Updated: Mar 16, 2022
I always thought I was just really well liked. I thought that I expressed myself in such a respectful way that I didn’t upset people even if we disagreed. I owned being shy and introverted and knew that was why I never spoke up in meetings.
But what was really happening was that I was keeping myself small and quiet so I didn’t disturb the peace. 2020 - 2021 has been a year (or several?) of great discovery for me. I realized that I didn’t, in fact, get out of my chaotic childhood unscathed and that I am actually a people pleaser and codependent. *rolls eyes* Awesome.
People pleasing is part of codependency, but someone who is codependent isn't always a people pleaser. Both stem from a lost sense of self and a need to take care of the needs of others- usually because of survival or out of necessity. It's kind of a super power, if you think about it. You have this ability to read a room and know the moods of everyone in it within milliseconds. Helping others is a strength, and you have been working that muscle out for a long time.
My childhood wasn’t horrendous or even full of a lot of the trauma that one might assume when it comes to talking about codependency. But I think that is important to note. It was relatively normal, I was cared for, not abused, and yet- here I am trying to make sure everyone around me is happy while putting my own needs to the side. What gives?
My homelife had an air of chaos to it. My parents weren’t in love and the tension of “staying together for the kids” was thick. There was an implied responsibility from being the oldest child that I had to step up as the second parent. My mom was the hardworking provider and my dad was the fun loving escapist. I became the house-parent at home. I learned that in order to get my needs met, I had to be helping. For example, my mom bought me a car so that I could use it to drive my brothers around- take them to school, pick them up from football practice, take them to their friend’s houses, and whatever else they may need. I was supposed to be grateful to just have the car (which I was), and not actually use it unless my brother’s schedules were clear.
I learned that my needs were secondary to the needs of others. This is a cornerstone of people-pleasing. I never identified with the term until this year because I truly love taking care of other people. I have built a career on helping others because it brings me joy. And there is nothing wrong with helping, but when it grows into ignoring your own needs so that you can take care of others and the goal is always to just be liked, then it becomes an issue.
Even as a person with great self awareness (or so I thought), it is difficult for me to connect to my own desires sometimes. Again, this is a result of spending so much time thinking about what others might need and being hyper aware of the moods around me.
So how do you know if you are a people pleaser? Here are a few signs.
You feel guilty for saying no.
Saying no is difficult in our world anyway, but when you feel like you are disappointing someone or letting them down by saying no, then it is much harder. Women especially are socialized to be “nice” and well-liked. This often doesn’t include saying no. Dating culture leaves more people on read than not when the flame fizzles, when the respectful thing to do is let the other person know “this doesn’t feel like a good fit to me.” When someone asks you to come over for dinner, or for a favor and you legitimately don’t have time or just plain don’t want to, notice what comes up for you? Are you ok with saying “Thanks for thinking of me but I have other plans,” or do you come up with an elaborate excuse and try to fit it into your schedule anyway?
You feel responsible for others’ feelings.
This usually looks like carefully crafting what you say- or don’t say- as a covert attempt to control how the other person hears it. Related to saying no, don’t want to be responsible for making someone sad or upset, or making their lives harder by not helping them out in any way that you can. The thing is, we don’t have that much power over other people. If we did, the world would be a totally different place. You are responsible for your feelings and everyone else is responsible for their own feelings. Look out for the tendency to carefully choose your words as an attempt to “soften the blow” or trying to make other people happy when they seem upset.
You stay quiet or just agree even if you disagree.
You don’t want to cause a scene by having your own opinion. You fear telling someone that the quilt their grandma made makes you want to puke. Your friends want to go to Taco Bell but you are really wanting Panda Express. Instead of speaking up, you stay quiet. You tell yourself it's just easier because you are more flexible of a person. This isn’t flexibility when it happens every time, it's allowing your needs to go unnoticed and an attempt to keep others happy (see above).
You apologize… for everything.
I call this apologizing for existing. You say sorry when someone else runs into you. You say sorry for walking on the sidewalk next to someone. You say sorry when someone offers to give you something. You get the idea. Stop doing this. You deserve to be here and to take up space.
“It’s fine” is a regular part of your vocabulary.
Similar to apologizing for everything, you refuse to admit when something or someone inconveniences you. This showed up often in my therapy practice, clients would complain about something their boss said or did, sometimes even crying about it, and then end the monologue with “But, it’s fine.” IT IS CLEARLY NOT FINE. Everything is not always fine and that is ok. Your boss being rude to you is not fine. Losing your favorite necklace because your best friend borrowed it is not fine. It is ok to admit that you are upset… It is ok to allow yourself to feel upset.
This is by no means a complete list. These are only some of the traits of people pleasing that you may experience.
How do you Stop People Pleasing?
Start small. It will be very jarring to try and completely change your way of being overnight. It will also take a lot of mental work and energy. You want to uncover the root cause, the parts of your childhood that led you to these behaviors. You also want to get to know yourself and your desires. You will need to figure out who you are without the context of other people.
One place to start is by journaling. Here are some prompts to help; answer the following:
If I could do anything by myself, what would it be?
If all careers paid the same, what would I do for work?
What is my favorite quality about myself?
Let me know in the comments what you discover about yourself! If you want to explore this deeper with a licensed professional, schedule a consultation call with me to see if we are a good fit to work together!
If you want to find out more about What Type of People Pleaser you are, take my quiz!