When Pleasing Others Is Not A Choice: The Cost and Options


Although making another person feel happy is a rewarding experience, being a “people pleaser” is generally considered a negative habit.

The phrase “people pleaser” usually refers to someone who puts others first to avoid conflict or rejection, or because they are so out of touch with themselves they do not know what to assert.

Those who tend to please others are strong individuals who need to acquire a resilient sense of self-worth, or trust in their thoughts or feelings, or the realization they can stand up for themselves and not get struck by lightening.

The need to acquire assertiveness skills becomes evident when our current communication behaviors are ineffective in getting our wants and needs met.

The High Cost of Pleasing

When we give and bend out of love or compassion, the giver and receiver are both rewarded. When we give-in or bend out of fear and avoidance, the giving is at the giver’s mental and emotional expense:

  1. Resentment and anger build up and are often turned inward. People tend to ruminate—for hours, days, or years—about what they should have said but did not. This is exhausting, unpleasant, and resolves nothing.
  2. Those who cannot assert themselves tend to feel invisible, misunderstood, and used. If they blame others for this, they can fester with rage. If they blame themselves, and this is often the case, they may experience depression, anxiety, or both.
  3. Those who tend to please may assert themselves through passive-aggressive behavior. These are actions designed to get back at someone without arousing too much wrath or rejection (e.g., withholding information, showing up late). Passive-aggressive behavior is powerful but will not get the giver what they want—to be heard and respected.
  4. Some habitual pleasers slip into an “I don’t care” stance about most everything. Unfortunately, it is impossible to have vital, interesting relationships with people who don’t care. To have a relationship, you have to show up.

If you experience any of these difficulties you may be someone who is capable of giving from a heart of compassion, but are too often giving-in at your own expense.

Forget Change and Acquire Options

Children adjust to their environment as best they can—this is what children do. Many of us, when children, found things worked best when we pleased the adults and other authorities in our life.

As we mature and move into the wider world, the behaviors that worked during early childhood no longer do—but they are ingrained in us and tied to our emotions. They are the habits we default to until we learn behavior options (a variety of communication skills).

To increase your self-assertion skills and behavior options consider:

  1. Finding a qualified therapist with a cognitive-behavioral, or psychodynamic orientation.
  2. Joining a therapy group, or a communication skills training group. They are very effective ways to acquire options.
  3. Meeting with a spiritual advisor.

None of us reaches adulthood knowing all the skills we need—it is never too late to learn them.

Photo by Felipe Cabrera


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