Being kind, generous and going out of your way to help other people are generally considered to be socially desirable traits.
Even our bodies are designed to reward us with a little happy, feel-good burst of oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine when we act in service of others. This has been termed 'The Helper's High' such is its profound effect on our neurobiology.
But, people pleasing takes this generosity of spirit too far and the focus on keeping other people happy at all times can lead to anxiety, stress and emotional burnout.
What is a People Pleaser?
Put simply, people pleasers are often highly attuned to others and put everyone's needs before their own. They go out of their way to do things for the people in their life, based on what they think people want or need.
The difference between people and pleasing and just being 'nice' is that people pleasers give up their time, energy and personal power in order to seek the approval of others. They may change their words, personality, likes and dislikes, and even their appearance, to try and win the good opinion of someone else. Which can leave them open to abuse and being taken advantage of, as they often lack the ability to advocate for themselves.
So how do you tell if you are a people pleaser or just super kind?
Characteristics of People Pleasers
There are a number of characteristics that people pleasers share. Here are 6 major signs you may be a people pleaser:
1. You agree with whoever you are speaking to
A classic symptom of people pleasing is changing your opinion depending on the person you are speaking to. It doesn't matter if you agree with them or not, the desire to be the same as them, and therefore be liked, will outweigh your personal ideals. But if you go along with what you are saying, just to keep them happy, you might be setting yourself up for future frustration, or anxiety that they will 'find out' you lied.
2. You're always telling people you are sorry or taking the blame even when it isn't your fault
This one is tricky to decipher if you are British. We seem to have been socially conditioned to apologise for everything; even starting many conversations with, I'm sorry, could I just...'
The main difference here is that you take on responsibility for the emotional wellbeing of others and often imagine that if they feel bad it is because of something you either have, or haven't, done. You may even think that they blame you for something, even when it was totally out of your control.
3. You neglect your own needs in order to do things for others
When you are overly focused on keeping other people happy, you pay less attention to what makes you happy. Usually because you believe that their needs are more important than yours.
However, neglecting your own needs, and especially your own self-care, can lead to emotional burnout, poor physical and mental wellbeing and even ill-health.
4. You worry about what other people think and fear that turning them down will make them think you are selfish
People pleasers spend much of their time worrying about what other people think. You probably over-analyse conversations, searching for any small instance that you could have offended someone and then ruminating on the possible outcomes of that. You are also likely to believe that people will think you are 'rude' or 'selfish' if you don't behave in a certain way (holding yourself to incredibly high social standards that you don't expect from anyone else).
5. You have a low opinion of yourself and believe you need to act like this of people wont like you
Linked to point 4 above, people pleasers often have incredibly low self-worth and self-esteem and so draw a lot of their worth from other people's opinions. This over-reliance on extrinsic validation means you are constantly seeking approval for your actions because you place so little value on your own opinion.
6. You feel resentful of people who take advantage of you
The person or people you are sacrificing your needs for may not even notice or express their appreciation of your sacrifice. This can create strong feelings of anger or resentment, especially towards the people who you feel take advantage of you and your inability to say no or stand up for yourself.
This can lead to passive aggressive behaviour and a breakdown in communication in relationships, as the person you are frustrated with may not even realise what is happening.
If you see yourself in some of the signs above and feel uncomfortable about this, then it might be time to break the behaviour patterns you are stuck in. The first step is recognising how your people pleasing shows up in your behaviour. Is it at work, or at home, or both?
Do you apologise? Seek approval? Which one of these signs is most apparent?
It is possible to learn to put yourself first, trust your judgment and re-build your self-worth, and set better boundaries, without feeling like you are being rude or unkind.
Coaching can be a great way to achieve this and I have supported many people to overcome their people pleasing tendencies and remain kind, while also standing up for themselves.
I am starting a group coaching program in June, so if you want to try out coaching, this could be a good option. Check out the video below for an overview of the coaching program and visit my 'RISE & Thrive!' page using the button below the video.