Are you a people-pleaser? I know I definitely am. And, until recently, I didn’t really realise the negative implications being a people-pleaser had for my mental health. If you speak French, the podcast episode “D’où vient notre besoin de plaire aux autres ?” (“Where does our need to please others come from?”) by Émotions (Louie Media) is excellent for further listening.
What is it?
First things first, let’s briefly define and explain what people-pleasing actually is. The Cambridge dictionary defines a people-pleaser as:
“someone who cares a lot about whether other people like them, and always wants others to approve of their actions”
So, in short, people-pleasing involves going out of your way to make others like or approve of you. And if it seems as though someone doesn’t like or approve of you, you can feel incredibly hurt – perhaps even socially anxious.
Why do we people-please?
So, where does this desire to people-please come from? As social beings, humans want and feel the need to fit in with others. Friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances… we like to feel part of a tribe. And that is totally normal. However, when this desire to fit in turns into a chronic need to be accepted by absolutely everyone, people-pleasing enters the picture. You no longer do things for yourself, but in the hopes that it might make someone like you – and thus validate your existence. But the validity of your existence shouldn’t rest on what others think of you. Your identity shouldn’t be defined by others and whether they like you or not.
Fear of rejection
Furthermore, the fear of rejection often fuels people-pleasing tendencies. Stemming from our social nature, the fear of rejection – of being abandoned, of being shunned – can lead to a particularly vicious type of people-pleasing. Every social interaction becomes a battlefield, every word, every gesture, a potential for rejection. People-pleasers often coincide with overthinkers. They dissect every conversation, seek any evidence of rejection, and make it their mission to please the person who is potentially excluding them.
Putting others’ needs first
Another source of people-pleasing is putting others’ needs before your own. A lot of parents will do this for their children as a rule, but if you find yourself doing this for anyone and everyone, then you might need to reassess. It can be a sign of a lack of self-worth, deeming others to be more important than you. Rather than listen to what you want or need, you will bend over backwards to fulfil any of their needs or desires. And let me tell you, that is no way to live.
the detrimental effects of people-pleasing
Not only does people-pleasing lead to elevated levels of social anxiety, self-loathing, and paranoia, it can also result in a few negative coping mechanisms. When in a social setting in which a people-pleaser perceives that they are being rejected, they often respond by fighting, fleeing, or freezing.
“Fighting” can vary, but responses may include any of the following. Bringing someone else down by picking them apart or insulting them, so that you are not the only “rejected” one. Doing the same to someone else in another social setting (excluding them, as you believe you yourself have been excluded here). That way, someone else can suffer as you have. It brings out nasty, competitive sides in people that can actually lead to rejection.
Flight might look like avoiding social interactions or activities. No longer accepting invitations to parties or virtual calls. Finding an excuse to exit early, or not show up at all. This leads to reclusion, which can further lower morale and damage mental health. Inadvertently, you might also cause your future exclusion from events due to repeatedly avoiding them.
And what does freezing look like? Well, just that. If you perceive that you have been left out, you will be faced with such crippling social anxiety that you may have a panic attack. Or you simply forget how to speak and interact with others in the moment. You might start to define yourself as socially awkward, bigging up social interactions to the point where you feel you can no longer face them.
In all instances, people-pleasing leads to isolation. Fuelled by a fear of rejection and a need for acceptance, if you feel excluded at any moment, you will see it as an inherent failure on your behalf. If you can’t please this group of people, what’s to say you will never please anyone? But if you isolate yourself and believe such toxic thoughts, you will never escape this vicious cycle.
There are approaching 8 billion people in this world. Not everyone can like you. That’s just not possible. So when you meet someone who, despite your best efforts, simply does not like you, don’t force it. Stop wasting your energy trying to make them like you, and find the people that like you for you. Because, I assure you, they exist. It might be harder to find them than it is for others, but once you find them, you’ll know.
Ladies – you know who you are <3
I hope you found this post insightful, and happy Sunday!