My name is Nouseibah and I’m a recovering people pleaser (“Hi Nouseibah”).
People pleasing is a well hidden, dysfunctional yet socially awarded way of living. The mechanics of people pleasing are simple: it’s an exaggerated agreeableness and helpfulness at the expense of oneself. Behaviour wise, the primary motivation is externally driven: moving according to other peoples’ approval/appreciation and away from their disapproval. The people pleasers personal feelings, wants, needs, preferences, opinions and boundaries are therefore secondary. People pleasing doesn’t need to be an “either you’re in or out” kind of deal, it can show itself in varying degrees and is in some cases situational.
Are there typical signalment for people pleasers? Commonly these individuals have a good reputation being described as kind, helpful, compassionate, reliable, selfless and overall pleasant to be around. They never hesitate to extend a hand, go over and beyond to help out and rarely ruffle anyone’s feathers. They’re the first to call if you’re in a bind, need a problem-solver, support or a pep talk. Offering their hand even when feeling drained, having a full plate or going through their own struggles which objectively speaking appear to be “worse”. This sort of “dedication” is rarely reciprocated and they don’t expect it to be. They might not feel as if they or whatever they’re going through, is important enough (“others have their own problems to deal with”) or fearing they’ll come across as a burden. Instead, it comes more naturally to deal with personal troubles in silence and put up a good front.
Another common thread among people pleasers is the resistance and emotional discomfort saying the word “no “ and setting appropriate boundaries. Drawing a line is closely associated with guilt, anxiety, a sense of weakness or like they’ve disappointed or hurt someone. Unfortunately for the people pleaser, this makes them magnets, attracting those who happily and without conscience exploit their people pleasing habits (personally and professionally).
The average people pleasers’ horror scenario is to confront or be confronted. Confronting someone on their own behalf is not on the map. They’ll get impressively creative fabricating reasons (excuses) why they rather let things go ( have you read “Are you “understanding” to avoid confronting?”). The slightest indication of a confrontation coming their way may trigger intense negative emotion such as anxiety or fear (most likely leading to additional people pleasing to compensate regardless of who’s at fault).
I’d also like to mention a few random yet subtle expressions of people pleasing I’ve noticed such as: fake laughing, pity dating, false flattery, personality shifting (adjusting to whoever is around) and easy “persuasion” by sales folks ( purchasing whatever is being sold rather than declining to avoid discomfort). These are all actions demonstrating a person’s inaccurate reflection of their true standpoint in order to please.
Many are skilled at people pleasing to the point of ambitiously turning it into a career. If you want to see where people pleasers flock, have a look at occupations where the main purpose is helping or rescuing those in need. Instinctively they’ll feel like they are in their true element. The people pleasers fitting personality traits for these sorts of jobs together with the reluctance to turn anyone down or ask for support, equals what? Overwork! No wonder they make excellent workers, producing results appreciated by those they assist, coworkers and those higher in the hierarchy. Ps. This “work” pattern can be spotted across professions. I bet minimally 90% of overburdened workers, regardless of occupation or title, have a people pleasing disposition.
I believe most people pleasers have an innate and sincere drive to uplift others. For many it’s their gift or even life calling. However somewhere along the line an imbalance has occurred and the people pleasing has grabbed a hold of the steering wheel and placed the individual in the back seat ( of their own life). The downsides of railroading oneself in this manner are several, for instance: exhaustion, feeling lonely, having support shortage and a blurriness when discerning between doing a favour or being manipulated/taken advantage of.
The biggest price to pay, I’d say is undoubtedly, missing out on intimate connections. Although people pleasers often have large social circles and no difficulty making friends or acquaintances (because they people please), they are structurally hiding who they are. By “dancing after other people’s pipe” as the Swedish saying goes, and therefore automatically displaying a misleading representation of who they are, they’ve created a wall around themselves which sadly a few (if any) get to peep through.
How come a person would be inclined to people please? And are there ways to break the pattern? I’ll make sure to write a post on it soon.