This question fascinates me because I have observed over many years many journeys where people struggle with this task (myself included.) Let’s take a look at some of my speculations and see what your thoughts might be on why this is so challenging.
Our History and Teachings
For women, it is easy to look back at the history we are and see that we have had to work hard for our rights. We have been considered an extension of our marital partners, the gender to be educated last in some cultures, the gender to serve, the gender to be barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen for starters.
If we take that to an even more detrimental level, we have been considered the “property” of men, which in many cases includes physical, sexual, and verbal abuse. There are many places in the world where this is still the case (and why, in my mind, we need to appreciate how far we have come as a gender and stop this people pleasing). We have a responsibility to carry the light, since we live in a country where we are supposed to have a voice and rights. If we cannot stop this behavior, when our environment allows and supports us to find our voice and claim our rights, how can women in cultures where they are still “property” ever find their way (and yet they are)?
Men are people pleasers as well and this phenomenon can happen in many ways. Many of our religious teachings influence people, regardless of gender. Let me be clear: I am not opposed to service, kindness, and taking care of our neighbors; I just believe we need to “put our oxygen mask on first” to help others. Dysfunctional family life with illness, addictions and other challenges can lead both men and women to become people pleasers.
It Works (We Think)!
When we train our body to say only nice things and hear only nice things, we think “well this is working; everyone likes me and everyone thinks I like them.” When we bring people pleasing into the work situation, everyone loves us because they can pile things on our to-do list and we won’t complain.
We love to think that we can help everyone — and remember, we have trained ourselves to anticipate others’ needs because we never factor ourselves in the equation.
Management loves to hire people pleasers because we work 80 hours to others 40. Narcissistic people love people pleasers because we want to do everything for them and, of course, that fits into the narcissistic paradigm.
Narcissistic people often don’t realize there are other people in the room, so a good people pleaser running around trying to please them is just perfect. Friends who are “takers” love people pleasers because we pay for meals all the time (trying to please), support their charities, always help them move, clean out drawers/offices, and can be manipulated easily with guilt (which takers are highly competent in doing). And we are getting someone who we think likes us, so it is a good fit.
People pleasers, if you dig deeper, actually are arrogant and proud of their low maintenance reputation and how much they can accomplish vs “normal” people. Somewhere, someone tricked us into thinking that it is admirable to have no needs, wants, desires, opinions or requests, for starters.
People pleasers are master chameleons! We pride ourselves on being able to fit in anywhere and do more than anyone. We generally have judgments about people who are not as accommodating and people pleasing! So why should we give this all up? We fit in, we are usually successful at work, we have so many friends/takers, and the superficial conversations all feel good…so why rock the boat? What could possibly go wrong here? Hmmm! Resentment, depression, anxiety, isolation, loneliness, physical breakdowns, emotional breakdowns, loss of identity (or never had one) are just some of the things I have seen.
Poor Self Esteem
This is probably what I hear the most. I don’t deserve, I am not worthy, and I am not perfect, so how can I ask for anything? I haven’t lost weight, cleaned the house, or been a good Mom, so I don’t deserve to make requests, put myself first, disagree with others, or be a legitimate person in the world. I am not worthy to have my own path. I am only good enough to help someone on their path. I wouldn’t even know what my path looks like because I don’t have any gifts or talents. It is better for me to keep doing for others. I can’t think about changing and honoring me. The thought is terrifying, overwhelming, and paralyzing, so I will stay here in my resentment and not rock the boat!
This article was originally published on Recovery.org
© 2019 Dr. Anne Brown; Psychotherapist, Speaker, and Author of Backbone Power The Science of Saying No. Permission needed for any form of reproduction.
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