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The Perilous Predicament of the People Pleaser

Are you a people pleaser?  Let’s check.

Do you go out of your way to care for others but feel guilty caring for yourself?

Do you avoid conflict by agreeing with people even though you don’t actually agree with their viewpoint?

Do you say yes to things you don’t want to do because you don’t want someone to be disappointed in you?

Do you worry more about what other people think about you than what you think about you?

Do you apologize often, afraid that something you’ve done has offended or hurt someone?

Do you have a hard time accepting praise or credit for things you’ve done?

Do you want everyone to like you, even if you don’t really like them?

Do you change your normal behavior to get the approval of others?

On the surface, it may seem like being a people pleaser is harmless.  After all, you’re keeping the peace, you’re helping others, you’re making other people feel good.  That all seems very positive on the face of it.  But the truth is that being a people pleaser erodes you in ways you probably can’t see.

First, people pleasers often build resentment.  “I’ve been busting my ass for you all this time and you can’t help me with just one little thing?  Wow.”  But perhaps the reality is that you keep offering to do things for people who don’t appreciate you, and have no intention of paying you back.  That’s on you, not them.  If they didn’t ask for your help and you expect to be rewarded for offering it, eventually this will lead to resentment.

Second, it may seem like sacrificing is noble, but playing the martyr is actually a passive-aggressive activity.  “No, it’s okay if you don’t have time to help me, I’m used to surviving on my own.”  Martyrs act like they are doing everyone else favors and no one is helping them.  The victim mentality is wearing on others and will push people away from you.  This will lead to you being alone.

Third, when you don’t take care of yourself, you lose the capacity to be of real help to others.  An example of this is with people who say “I don’t have time to have that surgery, I’ll just live with the pain. You need me too much for me to take time off to recover.”  If you’re metaphorically giving people rides in your car, and you run out of gas, your passengers will leave you to find a new ride, and you’ll be sitting in a useless car.  Always fill your tank before it gets empty.

Saying yes when you really want to say no causes you to create “lists” of what people owe you.  “If I help Greta get back on her feet, she’ll repay the favor one day when I need help.”  “If I buy my boss lunch once a week, he’ll have to give me that promotion when the time comes.”  But you will often find that people don’t reciprocate.  If you are only giving because you are hoping to receive, you are missing the point of giving.  A gift of your time, money or attention should not come with invisible strings attached.

When you avoid conflict to keep the peace, you will metaphorically put yourself in a cage of anger and frustration that you can’t get out of.  A friend of mine did a lot of work to help her company merge with another company.  When it came time for bonuses, she got 5% of what she was expecting to get, but she acted like it was okay because she didn’t know how to fight for what she was owed.  Speaking up for yourself can be intimidating and fearful, but if you don’t push back a little on injustice you will breed anger, resentment, and frustration that will drag you down into the depths of helplessness.

There is nothing wrong with being pleasant, kind, and caring.  There is nothing wrong with helping others, and even going out of your way sometimes to help people who are in real trouble.  There is nothing wrong with the occasional sacrifice.

However, instead of saying yes when you mean no, find a way to say, “I appreciate what you’re asking me to do, and I don’t think I have room on my plate to do all of that, but I can handle this one aspect of your request with no problem.”

Instead of automatically sacrificing your own needs, negotiate a little, “I can take care of the kids while you finish your presentation, but would you be willing to take care of them this weekend so I can have a spa day with my friends?”

And there is nothing wrong with carving out time in your schedule to take care of yourself.  It will recharge your batteries so you can come back with more energy and less resentment and do what you desire in life.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes as food for thought:

“You are under no obligation to set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm.”

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