For many of us, people-pleasing is such an ingrained pattern that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. People-pleasing can seem harmless. We’re trying to keep other people happy after all…where’s the harm in that? Maybe we don’t get what we want sometimes, but is that so bad? We don’t always notice the ways people-pleasing undermines us, our relationships, and even the people we’re trying to please.
My intention here isn’t to tell you that you’re bad and you need to be better. If anything in this post rings true for you, please know that I’m right here with you with my hand raised high. This is not an accusation, but an invitation.
I don’t want to be living around the edges of my life, worrying about what will happen if I can’t keep everyone happy. Your life may be fine, but is that good enough? I want so much for you—love, belonging, confidence, freedom, fun…
Stepping into deeper trust and greater authenticity starts with taking an honest look at what we have been choosing. Only then can we begin to choose something else.
People-Pleasing Danger #1: We reinforce to ourselves that we’re not good enough
We’re less likely to fall into people-pleasing patterns if we believe ourselves to be worthy and likable just as we are. It’s when we believe we need to be different or better than we are in order to be included and loved that we try to hide or change ourselves.
Every time we change ourselves to be more pleasing to others, we reinforce to ourselves that who we truly are isn’t good enough. Even if we do gain a level of acceptance, it only tells us that we performed well enough, not that we are enough.
People-Pleasing Danger #2: It gets in the way of true connection
What we really want in our relationships is to connect deeply with another person, to feel like we belong. It makes sense that we would turn to the things we think will make other people want us around. But so often the very things we do to protect ourselves from what we don’t want, actually get in the way of what we do want.
We’re too busy watching people for cues about what they want and what they think of us to be genuinely curious about who they are. While it seems like people-pleasing would mean we’re selfless and outward facing, we actually become very self-absorbed as we monitor how our words and actions are measuring up. The attention we do focus on others is less about getting to know them and more about studying who they expect us to be and analyzing their reactions to us.
We don’t feel seen and known because we’re only letting other people see what we want them to see. They can’t connect with us because they’re interacting with our performance.
People-Pleasing Danger #3: We Neglect Ourselves
In order to please others we need to pay attention to what they want and how they feel. This can lead us to neglect our own wants, needs, and preferences—whether because we’re too busy paying attention to others or because we believe their needs are more important than our own.
When we don’t pay attention to our own needs they are likely to go unmet. Going through life meeting everyone’s needs but our own is stressful and exhausting. It can lead to resentment. It’s one thing to sometimes go with someone else’s preference out of genuine caring and generosity. It’s another thing entirely to regularly squash our own needs because we believe we have to in order to maintain a relationship.
People-Pleasing Danger #4: We suppress our emotions
People-pleasers often suppress our emotions. We don’t take the time to process them or we may even believe we have no right to feel them. We might avoid expressing anger, fear, sadness, or even joy if we think those emotions might displease those around us.
The emotions we avoid build up inside of us instead of moving through us. These pent-up emotions can leak out as sarcasm, criticism, or passive-aggressive behavior. Unprocessed emotions can get tangled up into all areas of our lives and eventually the pressure builds to the point of explosion.
People-pleasing danger #5: Our actions are manipulative and dishonest
People-pleasing may seem nice and generous, but it actually leads us to act in ways that are manipulative and dishonest. When we hide our opinion or agree to something we don’t want, we aren’t being truthful. It can be tempting to keep quiet so that people will think we agree with them, but staying silent so others will believe something untrue is a form of lying.
We people-please to keep people happy, make them like us, and win their approval. Through our behavior, we’re essentially saying that we’ll do whatever they want as long as they love us, approve of us, or include us in return. When we people-please, we change ourselves in the hopes of securing a place or relationship that we don’t believe we can have through straightforward interactions. We use our words and actions as tools to manipulate and control how others respond to us.
People-Pleasing Danger #6: We teach people how to treat us
People-pleasing sets us up to be taken advantage of. If we go out of our way to be helpful and accommodating and always agree to whatever someone asks, it’s natural that they would start asking us for more and more—especially the things that others are less likely to agree to.
Relationships built on people-pleasing are rarely mutual. When we try to keep someone happy and meet all their needs, we’re actually teaching them to depend on us rather than to take responsibility for themselves. While making ourselves needed may seem like a way to secure our place, it doesn’t lead to the satisfying relationships we’re looking for.
People-Pleasing Danger #7: We fear our differences
Part of what makes relationships rich and interesting is the uniqueness of each person. While we often bond over shared experiences, interests, and opinions, it’s our differences that challenge our assumptions, broaden our understanding and compassion, deepen our thinking, and expand our experiences.
All too often, people-pleasing leads us to believe we need to be just like someone else in order for them to like us and approve of us. When we avoid disagreements and continually smooth things over to avoid conflict at all costs, we create relationships that are shallow and fragile. We fear that a fight means we’ve messed up and our relationship is at risk.
People-Pleasing Danger #8: We don’t know ourselves
We get so used to prioritizing what other people want that we neglect to consider what we want. In fact, it’s easier to stop noticing our preferences all together. If we don’t want anything, then we don’t have to sacrifice anything to meet someone else’s desires. Over time our self-concept becomes based on what we see reflected back to us instead of what we know from within.
We please people because we want them to like us. Not everyone wants the same things or has the same expectations of us. When we try to please different people, we end up fragmenting into multiple versions of ourselves. We’ll act one way with this person and be someone else with that person. With so much pretending and performing, it’s hard to know who we really are.
If you recognize in yourself a tendency to people-please, know that there is nothing wrong with you. There is a part of you that is working so hard to protect you by making sure everyone is happy with you, but your worth is not defined by other people’s opinions. It’s time to choose something more.
I want to applaud you for being willing to look at where these dangers of people-pleasing are showing up in your life. That is a brave thing. It’s easier to stick to the familiar, well-worn path, but you are worthy of an authentic life filled with love and belonging.
In the interest of taking a brave, honest look, join me in answering the following questions. As you answer, please be gentle with yourself. The point isn’t to judge, but rather to notice where you are now so you can choose what’s next. Changing our habitual patterns of behavior doesn’t happen instantly, but with practice and attention we can create beautiful shifts in our lives.
Where do you tend toward people-pleasing? Is it in certain situations or with specific people? Do you go out of your way to do things for others? Hide differing opinions? Change yourself to fit in?
What are your beliefs about what that people-pleasing behavior means about you? Pay attention to how you speak to yourself. Notice overt criticism and name calling, as well as more subtle judgments.
How would you describe your relationships? Are there particular patterns of interaction? How do you feel in the relationship—both when you’re with the other person and when you’re apart?
What would an ideal version of that relationship look like for you? What would you do and say? How would you feel?
What gets in the way of this ideal relationship? What would need to change? What assumptions would you need to drop—about yourself, others, the world?
As much as we hope people-pleasing will help us connect with others, it often leaves us feeling alone. You’re not the only one and you don’t have to figure this all out on your own. Explore the blog and join the library for more resources to help you shift from people-pleasing to self-trust. For more 1:1 support, schedule a free Hello Session where we can start digging into the shifts you want to make in your life.