsides of People Pleasing
Unfortunately, there are many downsides to people pleasing:
1. Attractiveness to Bullies/Narcissists
Because of an intense need to please and be liked, people pleasers are extremely attractive to bullies and people with strong narcissistic traits. As a result, they are often exploited and taken advantage of in both personal and professional relationships.
2. Feeling unappreciated
Some people can become so accustomed to the people pleaser putting their needs above their own that they take their generosity for granted.
They may even forget to acknowledge the lengths the people pleaser has gone to to make them happy. In some cases, they may even come to expect it and feel entitled to it.
Clients with people pleasing tendencies will often tell me, ‘Why does no one appreciate me? I do so much for everyone else; they don’t even thank me. They’re just taking me for granted.’
3. Experiencing Burnout
Constantly anticipating and attempting to meet the needs of others can quickly become exhausting and overwhelming.
People pleasers are likely to feel strong negative emotions towards others, such as anger, frustration, sadness, resentment, etc., and usually subconsciously towards themselves.
They will also often experience feelings of being emotionally and physically drained and, in the long term, can become burnt out.
Tools Managing People Pleasing
I’m often asked, ‘Can you ever completely get over people pleasing?’ To be honest, I’m not sure of the answer to that. I describe myself as a ‘recovering’ people pleaser. However, what I do know for sure is that you can manage it and lessen the negative impact.
Tool 1 – Question
Whenever I find myself wanting to help or give/buy something for someone where there is no apparent ‘gain’, e.g. payment or reciprocal arrangement, I now ask myself:
‘Am I doing this because I want the other person to like me, or am I doing it because I want to?’
This is a great pattern interrupt. I use it frequently, and it stops me in my tracks. Obviously, there are times when yes, absolutely, I want to do it because it’s the right thing to do. However, when I first started asking myself this question, I frequently discovered that no, I really didn’t want to; it was just my people pleasing making me believe that I did.
Tool 2 – Set Boundaries
Set adequate boundaries both with yourself and others. I’ve talked about boundaries previously (you can read the article here). Having strong boundaries, not just about how others treat you but how you treat yourself, is critical for people pleasers.
I teach boundary setting in four distinct areas:
- Emotional boundaries to protect your emotional well-being.
- Time boundaries to protect the use and misuse of your time.
- Mental boundaries to protect your thoughts and own value system (which can be different from your colleagues and family).
- Physical boundaries to protect your physical space.
I recommend reading my previous article and taking the time to set clear boundaries for yourself and others in all four areas. I also suggest creating a plan for what you will do if those boundaries are crossed.
Get into the habit of asking yourself, ‘Am I doing this because I want the other person to like me, or am I doing it because I want to?’. Also, remind yourself that people pleasing is, in effect, manipulative.
When you do this, it will allow you to take a step back and analyse your behaviour. It will help you break the conditioned/automatic pattern of people pleasing that you’ve probably had since childhood.
The hardest part of this (and with most things I teach) is remembering to do it. So, I recommend leaving prompts to remind you somewhere that you’ll see them when you need them most.
Again, I realise that this is a difficult topic. So, if you felt triggered by anything you read here, please seek professional support or talk to someone whom you trust. You can also contact me for a 15-minute discovery call at firstname.lastname@example.org.