Dealing with People Pleasing

Chances are that you know a people pleaser, or maybe you’re in a relationship with one. In fact, it could be you’re a people pleaser yourself!

The people pleaser, or “nice guy”, is usually the one willing to keep the peace, at all costs, and this often means pushing aside their own  needs. For the “nice guy” or people pleaser, their needs for the peace and happiness of others take first priority. People pleasers have a difficult time saying “no,” drawing personal boundaries for themselves, and knowing that they are worthy and valuable without doing and trying to please others. They are often conflict avoidant, and feel a sense of obligation or duty to do what they do, which breeds guilt and other problems like low self-esteem, depression and anxiety.

It creates situations for the people pleasers that become problematic, like keeping themselves in a bad work environment because they’re too scared to say how they really feel, or standing up to a confrontation within their own family because they don’t want to “rock the boat.”

The people pleasing dynamic plays out strongest in intimate relationships. With women, “nice guys” often find themselves subjugating their own needs in favor of their partner’s needs, which creates a dysfunctional dynamic and an imbalance in the relationship from the get-go. Many times, people-pleasing men seek out or choose unavailable or withdrawn women, in an attempt to win them over and be their “knight in shining armor”. This set up creates problems from the beginning, and often puts the people pleaser in the type of relationship that he or she wouldn’t otherwise want if they felt stronger about themselves. They often end up “orbiting” around their relationship partner in a constant, and often futile attempt, to make them happy and satisfied

”Nice guys” go out of their way to make sure others are happy, are not upset with them and that everything is peaceful. In reality, it can never be. Nice guys get duped into thinking that they are responsible for other peoples’ feelings, which they are ultimately not. Nice guys, like anyone else, are only responsible for their own experiences, so it is the lesson of the nice guy to let people have their own emotional experiences, whether it’s anger, resentment, hurt or anything else.

They’re getting the validation and affirmation from others’, which is the fuel for people pleasing. The objective of the people pleaser is to be able to provide those things to themselves. They need to learn that they can give to themselves what they seek from others: that the validation and worthiness that they don’t feel inherently within themselves can be learned and self-generated.

Resentment grows underneath the cheery façade of the people pleaser, as unmet needs grow more and more unfilled.  As obligation builds up, the anger and resentment grows. Sometimes, people pleasers will explode in anger, when it builds up too much, or will fall victim to depression, self-abuse, alcohol abuse or any number of other personal problems. When you continue to do things that you don’t really want to do, something’s gotta give, and it’s usually at the expense of the people pleaser, and those in their way of an anger explosion later on.

People pleasers also harbor a strong sense of guilt, which gets created when obligation takes over and keeps one’s needs going unmet. If you feel guilty, ask yourself: are you really doing what you want to be doing? And who are you doing it for – yourself, or someone else? Here’s a litmus test for people pleasing: When we “should” do something, it’s probably an obligation.

People pleasers can turn into martyrs, where “the cause” becomes the predominant focus. “The cause” often entails doing “selfless” work, which is often just a ruse for people pleasing. It looks selfless on the outside, but if you could see the inner working of the people pleaser, they’re benefiting just the same. Not to say people pleasers don’t genuinely want to help, but if they’re doing it at their own expense, time after time, it’s a problem.

Here are 8 immediate ways to diagnose and start dealing with your own people pleasing:

  1. Admit you may have a problem: without knowing what’s happening, you may continue to operate as if nothing’s wrong.
  2. Count how many “decisions of obligation” you make in a single day: try to be aware, or write down, just how many decisions you make based on a sense of guilt or obligation.
    1.  Here’s a litmus test for identifying people pleasing: When you “should” do something, it’s probably an obligation.
  3. Play out a scenario in your head where you stand up for yourself and your needs: what happens then? Does the apocalypse begin, or can you survive it? What are your fears with asserting yourself?
  4. Ask yourself what you’ll feel as a result of hurting others, or doing or saying the wrong thing: if you act in accordance with your own voice and your own needs, and that is different from what someones else wants and they get hurt, what is your experience then? Could you live with that result and move on?
  5. Get professional help: there are usually emotional drivers or underlying issues that take help to identify, unearth and work through. Without it, you may be flying in the dark, or unable to get to the root issues on your own.
  6. Practice saying “no” or asserting yourself: start small, and work your way up to bigger confrontations over time.
  7. Realize that conflict avoidance may be part of your problem. If it is, identify which ways you avoid conflict, and start to work on them.
  8. Get feedback from others that are close to you about your potential people pleasing.

People pleasing is a big deal. It negatively affects relationship, work and personal success, and is more culturally-acceptable because everybody likes a “nice guy.” Many people within the people pleaser’s life – and the people pleaser many times themselves – don’t realize just how limiting people pleasing behavior can have on someone. Taking the steps to turn it around, which can be done, the people pleaser can learn to stand up for themselves, not constantly act of out obligation, and take back their life to their own satisfaction.

About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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