You feel the pressure throb in your veins. A lump rises in your throat as your colleagues watch you closely. They are expecting an answer. They are expecting you to comply. Every fibre of your being wants to scream “NO I CAN’T.” But as if possessed, you automatically smile sweetly and say, “Yes, I’ll do it, thanks for asking.”
WTF is going on here?! Why can’t you just say “no,” and walk away?
If you’re like me, people-pleasing has run havoc in your life. It has crushed your spirit repeatedly. It has robbed you of peace of mind, personal empowerment and the courage to follow your goals and dreams. It has hit you while you’re down and dragged you through the dirt. It might have also contributed to chronic issues in your life such as anxiety disorders, depression, addiction or co-dependency.
So what exactly is people-pleasing … and how can we heal the root cause of it?
16 Habits of People-Pleasing Personality Types
At some point or another, we have all struggled with people-pleasing. After all, as social creatures, we are prone to peer pressure and the desire to fit in. But there is a big difference between the desire for acceptance and people-pleasing. People-pleasing is not just a once-in-a-while foible: it’s a daily struggle.
Here are 16 common habits:
- You struggle to say “no”
- You find it hard to be assertive and voice your opinions
- You’re hyper-vigilant about perceived rejection from others (always on the lookout)
- You’re an emotophobe (you fear negative emotions)
- You’re excessively altruistic/philanthropic
- You often suffer at the expense of doing a favor for others
- You have a weak sense of self and poor interpersonal boundaries
- You become emotionally dependent/co-dependent when in relationships/friendships
- You’re addicted to approval from others
- You have a neurotic desire to be liked no matter what
- You feel shattered for days or weeks when someone criticises you
- You have low self-worth
- You act based on what “other people think” of you
- You always put yourself in other’s shoes, but you rarely show compassion towards yourself
- You blindly believe in other people’s “goodness” even if they are clearly abusive towards you
- You fear losing control of yourself because you repress so much
It’s also said that people-pleasing can form a bridge to other conditions such as borderline personality disorder and social anxiety disorder.
Why Being “Too Nice” Can Be Dangerous
Obviously there is nothing wrong with being nice. But having the neurotic desire to be nice is dangerous for a number of reasons. Here’s why:
1. You suppress A LOT of emotion
Inevitably, wanting to be loved and needed by others all the time results in suppressing tons of uncomfortable emotions. I’m talking rage, hatred, bitterness, annoyance, grief and stress — anything that is contrary to the altruistic image you crave to portray. You might not be conscious of repressing these types of emotions, but rest assured, it comes with the job description. You can’t give yourself entirely to other people, deny yourself, and expect to feel fine and dandy in the longterm.
Suppression of emotions eventually results in physical or psychological breakdowns. Many chronic mental and physical illnesses are fuelled by the neurotic desire to please others.
2. Extreme pressure to “keep up appearances”
One of the worst things about constantly being nice is the extreme pressure you feel to constantly maintain your self-image. It feels good constantly being on people’s “good” sides. It feels good to avoid negative feelings and get the spotlight for being a saint. But this addiction comes at a price: chronic stress. Often that stress is imperceptible, but it’s always there, always demanding that you keep your mask strapped on even though it might be suffocating you.
3. People use you
When you’re a people-pleaser you open yourself up to abuse. Narcissists, energy vampires, bullies and other types of wounded people are drawn to you like fresh meat. Having weak boundaries, low self-esteem and the insatiable desire to please makes you the perfect “use and abuse” target. And unconsciously, you like feeling needed and wanted, so you unwittingly continue the toxic cycle.
It’s just like what the famous Eurythmics song “Sweet dreams are made of this” says: “Everybody’s looking for something. Some of them want to use you. Some of them want to get used by you. Some of them want to abuse you. Some of them want to be abused …”
4. You have the intense need to be in control
At first, people-pleasing might come across as a selfless act. But people-pleasing is actually a selfish act because you’re trying to control someone else’s reaction towards you by behaving in a certain way.
In fact, people-pleasing is more about the desire to be in control than it is to please other people. Wanting to be liked by others is just a symptom of the desire to be in control because deep down you feel powerless or worthless. This is why people-pleasing is so exhausting — it goes against the flow of life, and takes so much effort to maintain.
5. No one really knows the “true” you
Keeping so much locked inside of you for fear of being disapproved of makes you extremely guarded. In fact, if you’re a people-pleaser you might fear for instance, getting drunk, because all of the secret thoughts and opinions you have might come to the surface. In other words, you’ll no longer be in control of yourself.
When you’re a people-pleaser no one really knows the “true” and authentic you — they only know the facade that you present them with. Unfortunately, this desire to be loved and approved often backfires, making you feel more lonely and disconnected as time goes on. Eventually, you wind up feeling “invisible” and “unseen,” even if you are constantly in the spotlight.
How to Stop Being a People-Pleaser
Naturally you might be wondering right now, “What can I do to stop this?”
Let me tell you, there is so much bad advice out there. And the solution to overcoming this addiction (because it is), is NOT pulling the middle finger at everyone.
I don’t condone the “fuck you” approach because it’s immature and reactive.
Instead, I recommend the harder-but-wiser approach of:
- Taking responsibility for your happiness
- Learning to be assertive
- Actively feeling and accepting negative/painful emotions
- Learning to find self-worth WITHIN, not without
I have linked an appropriate article to each of these four points. Click on whatever point you feel that you most need to work on.
As someone who has struggled with a people-pleasing personality (Enneagram 9, MBTI: INFJ by the way), I know how self-destructive this trait can be. Because of this need to be accepted by others, I have suffered intense periods of anxiety and chronic pain, not to mention tons of repressed emotions for years.
But the first step to overcoming this problem is to shift your focal point from the outside world, to the inside world. Eventually, with time and practice utilizing the points above, you will be able to say sincerely and openly “I am enough unto myself” as I now can.
Any tips or advice that you have about this issue are welcome below.