“I describe people pleasing in two ways,” Psychotherapist Tasha Bailey explains on Happiful’s podcast I am. I have. “The first way is more general, it’s a tendency to put ourselves last and we put everyone else’s needs above our own. That might come from a place of wanting to be liked or a fear of rejection.
“The second definition is people pleasing as a trauma response,” she continues. “If we’ve grown up in a household where our needs were never met, or always at the bottom of the list, we’ll learn to do that to ourselves as if we don’t matter. We become caretakers. We might end up being in friendships or relationships where we look after other people’s feelings, or even in jobs where we do that, and forget to look after ourselves.”
These descriptions will resonate with so many readers who struggle with this trait. In many ways, as Tasha expands upon, people pleasing behaviours can be all too easy to adopt when trying to find or maintain our place in the world from an early age. However, that’s all the more reason to address them in adulthood.
“Niceness, being a hard worker and all giving, especially as a woman or a person of colour, is really glorified in society. So when you’re thinking about looking after your own needs, you can often go to a place of thinking ‘that’s selfish of me’, or go to a place of guilt but then you’re not being looked after.
“What will happen is that will tire us out emotionally and physically, so we have to work out how to look after a bit of both. Me first, yes, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to drop everything, it just means I’m going to be more considerate of how I put myself first here.”
How people pleasing shows up
If you’re unsure as to whether you are prone to people please, Tasha shares some tell tale signs to look out for.
“There’ll be an inability to say no,” she explains. “This comes up a lot for people in their workplaces, where they’ll say yes to requests constantly without thinking about what is already on their plate and whether it’s reasonable or possible for them to do all those things, whether they want to and if it’s even part of their job.
“Because there’s no pause to be able to reflect, there’ll be an instant ‘yes, I’ll do that!’ then that person ends up overwhelmed and resenting their jobs because they’re overloaded as a result of not being able to say no.”
They’ll say yes to requests constantly, without thinking about what is already on their plate and whether it’s reasonable or possible for them to do all those things
Disappointing others and appearing to being ‘perfect’ may be at the route of this behaviour. “Perfect is not possible, we know that,” Tasha asserts. “But there’s this internal system that believes that if we don’t say yes to other people we’ll be letting them down but actually, we are letting ourselves down.”
Tasha explains that constant people pleasing can result in feelings of fatigue and low motivation too. “You’re essentially giving out your love, care and energy but you’re not giving it to yourself. Yes, you might get external validation but it’s not going to fulfil your needs.
“It definitely brings up resentment because the effort is unmatched, how much energy you’re giving out to so many people versus what you’re receiving yourself.”
How to address people pleasing
There are ways to address and change people pleasing tendencies, Tasha notes and it starts with awareness of how you feel.
Use these feelings as a prompt to pause, hang back, take a day for yourself to reflect
“Really notice anger and resentment when they come up. I think these are really great feelings!” she shares, laughing. “They tell us when we’ve given too much, when we need to stop and pause because we’re not feeling good. Use these feelings as a prompt to pause, hang back, take a day for yourself to reflect.”
Tasha is aware that this can be tough advice for some to put into action. “It can be quite hard as a people pleaser to know what we need and what to do apart from giving to other people and this could create panic. So slow down, take time and go back to basics. If you were a baby, you’d need food, water, rest, a cuddle – just start there. Find out what you like, what you don’t like, learn how to please yourself.”
Life beyond people pleasing
“As someone that works with my own people pleasing tendencies and behaviours,” Tasha offers, “I’d say life beyond people pleasing becomes more colourful. You start to live your story in the way you want to live it. There’s so much more authenticity and joy because you’re getting closer to who you are, rather than who other people want you to be.”
Listen to Tasha’s episode of I am. I have
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