Am I a People Pleaser?

Am I a People Pleaser?

First things first, what is a people pleaser?

A general definition is ‘a person who consistently strives to please others, often sacrificing their own wants or needs in the process’. A people pleaser is often seen as the person who never says no and is always willing to do things for others.

But why do they do that? Why do they feel the need to always make themselves available?

It is often a need to feel loved / valued / useful / liked / noticed / appreciated {insert similar feelings here} and this is how they think they will achieve it. But as these feelings are usually only temporary, the people pleaser then feels like they need to do something else to achieve these feelings again, and the cycle continues. This is why it is often difficult to stop.

So, it is always as simple as saying yes to anything that they are asked to do?

It can be. But it can also be much more than that. People pleasers will often offer to do things without being asked, trying to anticipate what will make a person happy. For example, they’ll overcommit themselves to finishing projects ahead of schedule, take on organisational roles for events (when it’s not their remit), try to 'fix' something that doesn't need fixing, or do a task that no one realised actually needed doing in the first place.

But there’s much more going on inside their head.

They’ll often keep quiet about things they disagree with or say that they’re fine when they’re not. They might feel under pressure to appear cheerful and happy even when they’re feeling stressed and anxious about everything they ‘have’ to do. They may begin to feel frustrated that they never have time to do things that they want to do and resent that they don’t feel able to focus on their own needs. They may feel taken advantage of, even though you might want to argue that it is their own fault. They may have low self-esteem from placing others’ needs above theirs and have a fear or rejection and disappointing others.

It’s important that a people pleaser starts to focus on all of their own needs, not just the need to feel loved / valued / useful / liked / noticed / appreciated, because it is important to remember that these are often fleeting at best and this way of meeting them is not sustainable in the long term.

How do you know when you’re just being kind and thoughtful or you’re actually people pleasing?

This is tricky. What seems like an easy favour for one person can be more time consuming for another. How often does it happen? Does the other person do things for you in return? Do you have the time / energy / mental capacity to do it? Have you considered your own needs before saying yes? What are your motivations for doing it? Are you doing it for the sole reason of feeling loved / valued / useful / liked / noticed / appreciated? If so, it might be people pleasing. It’s a fine line, as it’s good to be kind, but overstepping that boundary can start to become unhealthy.

Do others’ even register that you’re a people pleaser?

Most people are so busy in their own lives that they probably don’t have any awareness of someone they know being a people pleaser. After all, people pleasing isn't a diagnostic medical term, so it is very possible that they will never have heard of it or thought about what it is.

They will have an opinion of you, but they probably won’t have considered it in the context of ‘people pleasing’. They might just believe that you’re just a kind and helpful person that’s always looking to do things for others, but they won’t see what it’s doing to you on the inside. Or they might think that you’re a nice person, but that you’re a little bit strange as you keep doing things that haven’t been asked or expected of you - does that mean that they now ‘owe’ you something? It could make them suspicious of your motivations. Or they might secretly think that you’re a bit of a doormat who doesn’t stand up for themself and therefore start to lose respect for you.

If you decide to open up to someone about how people pleasing makes you feel and how it affects your mental health, make sure that you choose someone who will take time to listen to you properly and will be supportive.

What can you do to help yourself?

- If someone asks you to do something, stop and give yourself time to think about it. Don’t rush into saying yes. Ask them for more details and carefully consider if you have time / energy / inclination to do it. If pushed for an answer, say no. If you change your mind afterwards then you can always ask them if they still need help.

- Carefully consider setting boundaries. What exactly are you prepared to do and when? If you have boundaries then communicate them clearly to people so that they know where they stand. Transparency makes things easier for everyone.

- Realise that you can say no if you want! It’s totally up to you. The awareness that you actually have a choice is an important first step.

- Say no with confidence. It will get easier the more you do it. Remember that you don’t need to give a reason to why you can’t do something as it’s not up for debate with them trying to argue that you could rearrange something so that you could do it, etc.

- If possible, work out what you might want to say beforehand. Practise out loud, and even with a trusted friend or family member if it helps!

- Don’t apologise for something you didn’t do, just because you think that you should because someone isn’t happy about something.

- Trust that saying no won’t ruin your relationship. Yes, things may change, especially if you usually say yes to doing things, but a relationship worth having will be fine.

- Remember that you can’t make everyone happy all of the time, and anyway, it’s not your job! You are not responsible for their happiness – you must learn to concentrate on your own. This may feel selfish, but it’s the only way forward.

- Start figuring out what you actually want in life. Yes, this is big, but if you know who and what you want in your life, it will make it easier to make thoughtful decisions about what spend your time doing.

- Think about whether or not you might be being manipulated. Are you being flattered or guilt-tripped into saying yes to something?

- Create mantras or affirmations and look at them often. ‘I can say no’, ‘I don’t have to explain myself to anyone’, ‘I matter’, etc.

- Learn to get uncomfortable with your feelings. When you first say no, you will likely experience lots of feelings such as guilt, judgement, disappointment, etc. But it will get easier with time.

- Celebrate and recognise your progress. It’s not easy, but you are doing it!

So, let’s get down to it…

Am I a people pleaser?

First up I need to start by saying, if you know me in real life, do not feel like you need to read any further, especially if you think that this concept of people pleasing is a load of old rubbish.

But back to it… Yes, I do feel like I have people pleasing tendencies, although not all aspects fully apply to me.

If I’m asked to do something, I don’t automatically say yes. I’m getting better at thinking about whether or not I’ve got the energy to do something, but I still feel some guilt if I say no. If I make the wrong decision and say yes when I really shouldn’t have, I do the thing, but I hate every minute of it and resent it. That’s definitely not good for my mental health, so I’m learning to make the right decision as much as possible.

What I do, however, is do things for people that I haven’t been asked to do. I’m always looking for things that I could do that would make someone happy – and in reflection, what I’m looking for are many of the usual feelings that people pleasers strive for – feeling noticed, included, valued, useful and liked.

What makes this even more tricky is the fact that this is all tangled up in being autistic. Autistics often feel left out and excluded, so it's no wonder that I have tried to find a way to help with that, however unsuccessful it might be.

I think that one of the main problems is that people haven’t asked me to do the things I do. They’re unexpected and the recipient doesn’t know how to react. I've guessed that it would be something that would please them, but it might not be anything they’ve ever thought about, let alone wanted. They then don’t know what to say or how to react. They say thanks, as that’s the polite thing to do, but do they really mean it? It doesn’t feel real and I usually brush it off. It doesn’t actually feel that good. It feels like I’m happy with the scraps. I’ve just done the equivalent of begging them to like me. Where is the respect for myself?

By doing something for them that wasn’t asked for, does it then meant that I’ve just make them feel like they’re obligated to do something for me in return? Why have I then just put that demand / expectation on them without asking? Will I be viewed with suspicion to why I’ve done that thing for them?

Or do they simply lack respect for me as they think that it was a stupid way to spend my time? I do sometimes feel like that this is the case, and it makes me feel even less valued as are probably right.

So my experiences are less about people making demands of me, but me making them on myself by looking out for opportunities / anticipating what I could do to please.

Ultimately, I want to feel helpful. I want to feel useful. I want to feel valued and liked. I want people to notice me, but in the right way. But people pleasing isn’t doing this for me. Now that I recognise that this is what I'm doing, it is a positive first step in working out how I can achieve this in a healthy way.

To be continued.

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