When we start putting the needs of others before ourselves, there are going to be repercussions.
We all desire others to be happy, and we want them to be happy with us. We want to be good daughters or sons, good employees, good friends, and good partners, and we often want to do things that will earn us praise and please those around us.
My daughter, who is nearly three, is a perfect example of a people-pleaser.
“I’m listening,” she’ll tell me, reminding me that she’s doing the right thing while her brother is off ignoring me and not listening.
“Yes, you are!” I tell her, and she lights up when I offer her my hand to give her a high-five.
It’s normal to want to follow the rules and please authority figures when we’re young. That’s exactly how we learn not to run into the street, hold our friend’s hand on the way to recess, and finish our homework.
But, like anything, people-pleasing can turn into a full-on shortcoming when we start putting the needs of others before ourselves. This tendency can lead to depression and a loss of relationships.
I, and other people-pleasers like me, start to rely on those feelings of succeeding in order to feel good about ourselves and/or to feel like we are doing a good job as an employee, parent, sibling, friend, lover, etc.
I’ll be 35 in a few months, and I’ve been one nearly my entire life. It was a survival mechanism and coping skill for me throughout my volatile childhood, and then it just became my nature. It became natural to call other people and ask them how they were doing instead of telling them how I was doing because, really, I didn’t want anyone to know that I was hurting, that I wasn’t happy. I wanted to “put on a good face” and focus on others who really needed me.
I also didn’t want to deal with other people’s disappointment or distress. When someone is mad at me, it can feel agonizing, especially if it’s as a result of something I’ve done.
People-pleasing is often about control, trying to shore up your own self-esteem, avoid conflict, and manipulate the environment into what you wish it would be.
I know all too well that there are consequences to being a people-pleaser:
1. Lack of identity
Constantly trying to please other people means you are often suppressing yourself or mirroring other people to get what you want. You become an expert at being anyone other than…you.
The more you try to please those around you, the less time you have for you and the things you truly care about, which can easily lead to feeling resentful.
On top of that, if your needs aren’t being met by those around you (because, frankly, you aren’t telling them what your needs are), you’re probably going to be resentful against them too.
Quietly resenting the ones you love often comes out sideways: mean little jabs, sarcasm, and other fun niceties, which leads to…
3. Low-quality relationships and/or loss of relationships
Your relationships are going to be woefully one-sided. You will be expected to plan outings, be the sensitive ear or shoulder, be on call, and come up with pleasant surprises. And, oh, sorry, but you’re not going to get the same in return.
It’s not hard to see how this would lead to a series of short-lived relationships following a set pattern: joy and fun at first, then creeping feelings of fatigue on the part of the pleaser, then resentment, then mild confrontation, affront on the part of the lover, and inevitable dissolution.
Beyond that, if you can’t honestly share with someone, you can’t be intimate with them.
If you’re mad at the ones you love and you can’t voice why and you keep being mean, you probably won’t keep those relationships for very long.
4. Emotional labor
All that work to keep others happy is exhausting. Constantly thinking of what you can say and do for others takes so much time that it literally fatigues you.
You’ll need time to recharge at the end of every day because you’ll have been spending so much time making other people happy instead of making you happy.
5. Poor time-management
You can’t ever say no to anyone or anything. You live an interrupted life, constantly on the go for other people. Your needs, desires, and dreams sit in the backseat while everyone else’s sit shotgun.
It’s okay to want people to feel good, and it’s important that we help one another, but being a people pleaser is detrimental. It’s easy for others to fall into needing you too much (as in becoming an enabler), and for the pleaser to become a tool rather than a real person (as in continuing a cycle).
We must first take care of, be honest with, and please ourselves before taking care of other people.
Speaking your truth and saying no when you need to doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you someone with real needs, and real relationships are only formed when we are real.
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