Jennifer von Baudissin
What percentage of us (roughly) are people pleasers?
It is very difficult to estimate a percentage as most people will at some stage in their lives, whether in a social context with friends and family, or in a professional context with colleagues and superiors, display people pleasing traits or behaviours, willingly or unwillingly. This is only normal as we are part of a social and professional system that requires a very wide range of inter-relational skills in order for us to be happy, appreciated and successful.
Having said this, cross-cultural research has shown that women tend to be people pleasers more than men and this is typically due to social and cultural influences.
When does people pleasing become an issue?
People pleasing can become a serious issue when you are no longer able to say “no” and you start to neglect your own needs and feelings, leading to resentment and frustration because you do not seem to get the level of acknowledgement and approval that you feel is due. More importantly though, extreme people pleasers are open to abuse and manipulation by others in a social and professional context which would further affect one’s confidence and self esteem. Ultimately, this may lead to people pleasers feeling physically and emotionally depleted which in turn could result in a “burn out”.
Why do we worry what people think?
It is human nature to want to be loved, appreciated and noticed, and to worry about whether one is favourably perceived by friends, family and colleagues. However, people might become too worried about maintaining a certain image or persona in order to maximise their social and professional potential. Problems arise when this worrying becomes excessive and leads to people pleasing behaviour patterns to alleviate this anxiety.
What do we fear and how does this affect the way we behave in every day situations?
Typical fears of people pleasers include rejection and lack of appreciation from others, as well as fear of failure.
People pleasers are afraid to say “no” for fear of upsetting others and to avoid arguments or confrontation, even though they might not really want to “please” the other person.
This fear will lead people pleasers to find themselves in unwanted situations, either socially or professionally, which they are not able to control. Every-day situations might include a woman’s inability to say no to invitations from her wider social network for fear of being excluded from other social events or being “unfriended” by friends and friends of friends, or a man’s inability to say “no” to his colleagues’ continuous requests for after-work socialising when he would rather spend time with his children. In a workplace, a people pleaser might find himself burnt out or depressed in order to accommodate the unreasonable and unrealistic expectations of a very demanding boss.
Does it stop us being our real selves?
The examples above show that people pleasers will try so hard to please and gain other people’s approval that they are indeed at risk of losing their identity and losing control over their environment. When that happens, others will neither expect nor respect the people pleaser’s opinions, which is not a real representation of the people pleaser’s real self in any case, because they have never been voiced as part of the discussion or decision-making in the past.
What kind of families create people pleasers and how do we become people pleasers?
There are several types of families that create people pleasers, including families in which the children feel that they are not loved or appreciated by their parents, families in which the child needs to constantly seek the parent’s love and approval, or families in which the parents’ themselves are people pleasers.
In the first example, the child will try to gain their parents’ love by being compliant and obedient for fear of being rejected by their parents’ unpredictable reactions. In the second example the child will comply with their parents’ own needs and demands to seek their love approval, while in the last example, the child will simply learn the behaviour from their parents.
None of these family dynamics are conducive to growing and nurturing a true sense of self and instilling self-confidence.
This often depends on the parents’ own sense of self and how they behave themselves socially and professionally
The first family dynamic is one in which children do not think that they are loved by their parents because of the parents’ unpredictable and irritated reaction to the children’s emotional and physical needs. This hostility in the family will lead the child to adapt its behaviour to avoid this reaction and to do what it can to make the parents happy and seek their love and approval.
The other type of family which creates people pleasers is one in which love must be earned. When love depends on being good and is only given when a child is good and living up to its parent’s expectations. Children in these families do not feel loved for who they are, but for what they do and will therefore seek approval and a way of seeking approval is to please.
Children in these scenarios believe that they can only enter relationships through self-denial, suffering and sacrificing their own emotions and needs.
Can you give me any tips on how to overturn this behaviour?
The first thing to do is to notice the dysfunctional behaviour pattern and your inability to say no. You need to become aware of your own needs and knowing what you would prefer to do so that you might be able to voice it. You need to build your self-confidence so that you are able to say no and get positive feedback and increased respect from others. Is it hard to make time for yourself, do you fear rejection. Does constantly pleasing others leave you physically and mentally exhausted? These questions may help in identifying and being aware of these issues will be part of the getting better process. Relationships are not only about giving but also about receiving. You need to identify toxic relationships in your life. You need to start building boundaries, re-assessing relationships, knowing that it is ok for you to say no, without fear of being loved less.