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  • Writer's pictureHelen Whitehead M.C., R.C.C.

Could I be a People Pleaser?

Updated: Oct 13, 2022

Many folks have what I like to call a “people pleaser part” I have one too! Do you often say yes to things and then regret it later? Do you strive for perfection at work? Do you worry about the moods of the people around you more than your own? Do you let your own boundaries be violated so not to cause offence? Do you keep your opinions to yourself to avoid an argument or possible conflict? Then you should maybe keep reading (I mean if you want to… the people pleaser in me wants you to know it’s OK if you don’t).

Not sure if you might be a people pleaser? See if any of these feel familiar:

Things you might hear a people pleaser say and what they really mean:

  • Sure I’ll pick you up! (Damn, I was hoping for a night in with Grey’s)

  • You choose what to watch, I don’t mind. (Ummm Grey’s? Say Grey’s)

  • What take-out would you prefer? (I really want sushi)

  • I’m happy to drive! (I’m tired of driving)

  • Sure I’ll lend you money! (I guess I can cut back this week)

  • Sure I’ll make you dinner! (I wonder why it’s always me offering)

  • OK Mom, it’s no trouble (ugh why am I agreeing to this again)

Super Nice Person or People Pleaser?

Ain’t No Party Like a People Pleaser Party! (hey I miss the 90s). This is true, as people pleasers throw great parties, make amazing dinners, plan intricate birthdays, and make amazing friends. Well hang on, you might be thinking, doesn’t this just make me a super nice person and great person to be around? Well maybe, but if you’re reading this you might already have an inkling that there’s more going on. If you ever feel resentful or regretful for saying yes, or exhausted, or like you never get to choose what you want for yourself, or like all your friendships/relationships are unequal, then maybe keep reading.

People pleasing can leave us unable to set boundaries that are vitally important for our health and wellness and our relationships. People pleasing can leave us resentful, exhausted and with a feeling that we are not being true to ourselves. When we people please, we self-abandon.

This works in the short term because it feels safe, it feels that we are being loved, it feels that we are secure in our relationships and we feel liked. Our brains get stuck on these two basic ideas: “if people like us they are less likely to leave us” and “if people like us they are less likely to hurt us.”

OK, I hear you: I get it, I’m a people pleaser. But why?

What does the Inner Child have to do with it?

Often, people pleasing is a strategy we learned a long time ago. It has more to do with our history and attachment and less to do with the present. Perhaps the part of you that people pleases is just trying to avoid unpleasant or unsafe feelings.

Maybe you grew up with fighting parents or siblings; or an emotionally abusive caregiver; or an unresponsive caregiver; perhaps you experienced family separation; or a parent with mental health challenges; or maybe bullying from your peers. Whatever past hurt you experienced, this trauma often results in some parts being left over from a time that felt unsafe - strategies that we still use now. These parts want to fix problems before they become arguments, these parts want to keep everyone happy, these parts will say yes to avoid upsetting someone who might leave or might show anger, they want to avoid anyone being disappointed in us. They can also leave us exhausted, invalidated, unsatisfied and resentful. Abandonment is also a huge trigger for many of us and our brain thinks it has it all figured out: be nice to people = they won’t leave us. So it’s often a fear of abandonment that drives people pleasing behaviour. Unfortunately, one of the effects of people pleasing is abandoning ourselves.

So yes, you being a people pleaser was never the problem, the problem came in years ago when a part of you realised that you could protect yourself from being hurt or being alone or being in conflict by giving in to other people, keeping your opinions to yourself, and keeping others happy.

A quote about setting boundaries to keep our inner child safe.

Are Boundaries are the Antidote to People Pleasing?

So what do we do about it? Well first off, we get curious. We start to think about the times we people pleased or abandoned ourselves. What was really going on? Were we avoiding conflict? Were we trying to avoid someone being disappointed? Once you figure that out, we get go a little deeper and think further back – were there times when I was a kid, I maybe acted this way to feel safe or loved or wanted? No judgment; just curiosity. Speak to your counsellor about this if you have one.

We can also start to practice setting small boundaries, maybe it’s a boundary of your time, or it’s a physical boundary, or even not replying to a message right away. It might be speaking up about something you’d normally just go along with. Something that will cause a little bit of discomfort but will not be overwhelming. Start small.

Start to practice setting the boundaries for yourself now, that it wasn’t safe to set before, let your inner child feel safety with you. ❤️

Thanks for reading :)

Helen Whitehead

Registered Clinical Counsellor

North Vancouver

British Columbia

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