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People pleaser? The pitfalls of trying to appease everyone

There’s nothing wrong with having a ‘nice’ or ’friendly’ character, but constantly preventing yourself from ‘upsetting the apple cart' by burying your views from others as if your tongue has been cut out will eventually lead you to heavy anxiety and frustration. People may view you as ‘lovely’ ‘harmless’, or the person who ‘doesn’t cause any problems’ but secretly this eats away at you. So where do 'pleaser' behaviours come from? 

It's exceptionally common for such behaviours to derive from your upbringing. Why? Children are conditioned by their parents both through words and actions. For example, perhaps your mother or father was overbearing and critical when you were a child, crushing your voice if ever you expressed a unique viewpoint? Maybe you heard your parents persistently moaning about a rebellious or opinionated brother or sister, thus creating fear in you of being judged in the same way? Or perhaps it was more subtle in that you ‘felt’ or ‘sensed’ that having your own voice would likely be met with a turned back, silence or a sneer because within your family dynamic overt communication through words wasn’t acceptable? 

Whatever it was, you may have learnt that having a voice or expressing yourself wouldn’t be rewarding. So to survive within your family home you became the ‘good child’ the ‘soother’, a ‘pleaser’ essentially doing everything you could to stay in favour with your parents. How you learnt to survive at home can often have a huge impact on how you relate to others. If you learnt to be a pleaser at home then, most likely, that’s the persona you’ll adopt with everyone. This identity, crafted through childhood, is merely a survival behaviour to make sure that you prevent anxiety by being accepted and not rejected by others. 

So how does being a pleaser affect you? 

Here is a list of common safety behaviours you may be personally adopting to survive socially:

  • Hiding in the background: you may have come to the conclusion that it’s much safer not to stand out socially, so instead, you prefer to wear the cloak of invisibility. Perhaps as a child, you may have spent lots of time in your room? Things may not have changed as you’ve developed into adulthood. You may also tend to avoid situations where you have to socially interact or you find yourself to be ‘the quiet one’ in the group. If you do dare to show what appears to be a more extrovert side it’s merely the act of a person hiding behind a mask as opposed to a genuine display of your character, and that’s exhausting.
  • Not expressing views or opinions: you may be incredibly sensitive to how others perceive you. Therefore you could well be more outwardly tolerant of others opinions, going out of your way to make sure they have been heard by you. At the same time, you’re likely extremely careful about upsetting them with your own views. Inwardly you resent this and feel frustrated, angry and taken advantage of. Despite this, you say nothing or speak passively or submit to others even if you don’t agree so as not to upset them.
  • Justifying pleaser behaviour: you may trash people who dare to voice an opinion or show levels of confidence you would love to have but not to their face, only in your thoughts. This may be because you perceive such people as ‘in-polite’ or ‘rude’. In truth, and deep down, you would love to be able to speak up and share your views, however, unconscious beliefs give you the perfect excuse not too. For example, you may tell yourself ‘voicing my opinion will make me sound arrogant or rude’. This negative belief only serves to keep you gagged and frustrated whilst others speak honestly and freely.
  • Going out of your way to being perfect and compliant: the good adult is desperate to justify their goodness. As a child you may have been a superb student, making sure that your homework was done to a high standard, your room was tidy and you ate your greens. These behaviours were less about yourself and more about an inner craving to impress your parent or caregiver. In other words, your eagerness to please and exaggerated politeness was expressed in the hope of reward or validation from a parent and not for yourself. Unfortunately, the pleaser matures into adulthood whilst still adopting these childlike tendencies.

    For example, at work you may be a rule follower, taking care not to annoy people or say the wrong thing through fear of rejection or exclusion. However, as the saying goes ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease’. People who take risks or show ambition and daring through uniquely expressed ideas are more likely to experience success, colleague respect and develop within a company. Confidence breeds confidence. 

    In romantic relationships, you may take pains to prevent your partner from being angry at you, so you show how good you are by doing tasks or playing the good listener, adopting the role of a therapist for your other half. What a perfect partner! This eagerness to act as pleaser often has the opposite effect. Instead of feeling respected and validated you feel taken advantage of. Validation can only come from developing self-respect, as opposed to attempting to impress your partner to gain a sterile stroke or pat on the back. 

If any of the above relates to you I’m sure you’re well aware of the huge impact burying your thoughts and feelings brings to your life. 

One of the main reasons the pleaser keeps up the outward facade is because being authentic and finally displaying their true self is extremely uncomfortable. They often fear people's opinions or worst still, rejection and abandonment. They’ve never felt strong enough to show or voice what others may perceive to be ‘bad’ ‘disagreeable’ or ‘inappropriate’ even though these are characteristics we all possess. So the only option is to display a sickeningly agreeable, socially acceptable, virtuous persona to prevent discomfort and anxiety.

As we mature we all come to realise that we cannot please everyone and that people who care will tolerate our differences despite having opposing views. Being ‘safe’ ultimately leads to a life of mediocrity, feeling crushed into a little ball, enslaved by fear about what ‘society’ or others may be thinking of us. 

If any of the above relates to you counselling can help to further understand your eagerness to please others in a variety of settings. With continued support, you’ll gradually develop an actionable plan of what you can do straight away to build confidence and self-esteem. You’ll quickly feel more empowered and respected when communicating with your partner, family, friends, colleagues and strangers.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Adam Matthew Day - Relationship Counsellor & Coach

Adam Day is trained in various approaches as an integrative therapist; these include humanistic (person-centred/existential), cognitive behavioural, transpersonal and psychodynamic. He is available for therapy throughout the week from 10am to 8pm.… Read more

Written by Adam Matthew Day - Relationship Counsellor & Coach

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