People-pleasing isn’t always obvious. This trait manifests in many different ways, and it’s not necessarily easy to detect.
People-pleasing isn’t just about being nice, although this can certainly be one of the main effects. At the core of it, a true people-pleaser profoundly struggles with their self-worth and identity. They lack boundaries and structure for the relationships in their lives. As a result, they often feel tired, resentful, and somewhat hollow.
Most people try to be kind and comply with social norms. But genuine people-pleasing extends beyond trying to make others happy. Here are some of the more subtle warning signs.
1 – You Can’t Make Decisions on Your Own
If you’re a people-pleaser, you probably struggle to recognize your own needs. You may also lack a sense of identity because you are so used to taking care of everyone else.
What’s the cost of this behavior? You’re probably indecisive, and this indecisiveness can affect everything from what to make for dinner to how to settle on which job offer to accept.
But the indecisiveness isn’t random. It’s a reaction to wanting to please others and avoid disappointing or harming them. You’re so familiar with considering what someone else might need that you don’t take the time to reflect on your desires or preferences.
2 – You Can’t Say No Without Feeling Guilty
It’s a misconception that people-pleasers don’t ever say no. Many of them do.
But even if you can and do say no, there’s a good chance you feel immensely guilty over setting such a boundary. That’s because, deep down, you don’t think you deserve to put your needs ahead of someone else’s. Likewise, you’re worried about hurting someone else and facing their rejection.
This is why many people-pleasers often retract their boundaries. For instance, you might say you’re going to do something, but when it comes down to it, you cave in. You back out on your word. You want to make others happy, even if it means sacrificing your own well-being.
3 – You Don’t Like Certain People (But You Pretend You Do)
Some people assume that people-pleasing comes from kindness. But this isn’t always true. In some cases, people-pleasing is a way to guard yourself against others. By giving them what they want, you may assume that they’ll leave you alone.
It’s no secret that people-pleasing can feel exhausting! Instead of enjoying your relationships, you often feel subservient to what other people want. This can make you want to isolate yourself, even from the people that you love the most.
4 – You Feel Guilty When Someone Helps You
Many people-pleasers struggle to ask or accept help. And even if someone lovingly does something for you, it almost always results in guilt.
You feel guilty that they had to spend time or energy supporting you. You feel guilty that you couldn’t do it on your own. You feel guilty about how this decision impacts the relationship. Oh, and then you also might feel guilty that you can’t just “be normal” and accept help! Talk about an overwhelming cycle!
Of course, when someone else needs help, you’re usually the first to respond.
5 – You Spend Time With Toxic People
Toxic people tend to love people-pleasers. They need someone who can tolerate or enable their outrageous behavior. They also know you will probably give them what they want- whether it’s validation, security, money, or sex.
When someone has good boundaries, they aim to protect themselves from unhealthy relationships. They recognize warning signs and use self-imposed limits to avoid extra contact with such people.
But a people-pleaser struggles in this area. You often feel the need to rescue the toxic people in their lives. You naturally shift into a helping role. Narcissists, of course, take great advantage of this generosity. They do what they can to exploit your kindness to benefit their needs.
6 – You Try to Build a Perfect Life on Social Media
Just like everyone else, people-pleasers also want approval and validation. You just don’t necessarily ask for it outright, as that probably feels too bold and vulnerable.
Instead, you may try to prove your worth by focusing on creating the appearance of a perfect life. The problem lies in the fact that you aren’t living this life- you’re just crafting it for the rest of the world to see.
That said, creating this illusion doesn’t make you feel better. For one, it isn’t real, which can make you hyper-aware of the discrepancy between fantasy versus reality. Additionally, you may feel uncomfortable with the attention others give you- even if you’re subtly asking for it.
7 – You Often Feel Empty
When you really sit alone with yourself, what happens? What do you feel?
If you don’t know, there’s a good chance you don’t even let yourself be alone. You’re afraid of what might happen. Often, it’s a combination of unsettled sadness, anger, and confusion. Something feels off, and you don’t know how to fix it.
People-pleasers feel empty because they rely on giving to others rather than giving to themselves. They chronically pour from an empty cup, and this leaves them feeling depleted.
8 – You Consider Yourself Super Low-Maintenance
Depending on the situation, going with the flow has its benefits. These days, it’s even trendy to be considered low-maintenance.
But if this is your constant way of being, this free-spirited attitude may just be you gaslighting yourself by pretending you don’t care about things. It’s okay to care! It’s okay to have needs and preferences, which doesn’t make you pretentious, silly, or irrational.
When you jeopardize your morals or values in the spirit of people-pleasing, you often feel untethered in how you live your life. You also risk being manipulated by others.
9 – You Often Feel Manipulated By Others
You didn’t want to buy that car, but the salesman was so pushy.
You didn’t want to bake cupcakes for your son’s class, but the teacher asked you in a panic.
You didn’t want that paint color, but the contractor insisted it would look best.
Do any of these common scenarios feel familiar? Do you find yourself blaming others for your difficulties in saying no or standing true in your conviction?
A people-pleaser often cracks under pressure. You don’t want to cause conflict, and you don’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings, even if that person is a stranger just trying to make a buck.
10 – You Numb Yourself or Self-Harm
The cost of people-pleasing can be devastating. You don’t want to burden others. You’re afraid of sharing your vulnerable thoughts. But instead of dealing with this stress constructively, many people-pleasers internalize them by hurting themselves.
Numbing isn’t just an effect of drugs or alcohol. People can numb themselves with food, shopping, gambling, video games, social media, and television.
11 – You Have Unexplained Aches and Pains
The mind and body are intimately connected. If you neglect one area, it compromises the other.
Research shows that we store stress in the body. This stress can turn into headaches, muscle tension, cramps, and overall discomfort.
If you struggle with these symptoms- and there isn’t a legitimate medical reason- it could be because you’re spending so much time feeling preoccupied and anxious about other people.
How To Stop Being A People-Pleaser
Even if it’s all you know, people-pleasing is a choice. It’s not a fixed part of your personality. You can learn how to reverse and untangle some of these traits.
Recognize Your Triggers
Are you a universal people-pleaser, or is it more select? If it’s more selective, what situations trigger your need to take care of others? Do you notice any interesting patterns?
It may help to start keeping a journal. Write down the times you notice yourself doing something you don’t want to do. This tracking will give you more insight into your behavior.
Practice Saying No
No is a complete sentence. But if that feels too scary at first, you can improvise with other alternatives like:
- Thank you for reaching out, but I have plans.
- I’d love to, but I’m busy that day.
- I can’t right now. Can we reschedule?
- No, that doesn’t make me feel comfortable.
- I’m not sure. Let me get back to you.
Focus on What Makes You Happy
Start seriously thinking about the people, places, and things that bring you joy. Create a list or a vision board if you need the reminder.
The more you honor your own happiness, the less you will feel the need to please others. This doesn’t mean that you suddenly become standoffish or cruel. It just means that you start prioritizing what you want rather than what you think everyone else needs.
Reevaluate Your Relationships
It’s impossible to recover from people-pleasing if you continue spending time with people who continuously disregard your well-being. This is why relationships with narcissists can be so damaging.
If you try to impose boundaries, they stomp all over them. If you start working on your self-esteem, they often double-down on their efforts to manipulate you.
Removing toxic people in your life can be challenging, but it’s one of the best ways to honor your self-esteem. If you want to stop being a people-pleaser, try to surround yourself with people who know how to take care of themselves.
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