3 Signs You’re a People Pleaser (and What to Do About it)
A few nights back, I attended a dinner with some people whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. Everybody had a good time, but after the evening I came away with what I can only describe as an ‘icky’ feeling. It’s a sort of discomfort or uneasiness – a feeling in the pit of your stomach that something just isn’t right. Reflecting back, I now recognise that at times I was bowing to other peoples expectations, trying way too hard to please others (at my own expense) – and this ‘icky’ feeling likely came from being inauthentic.
What do I mean by authenticity? Your authentic self is the person you are when you’re alone, when you can express yourself freely and fully. Though it can easy to be authentic in our own company, we often encounter difficulty when surrounded by the opinions and judgements of others. Without being aware, we can succumb to social expectations and quickly lose sight of our authentic selves. This incongruence between who we know ourselves to be versus who we are with others often leads to discomfort and uneasiness.
For many of us, people-pleasing is a social survival mechanism – we will say and do anything to avoid social discomfort in the form of conflict, awkwardness and disagreement. In doing so, we gain approval from others, people like us more. The problem is that this is often at our own expense – we withhold our opinion, forgo our own wants, erode our character and give away our power.
To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson:
It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
3 Telltale Signs You’re a People Pleaser
Before we can hope to change this behaviour, we must first recognise our people-pleasing habits. Here are 3 common signs that you’re a people-pleaser:
1. You have difficulty saying “no”.
You always agree with others and say yes to things, even when you would rather say no. This may lead you to feeling over-worked, over-burdened and anxious.
2. In conversation, you speak about yourself in a self-deprecating manner.
This essentially means you put yourself down in order to lift others up. This may mean belittling your opinions, accomplishments, achievements, wants or goals. It’s a simple exchange: by inflating anothers ego and pitching yourself as inferior, people will like you. Self-deprecation is viewed as ‘charming’; it’s a form of flattery for others. It’s funny, because in our culture, self-deprecation is viewed as ‘charming’, but an ounce of pride or confidence can be misconstrued as ‘cocky’. The truth is, self-deprecation is anything but ‘charming’. Over time it erodes our character, causes us to doubt ourselves and breeds disrespect in the eyes of others. We become weak and disempowered.
3. You feel dissatisfied with your relationships.
People-pleasing prevents us from engaging in authentic, meaningful interactions with others. Relationships are about give and take, and without giving someone your authentic self a relationship becomes one-sided. These interactions become tiresome, depleting and in the end we come away feeling dissatisfied because our needs are simply not being met.
Breaking the Habit
People-pleasing is a tough habit to break; like I said, it’s a social survival mechanism. And for many, it is a default way of interacting. Though it is likely that we will all struggle with it from time to time, there are ways to overcome this habit.
- Become mindful during social interactions. You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. Next time you’re with others, take note of any people-pleasing behaviours. Maybe you put yourself down. Maybe you agreed to helping your friend move house, even though you were busy that weekend. Whatever it may be, the first step towards change is identifying these default behaviours.
- Change your self talk and make a new mantra. Why do you need the approval of others? Why do you need to fit in? It can help to be curious. Many people harbour the core belief that they need outsider approval in order to feel worthy or validated – I’m here to tell you that that is simply untrue. At the end of the day, what is it to have the love of others if we do not love ourselves? Create a new, positive mantra and write it down. Put it somewhere that you can see it daily (an inspiration board is great). It might sound a bit woo-woo, but you can only bring about what you set your intention to. If you’re anticipating an awkward or confronting social situation, be sure to read it to yourself beforehand, and keep it in mind. For me, my new mantra is: ‘I honour myself, before all else’.
- Learn to say ‘no’ and realise that you do not owe anybody anything. Often we feel pushed into saying yes even when we would rather say no. That’s not to say you should turn down opportunity – ‘yes’ can be a great word! However, you should never feel bullied into doing anything that you don’t want to do. And a part of that is recognising that you do not owe anybody anything – and that includes an excuse. For example, a friend asks you out for dinner one night and you would rather not go. You might be busy, or maybe you’re just tired and don’t feel up to it. In any case, many people panic and feel that they OWE that friend an elaborate excuse as to why they cannot go. It doesn’t have to be this complicated, realise that it is perfectly ok to simply say ‘I’m sorry, it’s not a good night for me’.
- Become comfortable with some awkward discomfort. People are going to say things that we disagree with. We all have different opinions. It can be tempting to just ‘go with the flow’ and agree for the sake of avoiding conflict, or perhaps we feel pressure to fill conversational silences. In any case, we have to stop being so damn polite, and start standing up for ourselves. I’m not talking about being rude or unkind – the opposite in fact – I believe that when we step into our authentic selves we do the world the greatest kindness. When we offer our unique opinions we challenge people to think in different ways, to open their minds and to grow.
To close with another favourite by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
Here’s to becoming stronger, more authentic versions of ourselves!