From offering assistance at every turn to continuously making personal sacrifices, people pleasers habitually put others’ needs above their own. This behaviour, while born out of kindness and empathy, can become counterproductive, leading to burnout, stress, and even resentment. Interestingly, while there are myriad reasons why some people adopt this pattern of conduct, it’s crucial to note that often, others are oblivious to these motivations. Ultimately, it’s up to us to teach others how to treat us.
People pleasing can stem from various root causes, including a desire for acceptance, a fear of conflict, or low self-esteem. In a society that often prioritises selflessness, such behaviour can be lauded as a virtue. But the thin line separating healthy altruism and compulsive people pleasing can easily blur, obscuring the emotional toll it takes on those trapped in its clutches.
Often, people pleasers are not even aware of their self-effacing tendencies, but it’s important to identify such patterns early. Signs may include agreeing when you actually disagree, feeling responsible for others’ feelings, or finding it difficult to say no.
The real conundrum lies in the fact that many of those on the receiving end of our habitual accommodation are unaware of our motivations. We might believe we’re cultivating relationships built on reciprocity, but instead, we’re fostering environments where our own needs go unmet. In essence, we are teaching them how to treat us by always being available, forever agreeable, and endlessly supportive, even at our own expense.
So, if you’ve identified with the above, you may well ask, how do I break free? How do I stop teaching people to expect unbounded generosity, time, and energy from me?
The answer is simple, but the execution requires bravery and commitment: assertive communication and setting boundaries. Assertiveness involves expressing your thoughts and feelings honestly, but respectfully. It’s about understanding that your needs are just as important as those of others. You might initially worry about appearing selfish or rude, but remember, it’s about striking a balance, not teetering at the extremes.
Setting boundaries, on the other hand, helps others understand the limits of your availability and generosity. It’s akin to drawing a line in the sand that distinguishes between your needs and the needs of others. Effective boundary setting helps maintain your mental and emotional well-being.
Just remember that this transformation won’t happen overnight. Like any skill, it requires practice and patience. Expect resistance, both from yourself and others. But the rewards of living authentically and maintaining your mental wellbeing far outweigh any temporary discomfort.
It’s pivotal to realise that changing the way you interact with people won’t make you less kind or caring. It’s about recognising that you’re worthy of the same consideration and respect you offer others. It’s not about building walls, but about creating a healthier and more balanced way of relating to the world.
Being a people pleaser can stem from various factors, often unknown to those around us. The first step to breaking free is understanding that we are essentially teaching others how to treat us through our people-pleasing behaviours. It’s then essential to implement assertive communication and set clear boundaries, ensuring a more balanced interaction with the world around us. While the journey to change isn’t easy, it’s undeniably worth it, leading to healthier relationships and improved self-esteem.
Dave Mackenzie, a New Orleans native, is a counsellor and self-help author, dedicated to helping others cultivate healthier relationships and improved self-esteem.