We all know a people pleaser.
People pleasers have a hard time saying no, so friends and family turn to them when they need something.
Does this sound like you?
Do you have a hard time saying no?
Do you have people pleaser syndrome?
People pleasers sacrifice their own time, sanity and wellbeing in the interest of others, rarely if ever taking the time to recuperate or care for themselves because they’re always running one errand or another for someone else. They’re utterly selfless, extremely hard-working, and often the one person who takes care of the planning and the obligations no one else wants to take on.
That sounds pretty damn great, doesn’t it?
The issue is that these people pleasers are good people to a fault. They’re miserable. They’re often unhealthy, and follow lifestyle composed of bad, fast-acting habits. They resent their own behavior and the fact that they live the way they do – yet they do absolutely nothing about it. They feel trapped by their personality, trapped by the busy schedules they’ve created, trapped by all the obligations, needs and worries.
Being a people pleaser isn’t an actual mental diagnosis. You can’t go to a psychiatrist and get pills for never saying no. But it is a syndrome, a mental condition that affects quite a lot of people, and carries similar factors.
What is People Pleaser Syndrome
Like I said, there is no textbook condition or diagnosis for being too nice. But there are a few “symptoms” or trademark descriptors that connotate being a people pleaser (in the negative sense).
The first and most obvious is self-neglect. We’ve already discussed how people pleasers are incredibly nice people. This isn’t a bad thing by any means. But being a people pleaser also means you’re very, very bad at pleasing yourself.
Note that you can be a “people pleaser”, and not actually please people/be a pushover. In this case, you’re most likely dedicated only to a specific person or group of people, like your family. I’ve met mothers and fathers and others who have spent every ounce of their sanity working as hard as possible to provide for their loved ones, without taking any time off for themselves. This level of self-less behavior does not actually mean you’re a people pleaser. It doesn’t carry the same connotation of insecurity. But it’s still a problem, for the very same reason I’ll illustrate later.
People pleasers typically aren’t just people who want to do everything they can – they can’t say no to other people’s requests, even if it rubs them the wrong way. They can stand up for themselves at times, but those times are rare occasions. For all intents and purposes, people pleasers will do what you ask them to do, almost regardless of how they feel about it.
That’s typical because of a low self-esteem and perceived self-worth. This is the next trademark of a people pleaser – a very, very low opinion of self. There’s a difference between being critical of certain parts of your behavior, and being of such a low opinion of yourself that no matter what happens, you feel that you deserve what you’ve got and where you are.
Basically, this leads to an issue with complacency where you tend to make excuses for others and explain away your own misfortunes as being “just fine”, or something you can cope with. The issue behind that, of course, is that it fosters a state of constant and chronic stress. You also begin to lose an enthusiasm for everything you do. People pleasers are spread so thin that they cannot muster enough passion for any one task.
A final mark of a people pleaser is childhood behavior. Typically, people pleasers either skipped past the rebellious phase or had their rebellious behavior totally and entirely crushed by their parents. They decided at some point in their formative years that the best way to get by, survive and avoid punishment (regardless of whether it was physical or emotional punishment) is simply to abide by the more powerful grownup’s wishes.
That feeling – the feeling of just doing what you’re told because it’s easier – permeates your core and becomes a part of who you are for the future. It goes from just being considerate or kind, to eventually becoming entirely passive, avoiding competition, doing away with all forms of anger, and getting any form of attention. Because of that, people pleasers fear two things more than anything else: disappointment and rejection.
That isn’t to say that all strict parents create people pleasers, or that only rebels end up having a healthy self-esteem. It also doesn’t mean that being kind will automatically develop into being a pushover. It just means these things correlate, specifically with a low self-esteem. You can be kind, but firm, and you can help others and be considerate but maintain a personal boundary and standards of self-love and self-esteem, which you bend for no one.
Why Being a People Pleaser Isn’t Always Positive
If you were living in an ancient city, then the primary means of long-distance communication was whatever amounted to the local postage system – often, it involved couriers. Couriers are extremely helpful and necessary for local commerce. They deliver packages, going long treks to ensure important messages are delivered – from simple correspondence to extremely sensitive, coded information.
Imagine you’re the best courier around, delivering nearly everyone’s mail and giving every task your 100 percent. You’re admirable, to say the least – but also self-destructive. Your body can only take so much running and trekking before you start to notice the harsh consequences of your job, and without taking the time for some recuperation, you will destroy yourself.
Once that happens – once the arthritis sets in, once injuries stop healing properly, once you begin to feel your tolerance for heat and cold falter – your abilities as a courier dissolve. You fall into obscurity – the one thing by which you defined yourself and your self-worth have become impossible for you, and you become depressed, lacking any purpose or reason.
People pleasers will spend their time tending to everyone’s needs and deriving a little bit of pride from their behavior – but after a long time, that pride can turn into resentment, and eventually you will find yourself unable to take requests because you’re physically degrading yourself.
It’s not just about physical degradation, however. People pleasers will suffer mentally and emotionally for their behavior. Constant chronic stress isn’t healthy and can lead to a myriad of different mental disorders and actual diagnoses.
It’s essential that you take care of your physical and emotional health. It’s essential that you can put yourself first when it matters. It’s essential that you always make room for your own needs. That doesn’t mean ignoring the needs of others, or taking care of yourself first and everyone else second – it means not neglecting your needs, and understanding your importance and worth. It’s important that you know how – and when – to be angry and defensive, and that you know how to set boundaries and stand up for yourself. Without these essential abilities, you’ll succumb.
Associated Disorders and Consequences
Being a people pleaser might not be a condition, but it can cause other conditions, or be part of several factors in the development of a mental illness.
The most obvious are depression.
Chronic stress and being faced with the constant overwhelming fear of disappointment means you can easily fall into a depression if you’re physically unable to comply with a request, of if you find yourself being criticized for not doing something right.
Your low self-esteem won’t help in that matter.
Anxiety can also develop, from the apprehension and overall fear of failure, as fear turns into a state of chronic tension.
And, on top of depressive and stressful thoughts, you may risk developing an anger issue as you’re unable to safely or healthily vent your frustrations, and instead, let them boil over entirely unmanaged.
You Risk Becoming Invisible
It’s not just that being a people pleaser makes you a target for a lot of unwarranted abuse and manipulation from people who see you for what you are, and exploit your personality and malleable rationale – being a people pleaser means you’re always willingly pulling yourself out of the spotlight, and out of the way of real recognition and the accolades you deserve. People pleasers will do what they can not only to help everyone, but they’ll do nothing when they fall into obscurity.
That means with time, you’ll become invisible – because you never complain or argue and just wait for the good people to come forth and speak up on your behalf, validating yourself where you cannot, you forget to realize that the very same good people may simply not realize you’re being overtaxed, taken advantage of and discarded. When the talented individuals in your department get a promotion from work you largely did without you seeing a slice of the pie, then their actions might not actually be malicious – they just never really thought about your perspective on the matter.
Furthermore, when you’re that one person everyone comes to for little tasks and errands, it’s not because they’re abusing you – they think that since you never say no, you’re obviously capable of handling it. They’ll admire you for your fortitude and ability to withstand stress and keep taking on new requests, but they’ll never figure that all you’re really looking for is some absolution from your obligations at the hands of someone else.
You become invisible if you don’t do anything in your own self-interest at times. Of course, you can wholly embrace the selflessness, constant altruism and asceticism if you feel that sainthood or the life of a monk is what you’re cut out to be – but if you’re simply waiting for someone else to jump in and defend you, then you must realize that if you never defend yourself, to begin with, no one will realize you’re suffering.
Even just a small outburst could be enough to get people to realize you have feelings and limits, too. But it’s better and much more responsible to work on your self-esteem and tackle your behavior in a more wholesome manner than waiting for the anger and resentment to reach a critical boiling point.
How to Stop Being a People Pleaser
If you’ve decided that you’ve had enough being a pushover and a doormat, then it’s time to get to work to go ahead and change that.
It’s not quite as easy as just saying “I’m gonna go ahead and change that,” though. Indeed, if you want to stop being a people pleaser then you have a long journey to go through – and step one is preparing you for that fact.
Once you’re ready to accept that you must change, you start by setting priorities. Sit down and ask yourself what you need. It can be simple. “I need more sleep”, is a good one. “I need to eat better” is very important. “I need some exercise” should never be neglected. Realize that these are simple tasks – it’s not very difficult to arrange your day to get seven hours of sleep, 90 minutes of good food prep for the whole day, and a mere 20 minutes of exercise, plus 10 minutes of shower time. That’s barely nine hours dedicated to yourself and leaves you with a whole fifteen hours to do everything else.
Time is important here. It’s a good idea to build a schedule and get in the habit of using time limits and timers. Let people know that you shouldn’t be contacted for work or anything else in the hours you spend sleeping, exercising or cooking.
Remember to love yourself, as well. This is extremely difficult for some, but with a little forced empathic assertion, you can begin to care for yourself more. Instead of just repeating “I love myself,” tell yourself that people need good food and exercise to preserve themselves, and recognize that you count as “people”.
Finally, practice saying no. Say it firmly. Say it loudly. Keep saying it until it doesn’t feel strange of weird. Go around and practice with your friends. Ask them to ask you something, and say no – even if it’s not an actual request, the exercise itself can help a lot.
Remember – the key is to be strict with yourself. Don’t fall into the trap of “just this once,” or “one more time”. Figure out what you need to keep yourself sane, happy and healthy, and pursue it. Build a schedule. Find out what you need to do, what you need to move around. Ask for help from others. Ask for favors. Seek a little in return for all the good you’ve done. And remember to stick to habits that boost your self-esteem.
It’s not going to be an overnight change, and there will be pangs of guilt as you realize you can’t say yes to every chance to help someone because you’ve got to head to the gym, or cook a decent meal, or be in bed in time. Ignore those pangs. Focus on the fact that if you don’t change, you will not only suffer for it, but you’ll be unable to help anyone ever again.