Do you like to make other people happy? I like to make people happy. I like to give gifts to the people I love, and I try to be thoughtful. Sometimes I’ll arrange surprises. For example I’ll take a friend to a new place I know they’d like. But some people take pleasing others to extremes. They are prepared to sacrifice their own needs – they always put other people ahead of them self. In the process they are compromised. Their people-pleasing causes them to forfeit all they aspired to in life. Basically people-pleasing is destroying them.
The Various Degrees of People-pleasing
There are various degrees of people-pleasing. Extreme people-pleasing is linked to a personality disorder called co-dependency. Co-dependency is when people seek approval from others in an effort to find their own self-worth, self-esteem and identity. Many people with a co-dependency personality disorder have a deep-seated fear of abandonment. It might stem from their childhood. Perhaps one of their parents left or died when they were young. They are terrified of being abandoned consequently they tend to form relationships with damaged people who need them, but in fact they are dependent on their ‘damaged’ partner for their sense of identity. Co-dependents often enter relationships with narcissists, alcoholics and drug addicts – people who will always need their support. It’s unlikely these damaged people will ever fully recover from their condition.
Why People-pleasing Can Be Harmful
Not all people-pleasers suffer co-dependency, but people-pleasing is still harmful. People-pleasers frequently say yes to other people’s requests when they really want to say no. They often end up doing things they really don’t want to do. They are always meeting other people’s needs and trying to ‘fix’ people. Extreme people-pleasers or co-dependents believe that they are the most confident and efficient person, so they think it is their duty to take on extra responsibility. They even do other people’s thinking for them and frequently give unsolicited advice. This behaviour stops the people around them from growing-up or suffering the consequences of their behaviour. For example if an extreme people pleaser is married to an alcoholic or gambler they will work two jobs to make up for the money blown on drinking and betting.
People-pleasing and Control
People pleasers frequently do work for others even if those people are capable of doing it for themselves. Co-dependents or extreme people pleasers can appear to be extra nice and very helpful, but at the core of their behaviour is a desire to control other people. Remember they are afraid of abandonment so they do seek to control others.
Perhaps you had a parent like this. They didn’t raise you to be independent and self-sufficient. Instead they did too much for you – cooked all your meals, gave you money, washed your clothes. They wanted you to be reliant on them so you could never totally break away. Even after you left home they were always popping in with gifts and food, however what they were really doing was checking up on you, trying to exert influence over you.
People-pleasers feel a strong sense of reward and identity from ‘being needed’. That’s why they often end up in bad relationships. They subconsciously seek out damaged people, who will always need them but these partners are also a burden. Consequently co-dependents frequently see themselves as ‘victims’, much-put-upon, hard-done-by.
People-pleasers and The Need for Approval
Populist people-pleasers are hyper sensitive about rejection. They’re addicted to approval from others. They have to be liked no matter what and become distressed if criticised. They have poor self-worth. Their actions are based on what other people think of them – not on their life goals, their values or what they want for them self. People-pleasers see the world through other people’s eyes, consequently they have no compassion for them self. They take other people’s abuse and bad behaviour and repress their own emotions because they live in fear of being rejected or abandoned. Because of this, people pleasers can develop social anxiety disorders.
In the past, women were conditioned by society to become people pleasers. They were denied entry into many occupations and told that their prime role was caring for their family – looking after their husband and children. Women were told that their needs didn’t matter. Their husband and family had to come first. Unfortunately too many women still feel the pressure of these outdated expectations.
The Health Consequences of People-pleasing
Every person on the planet has intrinsic value. We are all loved by God, precious and unique. No one should have to sacrifice them self to please others. Never please people if it means constantly suppressing your own emotions and abandoning your dreams. People who spend their whole lives pleasing others will find that negative emotions build up and up inside them. You will end up being consumed by rage, hatred and bitterness. Sometimes these feelings manifest themselves as depression, eating disorders and chronic fears. You cannot sacrifice yourself for others, deny yourself constantly and lead a healthy, fulfilled life. Instead you will get a mental or physical illness or perhaps both.
If you think you might have co-dependent personality disorder then you need to seek professional help from a counsellor or psychologist. If you are someone with people-pleasing tendencies you could try to control this behaviour yourself. Begin by giving yourself some self-care. You need to put aside time to look after yourself. Allocate yourself a few hours every week to do what you want to do, and stick to this arrangement. Do not be persuaded to help others.
You also need to begin to set boundaries and use the word no when others ask you favours. You must stop ‘fixing’ other people and instead just offer support. When a friend tells you about their problems, try listening empathetically and acknowledging that the situation is difficult, but do not intervene and offer active help. People need to learn to solve their own problems. That is not your job!
To get your ‘fix’ of helping others, volunteer for a charity but do only a limited number of hours. When you leave the charity, you stop helping others and put your own care first.
It is definitely worth investing in a book about co-dependent family relationships. You need to learn how healthy families relate to each other. Who is exploiting you at home? Who have you been propping up?
If you are concerned that your people-pleasing has caused you to become a co-dependent, there is a support group for co-dependent people called\ Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA). It helps members break their cycles of dependency. You can visit the CoCA website here: http://www.freewebs.com/ozcoda/index.htm
ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.