Have you ever been called a people pleaser or think that you engage in people pleasing behaviors? Is people pleasing really such a bad thing? Aren’t we supposed to help others? People pleasing can absolutely be a good thing! For example, when hosting an event, we want to have activities, food and drinks that people like so they have a good time. Or when we give a gift, we want the person to love it. People pleasing becomes a problem when it creates anxiety because you often want approval from others, you avoid conflict regularly, or you suppress your needs regularly. This tip will help you to identify if you engage in people pleasing behaviors that are problematic and how to address them.
Individuals that engage in people pleasing behaviors are often unaware of their needs, like to avoid conflict, or regularly seek approval as a primary method of feeling good about themselves. People pleasing behaviors include things, such as saying what others want to hear so they approve of you, behaving in ways that are primarily focused on making others happy, agreeing with an idea or opinion just to keep the peace, or not asserting your own needs because you do not believe your needs are as important. Remember, all of us will do these things at times and it is healthy. What is important to recognize is when you are frequently engaging in these behaviors and when not engaging in these behaviors creates anxiety. Below are three common reasons for people pleasing.
You want approval:
Some people will do what others want because they want their approval. Here are a few examples:
Going along with your co-worker's decisions because you are worried that they won’t like your ideas.
Regularly going out drinking with friends even though you don’t enjoy alcohol nor bars but you don’t want them to think you are a prude or weird.
Always listening to a friend’s problems and never sharing yours because you don’t want them to think you are selfish or a bad friend (this is why we have therapists!).
The desire for approval can be strong and can feel unbearable when we don’t have it. Sometimes individuals rely on others’ approval to help them feel good about themselves. Relying on others to approve of you is problematic because it creates anxiety. If others don’t approve of you, it can feel devastating. If they do, you can feel fantastic. Relying on approval takes how you feel out of your control. All of us want approval and some approval-seeking behaviors are normal. Ask yourself these questions to determine if you engage in too much approval seeking:
- How often do I find myself wanting approval from others?
- Do I find myself regularly feeling that others’ approval is more important than my own needs?
- Do I often look to others to help me feel good about myself?
- Do I feel frequent anxiety in relationships because I am so focused on gaining approval?
You want to avoid conflict:
Pleasing others is a great way to avoid conflict. At the same time, avoiding conflict keeps you from getting your needs met and leaves you fearful of arguments that might occur with others (yet, arguments are inevitable). As with approval, not engaging in conflict can be healthy. For example, your friend is late for plans which is annoying but it is not really that big of an issue for you. Here are some questions to determine if you regularly avoid conflict to please others:
- Do I have a lot of anxiety when thinking about having to confront someone or express a
- Do I have anxiety when I see others engaging in a conflict and want to help smooth it
- Do I find myself agreeing with others because I am anxious that it may create a
- Do I find myself doing what others want mostly because I think they may be angry if I
You don’t prioritize your own needs:
Individuals who engage in people pleasing behaviors often do not pay attention to their own needs. Basically, this can mean not thinking your needs are important or not even knowing what your needs are. So for example, maybe you always agree to go to restaurants that your partner likes or you take on extra work at your job even though it is stressful because your co-worker would rather do less. Another reason individuals may not prioritize their needs is that they have significant pride in not needing anything from others. As with approval and avoiding conflict, not prioritizing our needs over others can be healthy. Here are some questions to determine if you regularly do not prioritize your needs.
- When asked about my needs/preferences, do I find myself not knowing what to say
or being anxious about answering?
- Do I often not do what I want but do what others want?
- Do I often feel good about not needing anything or am very hesitant to express my needs?
- Do I often feel that prioritizing my needs would make me selfish?
- Do I feel that my needs are reflected in my relationships?
So how do you address these reasons and change these behaviors? Try these steps below to begin to intervene.
1. Recognize your behaviors.
Keep track of your people pleasing behaviors on a daily basis in a journal. Write down the situation, the feeling you had, how you responded, and your reason (it can be more than one) for responding that way. For example:
Situation - your coworker shows you an assignment she completed and you think it is sloppy and incomplete.
Feeling - You start to feel anxious because you don’t know how to tell her and you don’t want her to think you are a jerk since she is your good friend.
Response- You tell her it looks fine.
Reason - You want her approval as a good friend and you don’t want to have a conflict.
Practice this step for at least a few weeks to see what your patterns are.
2. Intervening and Tolerating the Anxiety
Once you are able to recognize when you are in a people pleasing situation, you can practice not giving into the urge to please. You will need to pause and decide how you want to respond rather than your automatic response of pleasing behavior. You will continue to feel some anxiety (which is normal while you are practicing) and will need to work on tolerating it. When learning how to tolerate the anxiety and try new behaviors, some people like to use coping statements. Using coping statements, paired with slowing down your breathing can be very helpful. Here are some examples:
It’s ok to share my needs.
My needs are important too.
I like my decision. If others don’t approve, that is ok.
Others may get angry and I can handle it.
Others may get angry with me but they won’t be angry forever.
This step can feel very challenging, but in order to change any behavior, you need to practice. You will not be perfect while you are practicing and if you follow through with a people pleasing behavior, it’s ok. With practice and using coping statements, you can learn to affirm yourself rather than seeking approval, tolerate the anxiety of conflict, and learn to prioritize your needs. If you need further help with reducing people pleasing behaviors, call to schedule a counseling appointment with one of our therapists at 215-922-5683 ext100. We have offices in Philadelphia, Ocean City NJ, and Mechanicsville, VA.