Are you constantly trying to make everyone around you happy? (Except yourself.)
Do you keep saying “Yes” when you really want to say “No”? Are you trapped by the opinions of others? Or maybe you’re super nice to everyone, just to be taken for granted?
If this is you—you, my friend, are a people-pleaser.
I’ve done people-pleasing too. I did it when I had landed a new job and didn’t know anyone at the office. I invariably agreed with everyone and went to any length to avoid a confrontation. (It didn’t work. My colleagues found it fake and it led to unhealthy relationships.)
So, what’s my point? Am I asking you to stop being nice?
No, I’m not saying you should stop being nice! Your relationships are indeed precious. And it’s great that you are compassionate and caring. We need more of that in the world.
I am asking you to stop people-pleasing.
People-pleasing is portraying a fake version of yourself just to be liked. It’s a collection of flawed assumptions, patterns of behaviour and feelings that push you towards self-sacrifice in everyday situations.
Kindness and people-pleasing may look similar but they are really worlds apart. Kindness always comes from a place of strength and confidence. People-pleasing, however, comes from a fear of confrontation and disapproval.
But I don’t want you to get worried: You can stop this “disease to please” and I’ll show you how. You ready?
(Some of the links below are affiliate links. So, when you buy a book using one of my links, I earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Know that I only recommend books that have changed my life.)
- Roots of People-Pleasing
- Stop Caring What People Think About You
- Self-Esteem and Integrity
- Conflict is Good
- How to Stop Being a People-Pleaser
Roots of People-Pleasing
The pattern of people-pleasing starts when we are kids.
When we are children we learn the rules of living together with other people. During that time, we are completely dependent on our parents for survival.
When we follow the rules we are praised and rewarded (Good boy!). On the other hand, when we mess up we are punished and shamed (Bad boy!).
The correct way to digest this feedback is to think: “Okay, so these are the rules of society that everybody needs to follow.”
But, as kids, we have a limited perspective. When we are punished we think: “My parents don’t love me and might desert me. This part of me is unacceptable and can get me killed. I must hide this part of me.”
Over the course of our childhood, we create lists of things about ourselves that are acceptable and unacceptable. (Being quiet is good. Being loud is bad.) And we live the rest of our lives according to these lists.
As adults, we continue to look for validation from other people that our behaviour is indeed acceptable. We desperately seek approval and are paranoid about disapproval.
Is it okay to say this? Is it okay to do this? Is it okay to be me…
Stop Caring What People Think About You
The message here is fairly simple: Not everyone is going to like you. And that’s okay.
You don’t need to be liked. It’s time to stop portraying a fake version of yourself that everyone approves of. Instead, be the real you that some people disagree with.
True confidence will come when you are okay with people loving you and okay with people hating you.
And if you’re aiming to be charismatic, freely expressing your personality is your best bet. So don’t try to change yourself just to make people like you.
Also, guess what? Your wants, preferences and feelings do matter. You don’t need to hide them.
Start to enjoy yourself. Act in the moment. Let your real personality come out. Say what is on your mind. Be authentic and be unaffected by how people react.
No more walking on eggshells—afraid and anxious. Let there be no difference between how you feel and how you act.
Finally, it all comes down to a simple question and you need to make your decision:
Do you want to be liked by everyone or do you want to build the life of your dreams?
Self-Esteem and Integrity
Integrity is one of the pillars of self-esteem. It tells us to act according to our values and beliefs.
If we don’t have integrity we lose respect for ourselves. While criticism from others doesn’t have to be harmful, going against your own values is devastating for your self-esteem.
It turns out, there is one person who’s approval you should care about after all. That person is you. The judgements that other people pass on you are not important but the judgement you pass on yourself is.
Your individuality is to be actualized and celebrated—not aborted and disowned. Unsurprisingly, integrity is one of the first victims of a people-pleasing habit.
Most of our conflicts with integrity are not about big issues but are mundane everyday decisions. The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem gives us some examples to bring integrity to our lives:
- I will tell people when they do things that bother me.
- I will not be flattering to people I dislike.
- I will not laugh at jokes I think are stupid and vulgar.
- I will not just say what people want to hear.
- I will not sell my soul to be popular.
- I will say no when I want to say no.
- I will not pretend to be in agreement.
- I will not deny it when I am angry or upset.
Conflict is Good
Most people-pleasers believe that all conflict is destructive. They treat conflicts and confrontations as experiences that are to be avoided at all cost.
Sadly conflict avoidance is not a psychological strength. The truth is that all relationships have conflicts. Sooner or later differences of style, opinion, preference or interest will crop up.
What matters is how you deal with conflicts. Dr Harriet Braiker makes an important point in her book, The Disease to Please: Happy couples resolve their conflicts, whereas unhappy couples don’t.
Shying away from your differences through people-pleasing will take a toll on your life. Over time resentment, anger and tension will start to build up as your relationships become unfair and lopsided.
You would never let your friends know your true wants. Your spouse wouldn’t know what values you stand for. Your family will be unaware of your likes and dislikes.
The antidote is simple and you can try it the next time something bothers you:
Discuss whatever is making you unhappy or dissatisfied. Do it in a respectful way. Talking about your problems will not only improve the quality of your relationship but also help you meet each other’s needs better.
How to Stop Being a People-Pleaser
Alright, you get it! People-pleasing is not the path to happiness.
But how do we go about fixing this? By taking small steps and through them, big changes will happen.
Keep in mind that the goal is not to transform yourself into a heartless monster but to regain control over your life. When you stop being a people-pleaser, you can start to make an intentional choice to care.
First off, you need to stop saying knee-jerk yeses when you really want to say “No”. So the next time anyone makes a demand simply delay your answer. You can buy some time by saying something like: “I will need a little time to think about it. I’ll call you back later/tomorrow.”
By now you realise, of course, that universal approval is neither possible nor necessary. So why not embrace the entirety of your personality? Which parts of yourself had you previously labelled “uncool”?
The only approval that you absolutely need is your own. Tonight, before falling asleep, spend a few minutes thinking about these questions:
- What are 10 strengths that you possess?
- What are 10 things that you did well recently?
- What are 10 ways in which you are unique?
People-pleasers tend to be afraid of their own anger. You may believe that anger and aggression are the same thing. But this is not so. You can learn the techniques of anger management to accept and express your frustrations in a healthy way.
Another area where you may lack experience is in managing conflicts. You have probably been relying on people-pleasing techniques to avoid all confrontations. The best resource, that I know of, to help you deal with difficult interactions is Crucial Conversations.
Over to You…
Congratulations! You now have all the information you need to live a happier life with healthy relationships.
I will leave you with a thought from Nathaniel Branden (Father of Self-Esteem): Your life is important. Honour it. Fight for your dreams.
Is there someone in your life who you think should read this post?