Part I: Breaking the People-Pleasing Pattern: Understanding the Hidden Costs of Prioritizing Others Over Ourselves

Some time ago I learned about this term – people pleaser – and while it was uncomfortable to admit, it resonated deeply with the ways that I would often show up socially and helped me to connect some of the dots as to why I was feeling so anxious and burnt out in many of my relationships. 

People-pleasing refers to the tendency of individuals to prioritize the desires, needs, and opinions of others over their own, often at the expense of their own well-being, values and goals. 

People-pleasing might not sound all that bad. Most people would agree that it’s good and beneficial for society to try to be thoughtful, kind and helpful to each other. But when this behavior is driven by fear of rejection and a deep seated need for acceptance and validation, it can become excessive and can lead to a pattern of prioritizing others’ needs over our own. While people-pleasing may initially seem altruistic, it can lead to feelings of resentment, burnout, and a loss of self-identity when taken to extremes.

Let’s look at some common patterns people pleasing: 

  • Struggling to say “no”
  • Saying “yes” from a place of guilt, fear, obligation or anxiety
  • Saying “yes” without considering the impact and consequences for you
  • Overcommitting to avoid letting people down
  • Feeling a strong sense of responsibility for other people’s feelings
  • Regularly putting other people’s needs ahead of your own
  • Struggling to advocating for you own needs
  • Feeling like your needs will be perceived as demanding selfish or needy
  • Perceiving that you are likable/valuable only if you continue to meet another’s needs
  • Apologizing excessively to others
  • Tendency to avoid conflict 
  • Feeling like you need to keep the peace
  • Rarely expressing an opinion, criticism or disagreement with others
  • Exhibiting a lack of personal boundaries
  • Hypersensitivity to criticism and judgment
  • Externalizing your decisions to get permission/approval from others

THE COST OF SELF-NEGLECT

Constantly putting others’ needs ahead of our own can take a toll on our mental and emotional well-being. Suppressing our own desires and feelings to avoid conflict or gain approval can lead to feelings of resentment, anxiety, and depression. Over time, the facade of being agreeable can erode our sense of self-worth and authenticity.

Let’s dive a little deeper into how some of these patterns can be damaging to ourselves and our relationships.

DIFFICULTY SAYING “NO”

People-pleasers often struggle to say ‘no’ because they might fear disappointing others or being seen as selfish and might worry that turning down a request will make others think they don’t care. Many people agree to do something when they’d rather not, like helping someone move. But for people pleasers, saying ‘no’ can feel very anxiety inducing as they fear upsetting someone and trigger feelings of guilt or shame. Consequently, people-pleasers find themselves overcommitting, taking on more than they can handle, and neglecting their own well-being in the process.

This pattern can lead to exhaustion, resentment, and a sense of being taken advantage of. Additionally, constantly saying yes to others can prevent people-pleasers from pursuing their own goals and fulfilling their own needs, which hinders their personal growth and happiness. Overall, the difficulty in saying ‘no’ perpetuates a cycle of self-neglect and undermines their ability to establish healthy boundaries and prioritize their own needs.

MINIMIZING NEEDS

People-pleasers often minimize or disregard their own needs in favor of others. Individuals with these patterns tend to have big hearts while holding beliefs that their worth is tied to how much they can do for others. Fearing abandonment or that expressing their own needs will be perceived as selfish or needy, they may be driven to prioritize the needs of others to maintain a sense of approval and belonging, to the detriment of themselves.

Inevitably, suppressing one’s emotions eventually results in physical or psychological breakdowns and a pattern of excessive self-sacrifice and ignoring one’s own needs can lead to relationship burnout, feelings of resentment and unfulfillment, unhealthy dependence on other people, symptoms of anxiety and depression and other damages to one’s mental health.  When we deny ourselves in order to meet someone else’s needs, we show ourselves that we are not worth prioritizing; when we repeatedly show ourselves that we’re not worth prioritizing we feel low self-worth, self-doubt, and a diminished sense of identity.

AVOIDING CONFLICT

People-pleasers often avoid conflict because they fear confrontation and the potential for negative outcomes such as rejection, disapproval, or damaging relationships. People-pleasers will often go to great lengths to be liked, avoid disagreements, discomfort or any tension in relationships in order to mitigate their own feelings that they will be abandoned. This might look like rushing to apologize even for things that are not their fault, pretending to agree even when they don’t, or not being honest about ways that they’ve been hurt in a relationship. 

By consistently avoiding conflict, people-pleasers may sacrifice their own authenticity and fail to address important issues or express their true feelings. This can lead to a buildup of resentment, as unaddressed grievances or unmet needs simmer beneath the surface. Over time, this pattern can erode trust and intimacy in relationships, as communication becomes superficial and genuine connection is hindered. 

Avoiding conflict can also prevent personal growth and hinder the development of healthy boundaries, as people-pleasers prioritize the avoidance of discomfort over their own well-being. Overall, the avoidance of conflict can lead to a lack of fulfillment, strained relationships, and a diminished sense of self-respect for people-pleasers.

LACK OF AUTHENTICITY

It can feel good constantly being on people’s “good” sides, to avoid negative feelings or get the spotlight for being helpful. But this can come with a lot of pressure and chronic stress that demands we keep our mask strapped on even when it becomes suffocating.

Keeping so much locked inside for fear of being disapproved of makes us extremely guarded. For people-pleasers, often no one really knows their authentic selves — only knowing the facade presented to them. Unfortunately, this desire to be accepted and approved of often backfires, and they often feel more lonely and disconnected as time goes on.

Additionally over time people pleasers often have a harder and harder time recognizing how they truly feel. Eventually, they might not even feel sure about what they need, want, or how to be true to themselves.

LOW SELF-ESTEEM

People pleasers tend to become dependent on external factors such as the opinions and reactions of those around them, rather than being rooted in their own intrinsic value and thus often struggle with low self-esteem.  Over time, reliance on external validation leads to patterns of prioritizing others which reinforces feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness, as people-pleasers come to believe that their own needs and feelings are less important than those of others. 

Low self-esteem can show up in a lot of ways, including difficulty asserting boundaries, a reluctance to express opinions or ask for help, and a tendency to engage in self-critical thoughts and behaviors. Ultimately, low self-esteem can negatively impact every aspect of a person-pleaser’s life, from relationships and work to overall mental and emotional well-being, which then perpetuates a cycle of seeking external validation and never feeling truly fulfilled or confident in themselves.

In this first part of our two-part series, we’ve explored the dynamics and consequences of people-pleasing. We’ve seen how this pattern not only affects our personal health but also our relationships, leaving us feeling less fulfilled and authentic.  We learned here the tendencies, traits and patterns of what it means to be a people pleaser and hope that this information has given you some things to reflect on. If you relate or know someone who could benefit from more information, our next blog in this series of two will center around how these tendencies develop and what it could look like to start to change these patterns for one’s self.  People pleasers tend to become dependent on external factors such as the opinions and reactions of those around them for validation.

Stay tuned for the second part, where we’ll delve deeper into why some people develop patterns of people-pleasing and explore strategies for changing these behaviors to foster healthier relationships and a more authentic self.

Kaylie Short is a licensed professional counselor at Thrive Ahead Co., located in the Bucktown neighborhood. Kaylie serves clients not only in Bucktown, but Chicago, and surrounding suburbs and offers a person-centered and trauma-informed approach to holistic care. Leveraging evidence-based therapeutic modalities, she tailors her methods to address individual needs, drawing upon their innate strengths and resilience. Kaylie is experienced with diverse age groups and cultural backgrounds, making her adept at providing support in various areas. Her specialties include offering support for life transitions, support for ADHD & executive functioning, relationship counseling, communication & conflict resolution, perfectionism & procrastination, therapy for grief & loss, anxiety & depression, navigating personal and religious identity, and trauma-informed therapy. Schedule A Consultation Call Today Here

Resources

https://tinybuddha.com/blog/a-little-known-truth-about-people-pleasing-and-how-to-stop-for-good/

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