Who doesn’t love the feeling of doing things for others? There’s little that compares to the satisfaction of having helped someone in need. But sometimes, we tend to go out of our way to help someone out, not realising how problematic it can be for ourselves.

Our Head of Therapy, Dr. Divya Kannan, breaks down the concept of pleasing people, why it’s crucial to step back sometimes and how you can go about it.

What exactly is people pleasing behavior?

Have you ever lent your favorite item of clothing to a friend, or covered for a colleague at work at the last minute? These are signs of what is termed as people pleasing behavior.In pop psychology, it’s often seen negatively:

  • Sign of low self-esteem
  • Deep insecurities, or
  • Being a pushover

Here’s another way to look at it though - simply as behavior that’s driven by the need for approval and acceptance, which is common in every relationship. When other people are happy with us, it makes us feel good about ourselves. It’s as simple as that.

Sometimes, people-pleasing behavior may even lead to a desired outcome. Take, for example, two individuals on a date. In the hope of it leading to a second, one may lie about being interested in the same things the other is interested in. Just a little white lie.

However, it’s only when we take a step back to reflect, do we truly realize the motivations and results of people pleasing. Why did we say yes to something? How did it make us feel? Did it get the results we expected?

It’s important to get the answers to these questions to understand the impact people pleasing has on us.

It may be time to step back when:

It comes at the cost of self authenticity:

Say you’ve just moved to a different city and are looking to make new friends. So you do what it takes to fit into your budding social circle - say, having a few drinks every now and then -  even if that means going against your beliefs. It may seem like no big deal initially.

It may even get you the outcome you’re seeking. But at a major cost - of your own self. Doing things you don’t necessarily want to or agree with may eventually make you unrecognizable to yourself - and nothing is worth that.

It leads to negative feelings:

You may have the best intentions when agreeing to do someone a favor or going along with someone else’s plans. However, we often do this with the hope that it will be appreciated in a certain way, if not reciprocated. But this outcome is never guaranteed. And when it doesn’t go that way, you may find yourself feeling angry, upset, and even resentful.

When this is the case more often than not, it might be time to rethink our motivations and responses.

Here’s how to deconstruct the people pleaser in you:

Pay attention to instances when you are driven by the need to please others:

Does it happen only in a professional context? Or when you’re with your immediate family? Are there certain situations or people that trigger your need to please? Answering these questions is the first step to working on behavior that is harming you.

Reflect on the outcome of pleasing others:

Does people pleasing meet your emotional needs? How do you react when those needs are not met? Does it upset you more often than it makes you happy? If so, take it as a sign to interact differently with the people in your life.

Note down specific instances:

Write down a few recent instances where you acted on your people pleasing impulses. Ask yourself if you were happy. If the answer is yes, reflect on what you gained and why it’s important. If the answer is no, think about what you would have done differently.

Then, actively imagine yourself making that choice, and the ways in which you would deal with the resultant discomfort.

Final thoughts

It’s easy to feel like people pleasing is the best way to nurture healthy relationships and have people be happy with us. However, being your authentic self and saying no when you want to can teach us a lot about our relationships and even help improve them.

While every situation is different, just remember to be true to how you’re feeling and be mindful of your wellbeing.

Jun 7, 2021
Healthy Mind

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