Why are we people-pleasing even when it’s hurting us?
Article written by Suzi Dean
Why do we people-please?
Women learn at a really young age that it is our responsibility to be of service to others. Little girls are expected to dress a certain way, speak at a certain volume, and act like a lady. When we’re young, we’re told to put on a happy face, entertain, and be helpful. We are cultivated to be little caregivers who seek external validation as opposed to self-validation. We’re given accolades when we entertain and a pat on the head when we do what we are told. Our society has bred generations of women who are taught that compliance is at the crux of what it is to be a woman.
Then we become adults and continue to find ourselves in people-pleasing roles. We become wives who are supposed to cater to our partners and moms who are supposed to bend over backward for their children. Further, expectations to dress a certain way continue to be placed on us, and we are judged when we fall short of those expectations. In general, society expects us to be helpful, courteous, and kind. We are the caregivers of the world. But who is taking care of the caregivers?
I have basically been a people-pleaser my entire life.
Like many girls, I learned my place at an early age. I was told countless times that I was too loud and that what I was doing wasn’t lady-like. I learned that if you don’t comply, you get in trouble. I also learned that if you want to fit in, there’s a dress code to obey and limits to the topics you can talk about. Sadly, these constraints continue to follow girls as they enter adulthood and become women. Women still need to obey these arbitrary rules lest they be judged.
These societal constraints foster the need for external validation among women. When women are told time and time again that being themselves is not good enough, they start changing themselves to be what society wants them to be. I wanted to be liked, and fit in, and praised, so I did what I was told, tried to keep my voice down, and kept on topic. I came to people’s aid when asked, entertained when others needed entertaining, and served others without asking for anything in return.
I continued to do this well into adulthood. This pattern of behavior followed me in my romantic relationships and even my marriage. My people-pleasing tendencies became even greater when I bore children. Now I had kids that I desperately wanted to please and make happy. Their happiness was my happiness. Their validation was my validation.
Excessive people-pleasing can be detrimental to your physical and mental health.
Now, I can proudly say that I am a recovering people pleaser, but there was a time when my primary goal was to serve others. There was a period where I did virtually nothing for myself and put everybody’s needs in front of my own. I knew how to please everybody else, but I didn’t even know what brought me pleasure. I found myself burned out and completely drained of energy. I found myself in the depths of depression. It wasn’t until I sought out therapy that I realized the toll that excessive people-pleasing was taking on me both mentally and physically.
If any of this sounds familiar, you may be an excessive people-pleaser. If you feel like you are stretched too thin and have no time to dedicate to your own self-care, you may be taking on too much. Keep in mind, the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem. The next step is to get to work; and getting to work means setting boundaries.
Boundary setting is crucial if you want to stop being an excessive people-pleaser.
Excessive people-pleasers often have difficulty setting boundaries and saying, ‘no.’ They avoid saying ‘no’ because they don’t like confrontation. They’re afraid of saying ‘no’ because they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. Further, they avoid saying ‘no’ because they want people to like them. Lastly, they avoid saying ‘no’ because in the short-term, it seems like the easier thing to do.
If you find yourself saying ‘yes’ to something someone asks of you, but you know that you don’t want to do it (or you don’t have time for it)…you probably shouldn’t be saying yes. I caution you, that if you continue to say, ‘yes’ to things that aren’t serving you, you’re going to feel resentment toward the people you’re helping. If you continue to do things for others that take an excess of your time, you won’t have time to do the things that are important to you. Lastly, if you continue to try to be everything for everybody, it will completely deplete you of your energy.
Remind yourself that saying, ‘no’ is not a bad thing. You need to tell yourself that an honest no is better than a reluctant yes. Moreover, when you say no to someone else, you may just be saying yes to yourself. It’s important to evaluate the priorities that you hold in your life, and quite frankly, one of those priorities needs to be you.
“You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
Suzi Dean, Ph.D. is a stay-at-home-mom turned blogger who blogs about the real real when it comes to marriage, parenting, social issues, and life lessons. Suzi is also the founder of the “Mommin’ Like A Savage” club on Clubhouse and Facebook. Her major goals include helping women navigate the hurdles in marriage and parenting, building a community of moms to provide support for one another, and helping moms get unstuck and find greater fulfillment in their lives.