Are You Raising a People Pleaser?
“What’s wrong with raising a people pleaser?” my client asked. “People pleasers are kind, generous, and helpful. Isn’t that the kind of kid I want to raise?”
While it may seem easier to have a kid who’s always agreeable, has a strong desire to be liked, and goes out of his way to please you, the long-term consequences of people pleasing can be detrimental.
The “disease to please” tends to originate in childhood. Many parents and teachers encourage kids to think of others before considering themselves. They say things like, “Always be nice,” “Don’t be selfish,” “It’s disrespectful to say ‘no’ to adults,” and “Don’t hurt other people’s feelings.”
When kids please their parents and teachers, life is easier and it feels good to get positive attention. Conversely, when kids say “no” or try to assert themselves, they’re often met with a punishment or reprimand.
Eventually, some kids learn to fear the conflict that arises when they don’t do as they’re told or when they express their opinions. For instance, adults may shame a child for disobeying and being “bad,” and blame her for what is actually their own anger.
Henry David Thoreau said, “I can’t give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time.”
Trying to please others is an impossible task because every person is responsible for his or her own emotions. No one can make another person feel anything. People pleasers often feel anxious because they’re always trying to do what they imagine will make someone else happy, something they don't actually have control over at all. And when others are upset, people pleasers believe they'e somehow at fault.
Does any of this sound familiar? As you read this, you might recognize your child — or even yourself — in these descriptions. You may feel defensive, deflated, or uncomfortable. Those feelings can act as a sign that this is potentially an area of personal growth for you or your child.
I struggled with this is my own childhood, as I tried desperately to control my parents' emotions and “make” them happy and proud of me. My mentor and a self-proclaimed people pleaser, Brooke Castillo, calls people pleasers “liars.” I know that sounds harsh. But when we aren’t being true to ourselves, we end up lying — about what we want, what we've done, how we feel — just to get others' approval. We go with the crowd. We fear what others think, and we believe we can somehow influence other people’s opinions of us. Instead of being direct and honest, we try to manipulate people to get what we want and to avoid conflict.
People pleasers focus on everyone else's happiness at the expense of their own. They ignore their own needs and desires so often that they lose their sense of “self.” This fosters resentment, fear, and indecision. I always think of Julia Roberts’ character, Maggie Carpenter, in the 1999 movie The Runaway Bride. She was so much of a people pleaser, she didn’t even know what kind of eggs she liked for breakfast because she always adjusted her taste based on what her fiancé liked!
People pleasers are afraid to speak their minds. Others take advantage of them because they tend to be “pushovers.” In his book, Anxious to Please, Craig English writes that:
“…in their closest relationships, they will accept coldness, abuse, and indifference for a few crumbs of affection. They have great difficulty turning down unreasonable requests and demands, and will choose to do something they will later resent rather than risk conflict. Because of their intolerance of separateness, they will stay too long in relationships that are bad for them.”
When confronted with conflict or disapproval, people pleasers usually keep their feelings inside and mentally beat themselves up. Sometimes kids with this compulsion can’t seem to figure out how to please others and can develop the belief that they’re never enough. Sadly, they can become depressed, defiant, or both.
Think about it now: Do you really want your kid to be a people pleaser?
What you can do for your child:
1. Respect when your child says “no.” This doesn’t mean you become a doormat yourself. Just recognize and appreciate that kids have needs and wants, too. When they say “no,” get curious, not furious. Be open to their ideas, include them in some decision-making, and be willing to let go of control and give in to what they want every once in a while.
2. Take responsibility for your own emotions! I can’t overemphasize this enough. Do not withhold love and affection from them when you don’t like what they do. Your thoughts create your feelings (not your kids' behavior), so be the adult and own your emotions.
3. Teach them that conflict is normal and mistakes are ok. Reassure children that just because you get angry doesn’t mean you love them any less. Just because they made a mistake doesn’t mean they’re any less valuable as a person. Share your own mistakes with them and talk about how you’ve learned and grown as a result.
4. Understand normal child development. Little ones are actually supposed to be self-centered and preoccupied with what they want in any given moment. Instead of telling kids to always put others first, recognize that they're not necessarily being selfish when they do; they’re being kids. You can teach children how to be empathetic and see another’s point of view, while helping people pleasers understand that their perspective is equally valid.
5. Open a dialogue with them. Talk about what it means to be a people pleaser. Ask questions like, “Do you ever say ‘yes’ when you want to say ‘no’?” “Is being nice the same as being a good friend?” “Do friends ever have conflict?” And of course, it's never too early to explain that they’re not responsible for other people’s feelings.
what you can do for yourself:
Do you make choices based on how you think others will react? Are you often worried about disappointing or upsetting others? Do you say ‘yes' when you want to say ‘no' and then feel resentful?
If you identify as a people pleaser, I've got good news for you. People pleasing is a habit that can be broken. In order to break the habit, you have to practice making yourself your number one priority and let go of the idea that you have to keep everyone else happy. Be willing to risk rejection and disapproval, and start taking responsibility for your feelings and choices instead of blaming others.
Start by simply becoming more aware of, and curious about, your mental “chatter.” For instance, let's say you go to a store and see a pair of red heels. Your initial thought might be, “Those are fabulous! I'd wear those!” followed quickly by your mother's voice inside your head saying, “Very impractical. And expensive.” You judge yourself and feel guilty for even considering them, while also feeling resentful that you're denying yourself something you'd like.
When you begin to notice these conflicting thoughts, release your self-judgement and try to have compassion for yourself. Self-development and personal growth begins with this type of compassionate awareness.
Of course, this will be challenging and uncomfortable at first. Once you start to change your thinking, you can expect people to be surprised — and possibly upset — by your shift in behavior. But remember that their feelings come from their thoughts, not from your actions. Over time, you'll be able to replace the habit of trying to make others happy with the habit of actually making yourself happy.
For help with this or anything mom-related, I invite you to schedule a FREE mini-session with me. The call lasts 15-30 minutes and is simply a conversation about where you are now, where you want to go, and how I might be able to help you get the results you want. Click here to claim your spot on my calendar now!