Confessions of a Recovering People-Pleaser

Revealing the closely guarded secrets that ruin relationships instead of help them

by Maria Kubitz

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I’m going to tell you what you probably already know…

Everybody loves a people-pleaser.

They’re the ones who are always really nice and considerate. They help out at a moment’s notice and never say no when asked for a favor. They make great employees because they’re ultra-reliable and pride themselves in going above and beyond the call of duty. In romantic relationships, they make it a point to take care of their partner’s every want and need.

So who wouldn’t like a people-pleaser?

Unfortunately, people-pleasers almost never like themselves.

How do I know?

I’m a recovering people-pleaser.

People-pleasers aren’t born that way. There’s no people-pleasing gene in our DNA.

It’s a condition created out of poor self-esteem and a deep fear of rejection and failure.

This fear was developed in response to their childhood environments – an environment where they felt that love and support were conditional and/or unpredictable.

Maybe they had a parent who could be warm and loving one moment, but unexpectedly appear cold, angry or worried the next. Perhaps they were criticized often – and seemingly arbitrarily. It could be that their parent appeared continually overwhelmed or even unable to care for them in a way that felt secure.

Whatever the situation, children inherently see themselves and their actions as the cause of their parent’s behaviors.

So begins the misguided belief that they must earn their parent’s love and support, and it is up to the child to keep their parent happy and predictable. As they grow, this idea of having to earn acceptance, support and love through their behavior gets applied to friends, teachers, employers and – most importantly – romantic partners.

Hidden consequences of people-pleasing.

If we revisit the likable qualities of people-pleasers, we can see their unintended consequences from the people-pleaser’s point-of-view.

Always being nice and considerate means you’re constantly worried what other people think and feel, and fear they’ll reject you if you fail to live up to their expectations. So you become a chameleon; constantly changing your persona to “fit in” with your current audience.

You lose your identity in the process and secretly wish they would just like you for who you really are.

The problem is you’ve been doing it for so long, you’re not even sure if you know who you really are any more.  

Never saying no means you’re afraid of being perceived as mean or incompetent. And when you never say no, people ask you for help and favors more often.

At first, you can’t get enough of their positive feedback and approval. But the more they ask of you, the more overwhelmed and burnt-out you become. Over time you feel taken advantage of, which makes you not want to be around them anymore.

You think you must take care of your romantic partner’s every want and need to earn their love – because you believe love is conditional. You want them to feel like they can’t possibly survive without you.

But to do so, you always put your own needs last on your seemingly endless to-do list. Chronic stress and fatigue are your constant companions; and depression and unhealthy behaviors usually follow suit.

You feel angry and resentful because you always give way more than you allow yourself to get in relationships. But you lack self-esteem and look to others for approval, so you can’t risk showing outward anger for fear of rejection.

Suppressing all of those negative feelings make you emotionally distant and detached from the relationship, which is then reciprocated by the other party. This leads to a breakdown – and sometimes the end – of the relationship.

So how do you break the cycle?

Every time we fly on an airplane, we’re told in case of a sudden drop in cabin pressure oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling. And without fail, we are instructed to secure our own mask before assisting someone who needs our help. After all, what good is our intention if we pass out due to lack of oxygen before we’ve helped our companion?

The same concept applies to people-pleasers.

Making other people happy is not inherently wrong. In fact, compassion and kindness are incredibly important aspects of developing strong, healthy relationships. But if we want to help make others truly happy, we first need to be truly happy ourselves.

From the perspective of a recovering people-pleaser, here are some initial steps you can take to help begin to break the negative cycle of people-pleasing.

1. Acknowledge your self-sabotaging behavior.

Blaming others is easy. Owning up to your role in what went wrong is incredibly hard. But you can’t change what you can’t see.

Admit that you’re so scared of being rejected, you sabotage the relationship by rejecting them. You reject them with emotional distance; by not trusting them to see your authentic self.

Only when you realize your problems are rooted in your own beliefs and behaviors can you start making meaningful changes.

2. Learn what your needs are.

When you attend to your own needs, you build up the strength and energy needed to invest in your relationships and helping others.

But you’ve spent so much time ignoring your own needs, you probably don’t really even know what they actually are.

Start with the basics. Are you taking care of your body by eating healthy foods and exercising? Are you taking care of your emotional self by spending time alone every day to de-stress and focus on your thoughts?

If the answers are “no”, start making them a priority in your life.

3. Make time for yourself.

Are you going to change your behaviors overnight? No. But you can start the process by setting small, achievable goals in regards to making time for yourself.

For example, start by scheduling 10-20 minutes alone every day.

Use that time to sit quietly with your thoughts and meditate. Use it to take a walk or write in a journal. Use it to focus on what you want and what your passions are.

It doesn’t matter what you use it for – it just matters that you believe your needs matter. If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up; just make time for yourself the next day.

I’m not going to lie…making changes won’t feel comfortable or easy.

Notice I said I’m a “recovering” people-pleaser rather than “recovered”. Meaningful change takes continual work and practice and will often push you outside your comfort zone. That’s why it’s important you seek support for your efforts.

Not “support” from someone who likes taking advantage of your current people-pleasing behavior and will likely react negatively to your intended changes. Support from people who are eager to meet the real you and want you to become fully present in your relationships.

Consider taking advantage of Abundant Yogi’s Inner Circle weekly online classes. These classes are designed to help you uncover the underlying (mis)beliefs that cause your self-sabotaging behavior, and then guide you in overcoming them. They also help you discover what brings you joy and how to achieve your highest vision.

Whatever you do, remember the first step is always the hardest, but it is a step that will make all the difference in becoming your authentic self.

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Maria Kubitz
With over twenty years in a successful marketing communications career at companies ranging from huge corporations like Hewlett-Packard to small startup environments with less than ten people, Maria has seen first-hand what works and what doesn't. In 2012, Maria launched a grief support website where her honest, heartfelt writing has helped ...read more

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Read 2 comments

  1. Daisy
    says

    Thank you Maria I knew I was spreading myself too thin especially with my partner and today was the final straw for him when I returned from seeing an ex who is terminally ill. I have not realised that it has been my fault as a ‘people pleaser’ that has caused the failure of my relationship. I knew I must be responsible as now ex partner is a quiet, patient and supportive man and does not deserve to gave been treated this way. I am so disappointed with myself for letting him down. I have been on searching for answers/help as this is a reoccurring theme in my life and came across your post. This has given me a focus to change. I cannot bear to live my life like this hurting people by being inconsiderate. I just wish I had found your post earlier. Thank you again x

  2. Youness
    says

    Thank you Maria for this article. It’s like you’re reading my thoughts, and it’s really hopeful to see someone recover from being a people-pleaser. I think my first step was realizing I was a people-pleaser all my life, and it is important to go deep in the past to find the reasons and the different experiences that made me the person that I’m today.

    After reading your article, I understand that blaming someone (parent, loved one, friend …) or even blaming myself is useless and self destructive. Although I have a lot of reasons to lose hope, I really believe it can only get better from now on.

    Thank you, and good day 🙂