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Stop “People Pleasing” to Build Better Relationships


Jun. 7, 2019 Psychology Today

The funny thing about people pleasers is that they fall into a couple of different categories: the “reluctant pleaser” and the “relentless pleaser.” First, there are the type of people pleasers whose willingness to help others and to do the favors that are asked of them results in the pleaser being taken advantage of by the people they want to please. Friends may seek them out when they need help with errands or projects that they either cannot do on their own or would prefer to have someone else do. These people pleasers are driven by a type of altruism and an honest desire to be of service to others.

With the second type of people pleasers, however, their motive is more self-directed. This type of pleaser can be grating to others in their persistent desire to “help out” even when their help is not needed. They do what they can to assist others as a way to earn validation and shore up shaky self-esteem. This person is seeking approval through being super solicitous of others. They want to be liked by others and may not realize that the very behaviors they are exhibiting are the type that can turn off others and make the pleaser less likable.

If you think you’re too much of a people pleaser, or if you’ve been accused of being a people pleaser by others, you might benefit from figuring out your own motivation for doing what others ask of you, even if it’s beyond what they might do for you. Are you trying to ingratiate yourself with others or do you just want to be of service? Those are two very different motivating factors that spring from very different dynamics.

The “Reluctant Pleaser”

People lean on you—even if you’d rather they not.

If you feel you’re always being expected to “be there” for others and people seem to be taking advantage of your kindness, the most important word in your vocabulary needs to become, “No.” While it’s nice to be of service, no one should feel that they are at the “beck and call” of others when they need someone to do them a favor.

Remind yourself that healthy relationships involve mutuality—if you’re always the one who “goes along to get along,” but never gets to make decisions in a relationship, that’s a one-sided relationship. Moreover, once a relationship’s pattern has been etched into place, it can be difficult to revise it down the road. If you feel you’re getting the short end of the relationship, speak up for yourself. Be ready to share a few examples of the times when you feel you’ve been shortchanged. Also, be ready to offer ideas of how you’d like things to be going forward. Don’t complain if you can’t suggest a solution to the problem.

Recognize that your time is every bit as valuable as another’s and be as considerate to yourself and your own commitments as you are to those of others. Take stock of how you spend your time. If you see that you are not getting the things you need accomplished or it feels like you are always putting your preferences second, due to pleasing others, create clear boundaries for yourself and honor them.

Prioritize your time and make sure that you take care of your own needs before meeting the needs of others. If you don’t keep your own well of well-being filled, you’ll have nothing to offer to others.

If you’re trying to please others to gain their approval, tell yourself that the only person whose approval really matters is your own. Jumping through hoops to win the friendship of someone doesn’t result in a healthy relationship. We may be grateful if someone does us a favor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to like that person as a friend. We also may not even particularly respect that person, either.

Friendships are built on mutual “give and take” experiences over time. If you’re the one who’s always giving, but never receiving, it may be time to “re-balance the relationship.”

The “Relentless Pleaser”

You long to be helpful—even if people would rather you didn’t.

Are you the type of person who feels like you “need to be needed” to feel good about yourself? Being needed and mattering are both essential to emotional well-being, but if you don’t feel good about yourself unless you are sacrificing for others, you may want to check to be sure you aren’t being over-solicitous to others.

Wanting to be helpful is different from desperately wanting to be needed. If you feel that the people you are longing to please are not reciprocating the warmth you feel for them, ask yourself if these are the type of people with whom you want to be in a relationship.

The easiest people to like are those who make us feel easy around them. When someone is constantly asking us if we need assistance or asking how they can help us, many of us tend to feel a little overwhelmed and uncomfortable. If people are consistently rejecting your offers of assistance, then recognize that you may be trying too hard. Step back and focus more on being appreciated for who you are, not just what you do.

Not everyone that you want to please is necessarily going to want to be pleased by you—it’s just a fact that not everyone we want to like us is always going to like us. Don’t squander energy or emotional capital in relationships that are not worth the effort.

Don’t be afraid to ask for what you are being asked to give in a relationship. The most satisfying and long-lasting relationships are those in which mutuality, respect, caring for, and caring about another are present.

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