Pleasing others can lead to low self-esteem

Pleasing others can be one of the most satisfying of experiences; finding that gift that we know a loved one will cherish, or preparing their favourite meal when they least expect it. Love offered in this way is special and unconditional, not seeking anything in return.

This is not always the case. Occasionally, we believe we are doing things for love but actually there is a hidden agenda. Sometimes we know we have a hidden agenda but often we are in denial of this. A hidden agenda might be that you hope to get what you want at a later time, or perhaps you hope to be thought of in a positive light, or you are fearful of what would happen if you did get what you wanted.

Do you find yourself sacrificing your own pleasure so someone else can have what they want?

Paradoxically this way of pleasing others can result in our own unhappiness.

Do you find yourself unhappy because:

  • No one asks you what you want.
  • You don’t remember what interests you any more.
  • No one seems to understand what makes you happy.
  • You never ask others for help or support, for fear you might not get it.

Unfortunately the consequence of trying to please others can be that our own needs and hopes get lost - we stop recognising them and stop asking for them. We might even think of them as less important, or that it is selfish to think of ourselves. This is true of emotional needs; such as a hug, some focused attention or someone to off-load to. But it is also true if you have interests, that little gift that reflects someone knows what you like, whether it be a CD, a book or flowers. Having things we like is important, it is a reflection of who we are and it boosts our self-esteem. It is inevitable then, that over time as we deny our own needs and interests, those close to us will also stop attending to them. After all we are acting as if they are not that important any way.

By pleasing others at the expense of our own needs and interests, we are likely to grow to feel unloved and unseen; a doormat. Self-esteem will fall and this may cause a low mood, even anxiety and stress as you begin to feel put upon, taken for granted and used. (You may turn to other forms of emotional comfort such as smoking, drinking and eating).

If this feels a familiar picture, then counselling can offer the opportunity for you to reflect on how to feel comfortable communicating what is important for you. You can also help yourself:

1. Reflect on how often you please someone else without voicing what you like.

2.Try to recognise what you are sacrificing when you put someone’s needs before your own and communicate this, for example "Yes I will pick you up from the pub, I don’t mind missing Coronation Street, just this once".

3. Acknowledge what you feel like when someone appears to ignore what you want. Reflect whether you actually told them what you wanted, or are you assuming they should know.

4. Encourage yourself to begin to ask for what you want. You could say to people that are close that you find it hard to ask for what you want. They may support you as you learn how to express yourself.

In summary, it is important to feel comfortable communicating things that reflect what you like, and what you need. People close to you will appreciate it more than you realise.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Brighouse, Yorkshire, HD6
Written by Emma Dunn, MBACP (Accredited) Registered Counselling & Psychotherapy
Brighouse, Yorkshire, HD6

Emma Dunn is a psychotherapist in Brighouse, West Yorkshire, and works with issues of anxiety, self-esteem and depression. She is a qualified dietitian.

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