Stop Shaming People Pleasers: People Pleasing as a Relational Strategy

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Hi, y’all– here’s my first installment in video series I’m putting together on mental health.  I’m kicking things off with a discussion about “What is people-pleasing?” — take a look!

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What is people pleasing?


Hi, there.  My name is Ann Stoneson.  I’m a therapist in private practice in Austin Texas and I specialize in working with people pleasers.  And if you’ve followed my work at all, you know this is a topic I am really passionate about.  I myself am a people pleaser in recovery.

I have been practicing for about 8 years in private practice and working with clients over a decade now.  So, it’s something I really care a lot about.  And I wanted to do a series of videos to provide a little more information.

If you think, “People pleasing, codependency, is this me?  Am I too nice?” and so, I want to talk about what people pleasing actually is.

You know, a lot of people, when they talk about people pleasing, they talk about what a problem is, how expensive it is as a strategy for being in the world—and that’s true, it does cause a lot of problems.

But I really do think it’s really important to understand it as a strategy, as I just said, because it’s a way of getting our needs met.  It’s often something we learned in our families—shocker, I’m a therapist and I’m going to point it back to the family you came from—but frankly that’s where we learn a lot about relationships early in life, how to be in the world, and how to get our needs met.

The need for connection is a fundamental need.  If you’re thinking you might be struggling with people pleasing, if people tell you that you’re too nice, a doormat (I hate that term) and you feel guilty saying no, you’re not alone.

I want you to know first and foremost that this is a strategy you’ve developed to meet needs.  Maybe it’s a strategy you don’t want to use any more, and that’s fine, but I think we can sometimes shame ourselves a little bit when we look at what we’re doing and we feel like “Gosh, this is terrible and I really shouldn’t be doing this” or, you know, if others shame us or make us feel bad that we don’t have the greatest boundaries or that again, we worry a lot about what other people think of us.

If you think of it first as a strategy and then from there begin to think about “Okay, how might I want to change this?”  I think that’s a really good place to start.  Because trying to make changes from a place of guilt or a shame —and frankly shame drives a lot of people pleasing behavior, by the way—it’s hard to make lasting changes from those places. Those motivations are sharp but they are very prickly and very painful.

So, back to people pleasing actually is.  Beyond understanding it as a relational strategy to meet needs, the need primarily for connection, people-pleasing looks a lot like this:

If you have trouble saying no and setting limits

If you have trouble with conflict with others, if you will avoid conflict at all costs and say “yes” when you really mean “no” so you don’t have to have an argument with somebody or set a boundary

If you spend a lot of time worrying what other people think of you—in relationships, if you are in a romantic relationship, what this can look like lots of checking in “Are you okay?”

People pleasers tend to be very attuned to feelings of the people around them.  Part of their strategy is to really make sure “Okay, is everybody else okay?  If they’re okay, then I can be okay.”

And again this is something we often learn early in life.  So, monitoring the feeling states of people around you, anxiously and checking in “are you okay?  What’s wrong?”  That can often be a sign of people pleasing, doing that frequently, and repetitively.

People pleasers tend to oftentimes be waiting for the other shoe to drop—when things are calm, they don’t trust it.  They feel like think, “Uhh, it’s only a matter of time until something goes wrong, something doesn’t feel right.”

You’ll often see with people pleasers a sort of overextending of themselves where they are really, really helpful.  They tend to be very hard workers and they tend to be oversubscribed.  So, a lot of people pleasers over time end up really burned out.  If you see a people-pleaser in the lifecycle of overextending themselves, at first they seem really helpful, really happy, really resourced, and they get burdened to the point where eventually they just burn out.

A lot of times when people come to see me, it’s after years of being this way, and overfunctioning in relationships, they come to my office just totally burned out, despairing, and feeling like they just need to know how to get back on their feet so they can keep  doing all the crazy shenanigans they were doing before, which was taking care of everybody’s  needs at their own expense.

So, taking care of other peoples’ needs at your own expense, being overextended, being burned out as a result that, if you’ve been doing this for a while, these are all common signs of people pleasing.

Those are just a few, I’ve written really extensively about this, if you’d like to hop on over on to my blog, in the description to this video, you’ll see a link to my blog.  I talk a lot about what people pleasing is, what causes it, what people pleasers most want in life, and I also have some strategies for recovering from people pleasing.

So, even if you’re not in the Austin area and we can’t work together, there’s still a lot of help available and there’s certainly a lot of books out there as well.  The Disease to Please, Harriet Braiker’s work and also Anxious to Please which is another great book that looks at the topic of people pleasing for an attachment perspective, which I really love because it helps us understand where this strategy comes from early in life.

I hope this was helpful, I’m going to be doing a series of these videos, the next one’s gonna be on the causes of people pleasing and where it really comes from and digging into that in depth.  Hopefully I’ll see you there!  Thanks for watching, catch you next time.

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