Why Being a People Pleaser Damages Relationships—and What to Do About It

by | Jul 3, 2022 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Are you a people pleaser? I was! In fact, growing up, I majored in pleasing others.
I honestly believed as a child and young adult that if people didn’t need me, they wouldn’t want me. So I worked at being indispensable. My pleaser habit was so deeply rooted that I didn’t know I was giving up myself on a regular basis, in every relationship at home and work. My pattern of over-giving had great benefits—or so
I thought.

All my relationships were one-sided: me the giver of time and favors and others happy to receive my generosity. It didn’t even occur to me to question this imbalance in my relationships; in my mind, that was simply the way the world worked. I never said no to a request. And I was continually overcommitted, overwhelmed, feeling rushed and exhausted—and miserable.

Then one day, I noticed a recurring theme in my life: resentment. What most often followed my giving was resentment. Hmm. Did over-giving equal feeling resentful? That concept intrigued me, so I started watching myself to see if this was a pattern. Was there a connection?

What I discovered changed my life.

Overcoming Resentment Caused by Pleasing

I tracked my feelings of resentment back to only two things:

1)  my giving was disproportionate in each relationship and always lacked a return current of reciprocity
2) who I was and what I wanted was replaced by the
     needs and happiness of others—at the cost of my 
     own thoughts, emotions, desires, dislikes, preferences, goals, and dreams.

I had handed the responsibility for all decisions over to others—even a decision as simple as where to go out for dinner. I remember when my kids were young, stopping at McDonald’s—when I didn’t even eat fast food! As my awareness grew, so did my dissatisfaction with my no-win behavior and habit of being a people pleaser. 

The journey to being honest with myself and then with others was a gradual and often uncomfortable one. It hadn’t occurred to me how much of my life and actions were built around being kind to others for the sake of staying safe, looking generous, and avoiding conflict or rejection. Most of my actions were tainted with an undercurrent of manipulation and downright dishonesty. My words and actions were disrespectful and unloving to myself but also to others, since I wasn’t really giving from a free place.

I had surrounded myself with people who were dependent on me as a way to be liked and to create indebtedness—in exchange for a sense of safety and yes, love.

Gradually I realized that making anyone dependent on me was unloving, because it was enabling behavior that was not life-giving and tied the person to me in an unhealthy way.

Every dependent relationship is an alliance to protect ourselves from past unresolved pain.

Pleasing was my armor. When I even considered changing, many fears bubbled up—just like when you pour vinegar over baking soda. Maybe you’ve experienced these fears, too; maybe your concerns are different.

  • If I chose to say no when it didn’t work for me, would people get upset?
  • If I voiced an opinion that disagreed with others, would I be disliked? rejected?
  • If I said yes to me, would my life improve? Was it worth it!?
  • When saying no to someone’s wish or request, would that relationship end?
  • Would the person think I didn’t care if I didn’t give what they requested needed or wanted?

Some of my relationships indeed did end. But do you know what!? As those old relationships dropped away, fresh space opened for new, healthier ones—real relationships. My energy and happiness increased, and an inner peace blossomed. Greater opportunities opened for me. When I said no, I meant no. But when I gave my word, I really wanted to show up for my commitments.

I was flooded with an unfamiliar feeling—joy. My mind entertained new thoughts:

  • What would it be like to have people in my life who were self-reliant, creative, fun, and open-minded?
  • What if they really cared about me and even challenged me to be better?
  • What would my life look like if I chose my truth and didn’t allow others to make decisions for me?

How do you know if you’re a people pleaser?

If we define inordinate pleasing as compliance without considering self, it is as though we are only an extension of the will of another. When we give up ourselves to someone else, true cooperation is impossible. By surrendering our personal values and the responsibility for our happiness, we are making others responsible for our welfare by default. So then, we often claim the right to blame someone else if things go badly.

Even if we take some satisfaction in playing a martyr ultimately we have a human need to be loved and valued, so this behavior backfires. When people take us for granted, we feel uncared for, even if we initiated the inequality by giving without full consent. When we don’t consider ourselves, there is no room for equality in love and friendship. 

The Cost of Pleasing When Giving Up Ourselves

  • Our pleasing habit denies others the opportunity to help, give, and love us equitably.
  • Our actions create indebtedness that has not been agreed upon, which holds others hostage to repay us for our sacrifice.
  • Relationships are based on dishonesty (at the very least, not full disclosure),
    so there is no real connection.
  • We give up our power, happiness, and freedom to contribute our best.
  • Our unwillingness to be our own advocate or to speak our truth creates resentment and hidden agendas that often damage relationships.

In healthy and thriving relationships, we please others MOST when we are true to ourselves.

Why? Because anything based on half-truths keeps us from having true connection, limits our ability to love others, and discredits everything we say. Unspoken expectations and growing distance interferes with authentic communication. Find out what to do instead!

  • I had always looked up to anyone who had the strength to go out and be themselves. But all too quickly that admiration would turn to adulation. I found myself never speaking up, always going along with whatever they said and did, the eager puppy on their heels.
  • And then, when I looked dispassionately at how they really saw me, there was one overriding word that hit me—weak. Strong people seek strong people to be around, so it was not surprising they were polite but always chose their true friends elsewhere.
  • You love yourself less.
  • Because those very people you wanted to admire, respect, and love you now reject you, you tell yourself that you cannot be a lovable person. In desperation you increase your people-pleasing behavior and it becomes a depressing spiral.
  • The gap from the way you act to the way you really want to act widens with every people-pleasing act. This leaves you feeling disappointed and ashamed of who you have become.
  • You become more manipulative.
  • I would often feel resentful when a friend or colleague was asking for yet one more favor. They seemed to be manipulating me, taking advantage. Boy, that was hurtful.
  • But you know, once I’d looked logically at the way they treated me, I realized it was more down to the way I’d treated them. I’d set the rules for their behavior toward me. I’d been the one to say, “Hey, that’s absolutely okay, go ahead.”
  • In reality, I’d actually been the one doing the manipulating. Gulp!
  • You’re seen as less trustworthy.
  • Always agreeing or saying the “right thing” seems to be well-intentioned, but however you dress it up, hiding what you think isn’t telling the truth. And as humans we hear alarm bells when we sense that someone is being false.
  • It might seem like just a little white lie to flatter someone’s ego, but would you trust someone who only ever told you what you wanted to hear? Someone who hid their true feelings?
  • You end up with less confidence.
  • People find you untrustworthy because you only tell them what they want to hear, so they are hesitant to confide in you. So you never know what they are really thinking either, which leads you to feel less confident in dealing with them.
  • You end up with fewer friends.
  • Trying to please everyone is rooted in the fear of rejection. The irony is, because you end up seeming less attractive and less trustworthy, the very people you are trying to get approval from are often the people who reject you. Maybe not to your face, but in their hearts.
  • Without intimacy, relationships wither and die. And no one wants to be intimate or vulnerable with someone who hides their true feelings.
  • You end up with the worst of both worlds.
  • And what happens if you are trying to please two people who do not like each other? If you ingratiate yourself with one person and offer friendship, how do you now please that other person without un-pleasing the first? How do you decide who to please?
  • It ends with up both of them disliking you as they believe you must be betraying them behind their backs. Who wants a two-faced friend?
  • You become more resentful.
  • I have found this out for myself: you end up resenting the very people you’re trying to please. You feel they are taking advantage of you. However, when you are being honest, you also beat yourself up for trying to get them to like you by putting their needs before your own.
  • You imagine they only like you because you say yes to their every whim. And in truth, you have no real way of knowing whether this is true or not, so you become more and more resentful of them.
  • You hate the things you used to love.
  • Again, this is something I found from personal experience. For instance you may love cooking, maybe making cup cakes. So you offer to cook some as a way of getting love and appreciation.
  • But soon you are either cooking them all the time for one person or, once again, you become the go-to person and you end up cooking them for everyone. What used to be an enjoyable pastime now becomes a chore you hate.
  • And you’re not even sure any more if people actually like your cup cakes or if they are just seen as something free and easy they don’t need to put any effort into. Which is how you think they see your relationship with them.
  • You fail to please the one person that matters.
  • But the most important reason to stop trying to please everyone has nothing to do with everyone and everything to do with just one person—you.
  • Trying to please everyone is tied into the fear of rejection and the fear of failure. But the biggest failure in life is failing to be yourself. And the biggest rejection in life is rejecting yourself.
  • By trying to please everyone, you make both these fears come true.