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Image / Editorial

This is what it really means to be a people pleaser


by Edaein OConnell
13th Aug 2019
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Ever thought of yourself as a people pleaser? Well, this IMAGE writer certainly has and possesses quite a few thoughts about it. 


Don’t type “people pleaser meaning” into Google because it will throw you five-foot deep into a fortress of bad feelings.

“Dishonest”, “doormat” and “insidious behaviour” pop up as expletives to describe my hyper-awareness of others, their emotions and me.

I always knew that the need to please was annoying but I never imagined it to be dangerous.

However, underneath the hurtful characterization of Urban Dictionary, there are many more outlets which give a more reasoned explanation to what it means. Psychologytoday.com, for instance, gives ten characteristics which define a ‘people pleaser’. These include; pretending to agree with everyone; feeling responsible for other peoples feelings; apologizing; not being able to say no; not liking people being angry with you; acting like the people around you; craving praise; avoiding conflict and not admitting when you are hurt.

For the most part, there is a majority of us (particularly women) who feel that they can identify with one or more of these descriptors. Needing and wanting someone to like you and avoidance of negative energy is something we have all aimed for or desired at least once in our lives. When this type of pigeonholing occurs, there is a psychological reasoning for why an individual is programmed to act a certain way, whether it be mistreatment in childhood or a low level of self-worth.

Saying yes

I can’t pinpoint those two explanations as a reason for my habit but I know that I hate to let people down; in work, in friendships and in relationships. This makes me a criminal offender at saying yes. Yes to people I don’t know and yes to things I clearly don’t want to do, all because I hate the thought of that person being disappointed or angry at me. I have an overly sensitive sense of another person’s emotions. I feel the change and if it’s negative, I have to reverse it – hence sparking off my need to please.

I truly believe that not all people-pleasing components are negative. There is a certain degree of empathy that accompanies it. There is something comforting in the knowledge that, as a person, you are willing to put others before you. It can be beautifully selfless, but in equal measure, can be just as perilously destructive. I am now able to recognise the dangers that come with this weakness for gratification.

You can’t be everything

They say a mother is always right. Mine always warns me of the dangers of people pleasing and cautions me, saying “you can’t be all things to all people”. Of course, as always, she is on the money. Women, it seems, are conditioned to be a modern-day incarnation of Superwoman. Work, friendships, relationships and children are all kept on an equal barometer of effort, which is ultimately impossible to keep up. But nevertheless, we try.

Trying is noble. And contrary to the brutal definition of a people-pleaser handed over by Urban Dictionary, it comes from a place of warmth and good meaning. It’s wanting to be a good friend, wife, girlfriend, daughter and mother. It’s craving acceptance or approval in the workplace. It’s a thirst for some type of success.

But at what cost do we personally suffer for being the ‘nice’ person, or the woman who always says yes?

Ultimately, frustration will build. There are people who will appreciate your good nature, but there are some who will take advantage of a yes, to the point of wreckage. And they will take and take without ever really giving back. Irritation and resentment will build and these unhealthy emotions will cause burn out. You are the one that will hurt, not the person you said yes to, or did that extra task for, or went out with to that bar with that group of people that you actually don’t like. But you did it, to keep the other person happy.

Saying no

It’s a challenging lesson to learn, but knowing when to say no and putting yourself first in situations is powerful. Standing up for yourself, for what you believe in or doing what you desire will earn you more respect in the long run then the obligation to be agreeable.

It becomes tiring being that person. The one who will do anything for anyone, go anywhere whatever the call. There is a loneliness that lies beneath the ‘yes’. The distant hope that someone, someday, might soon do the same for you and the yearning to just say ‘no’, but then you realise you are too far into your habit to abandon it.

But you can say no and you don’t have to please each and everyone. As a wise mother once said: “you can’t be all things to all people”.

Because, at the end of the day, the only person you should be obliged to please is you.

Image: Unsplash 


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