Chances are you know someone who may describe themselves as a ‘people-pleaser’, you might even describe yourself as one. The common traits of a people-pleaser are well, doing everything they possibly can to make anybody happy. This isn’t just singularly attributed to people who want to consistently please their partner, best friend, boss or parent. Being a people-pleaser can get to the point where you want to please everyone you meet and become acquainted with. The thought of annoying one of your classmates that you barely even speak to? Soul-crushing. The fact that the bus driver gave you a scowl this morning because you took too long finding the right change? This now means I’m officially the worst person in the world.
You’re probably thinking this is a bit extreme. Naturally, you can’t please everyone. Especially with a world population of 8 billion people. But in an extreme people-pleaser case, sometimes the mere thought of a stranger disliking you can send you into an anxious turmoil.
If you find yourself apologising at least a million times in an average day, struggling to say no, changing your personality to fit particular social scenarios and the idea of conflict makes you want to hide – you’re probably a people-pleaser.
What can be worrying is when you find yourself going off the deep end of people-pleasing and this is a situation I am currently in. People who have struggled with making connections or friends as a child or found themselves unfortunately in connection with people who manipulate and take advantage of their natural empathy are more likely to be people-pleasers. It is not always the case, but the fear of being hurt from abandonment or isolation can then form into self beliefs that people do not like them or that they are not worth anything and this self-belief will sit ingrained into the back of their minds. When someone, whether it’s a boss, a partner, a friend or parent, gives them positive feedback and validation, it helps break down that self-belief but if that belief has really concreted it’s place in that person’s brain – the happy feeling released from validation can be temporary.
the feeling that they cannot express their own emotions in fear of upsetting someone else or the fear of creating a negative image of themselves in someone else’s eyes
The validation and reassurance can get almost addictive and over time an extreme people-pleaser may become fearful of negative emotions, conflict or feeling like they’re letting another person down. These fears manifest into behaviours such as feeling physically unable to say no and one of the most damaging to a person’s mental health – the feeling that they cannot express their own emotions in fear of upsetting someone else or, a thought not discussed much, the fear of creating a negative image of themselves in someone else’s eyes. Being out of control of other people’s opinions about you or what they say about you is something that could cause a lot of anxiety in an extreme people-pleaser.
This is then damaging to their mental health as they may often repress their emotions, they may hold back on standing up for themselves and although not saying anything and keeping on a ‘happy face’, internally feel forgotten, not listened to, used or manipulated. The term ‘don’t bottle your feelings up’ is used as advice a lot because it’s true. The fallout of bottling up emotions like sadness, anger, frustration, fear, paranoia etc. over time is dangerous as you are not letting your body feel and express emotion. Which is a completely human thing to do. The lyrics of Sia’s Elastic Heart are a very good visual for this:
I’m like a rubber band until you pull too hard / I may snap and I move fast
The first step to adjusting your people-pleasing behaviours is acknowledging how much do you bottle up. How far do you let the rubber band of your emotions and feelings stretch for the sake of other people and what people think of you?
The next step is realising it is human to feel things. You are allowed to. Feel what you feel in a safe space or safe discussion with safe coping strategies (talking to a loved one or a mental health professional) and then take action to feel better and be compassionate to yourself.
Thank you for reading,