People pleasing is the act of putting someone else’s needs above your own, which comes from the need to constantly please or appease others. This happens even at the expense of your own needs, values, beliefs and wants, which would seem comparatively irrelevant to other people.
What do People Pleasers Look Like?
People pleasers tend to be agreeable, compassionate and helpful people. They have huge difficulties in advocating for themselves and letting others take care of them. Leading them to develop patterns of self-neglect when spending too much time looking out for and accommodating other people’s needs.
They also give little attention to their feelings as they view them as unimportant. This pattern leads to difficulties in figuring out their feelings, identity and values. They tend to determine this through understanding the opinions, beliefs and feelings of the people surrounding them, leading them to alter their personalities to appease others.
Where does it come from?
A people-pleaser would have the instinct to appease others to avoid potential conflict. As a result, such a defense mechanism would be used due to past/childhood trauma. One theory says there is a fourth type of response to threat besides fight, flight and freeze – people-pleasing. In pleasing or appeasing the other person who might be a source of danger, the people-pleaser seeks safety in avoiding any conflict that could lead to harm.
Childhood trauma can take many forms, sometimes through bullying and not being accepted by peers. Sometimes even through neglect or abuse by a parent. The child then starts avoiding conflict, does not want to disappoint others and fears rejection as they want to fit in. They, therefore, aim to keep the people surrounding them happy to be accepted or to avoid harm, while neglecting their feelings, needs and opinions.
What does it do to the people pleaser?
They would constantly be having the urge to please others can have tremendous consequences. The people pleaser might develop the habit of feeling guilty for saying no, making it difficult to do so and therefore taking on more responsibilities when they might already be overextending themselves. Thus, it is immensely important for them to learn how to set boundaries, which might be a difficult process as they still want to be perceived as kind. Also, as people-pleasers have difficulties with self-love, they tend to build their self-worth from external validation, which makes them easily influenced by others. This can also lead to toxic relationships, where the people pleaser is being taken advantage of. People pleasing can also destroy relationships in the long run. This is because it is difficult to maintain a behaviour at the expense of their own needs. At some point, the people pleaser also has to put themselves first and be their true self, which could be a person their partner does not recognise.
Do you recognise yourself to be a people pleaser and feel like it is negatively impacting your life? If you want to talk about it, feel free to reach out here.
Olivia Szewczykowski is currently studying psychology in Graz, Austria and interning for Willingness. She is interested in various topics regarding relationships, sex and family dynamics.
Bolton, J. (2013). People-Pleasing Patterns Are Learned When Needs Are Not Met. Dr. Jane Bolton. nd, 15.
Hinton Jr, A. O., McReynolds, M. R., Martinez, D., Shuler, H. D., & Termini, C. M. (2020). The power of saying no. EMBO reports, 21(7), e50918.
Walker, Pete. Complex Ptsd: From Surviving to Thriving : a Guide and Map for Recovering from Childhood Trauma. , 2014.