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  • Writer's pictureAnneka Barrett

Are you a people pleaser?

In my twenties I put up with a lot. I thought that was what I was supposed to do to be liked; prove myself time and time again, everything else would fall into place, right? Somehow this was never successful. I was always overwhelmed, and over stretched to the point of burn out. This is classic people pleasing behaviour.

Do you show up for others before yourself? Do you feel incapable of saying ‘no’ even though you want to. Do you see external praise as the identifier of your self worth? These are just some of the traits of people pleasers.

A desire to make others happy at the deference to your own needs is often the marker of a deeper wound, normally with issues around your sense of self worth. Often this is linked to lessons learnt as a child. Perhaps you had an emotionally unavailable parent, you may have internalised their indifference as linked to your worth. You may have grown up in an unsafe or abusive household where the best way to survive was to be as unseen as possible. Perhaps it was something completely different- the end result is the same, the lesson that pleasing others should be a priority.

That’s OK, you aren’t alone, not by a long shot.

Here are some of the key characteristics of a people pleaser. See if you recognise yourself in any of these.

1. You tend to agree with everyone.

You take on other people's opinions and ideas as fact. The idea of disagreeing or having your own opinions is too intimidating to even form them.

2. You take on responsibility for other people's feelings.

Do you worry what other people may think of your actions? Do you then take on the responsibility for that? This is classic people pleasing. We can’t control what other people think, any more than we can control the weather. Yet, we attempt to control others' reactions, we play it safe so as not to upset, disappoint or anger others. This leads to minimising our own wants or needs.

3. You apologise way too often.

If you are British I can almost guarantee you already apologise too much. We apologise for everything, even incorrect queueing. When it comes to people pleasing and apologising it is more about why you are apologising. Excessive blame of yourself is a way of shifting any perceived blame away from others. If you take responsibility now no one can blame you in the future and you can minimise conflict.

4. You find it hard to say ‘No’.

People pleasers often struggle with letting people down. Sometimes you say ‘yes’ in the moment and later on let someone down because the act of saying ‘no’ is inconceivable. Have you ever said yes to a night out when you knew you would never go and then feign illness or give another excuse later?

5. Confrontation is terrifying.

A lot of people can find confrontation uncomfortable, but as a people pleaser you go out of your way to avoid it. If you find yourself in it you will do everything in your power to be submissive and make it go away. As a people pleaser you will look for ways to avoid, and appease, to ensure you are never in a confrontational situation. Often this is to the detriment of your own desires and goals.

6. You act like the people around you.

As a people pleaser you dress, behave and speak like those around you, blending into what you see as accepted. This is apparent from a young age. Think of teenagers; have you ever noticed that groups of friends will often dress the same, have the same backpack, or hair style?

7. External praise is how you know you are good.

The way you measure your self-worth is through the praise and recognition from others, even though receiving this can be awkward and uncomfortable because you think it’s not good enough.

8. You don’t admit your own feelings.

Showing vulnerability would be a sign of weakness, that you aren’t perfect. Perfectionism, which is a whole other topic, can have links to people pleasing.

9. Your needs come last.

You are the last priority on the to do list of your life, or maybe you don’t even make the list. You can often find yourself burnt out, exhausted and even resentful of everything you have to do.

Writing this list of nine qualities was exhausting, and if you are living it I can only imagine how tiring it must be for you. Being a people pleaser is like being a chameleon, constantly changing yourself to be what you think others want, squeezing into moulds you were never meant to fit. Losing yourself somewhere along the way.

People pleasing is not a terminal condition, but it does take you putting yourself back on the priority list of your life to change.

I talk alot about boundaries and their value. I believe an understanding and a respect of your boundaries can be life changing in terms of how you show up for yourself and how you care for yourself. If you are unsure about where to start with boundaries I’ve written about how to find yours here.

As I said at the beginning, people pleasing is often linked to a lesson we learnt and internalised as a child. Therapy can be a great way to start to unlearn that behaviour and discover what parts of these traits you want to keep and which no longer serve you.

Get comfortable with saying ‘No’ and adding it to your vocabulary. In life you should only do the things you want to. Sure, adulting sometimes involves you doing things you don’t want to, but those should be the exception not the rule. Trust your gut when it tells you something isn’t right for you. You can figure out why later. If you are interested in learning how to say no, I’ve written about that here.

With any big change you make to your life, start small. Consistency, practice and being curious will always get you far, but change takes time. Be patient with yourself.

Remember whatever you are going though you aren’t alone.

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