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  • Monika Getty

The Perils of Being a People Pleaser

Updated: Jan 6, 2020

From Aesop's Fables:

" A man and his son were once going with their donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a donkey for but to ride upon?” So the man put the boy on the donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.” So the man ordered his boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.” Well, the man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his boy up before him on the donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours with you and your hulking son?”

The man and boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together he was drowned.

“That will teach you,” said an old man who had followed them: “Please all, and you will please none.”

There's nothing wrong with trying to make people happy and lending a helping hand when it's asked of you. The problem with chronic People Pleasers is that it almost always comes at the cost of your own happiness and health. For some of us, this behaviour had been ingrained in us since childhood, told to think of others and their needs before our own; there's nothing wrong with this either, unless we exhaust ourselves mentally, physically and emotionally because we can never say no. It can also be because of a desperate need to feel needed, wanted and liked by all, or it can be because we want to avoid any conflict or negativity. Here are some common traits of People Pleasers:

* You struggle to say no

* You find it difficult to voice your opinions

* You find it hard to be assertive

* You fear negative emotions

* You have poor/no personal boundaries

* You have low self-worth

* You're addicted to approval from others

* You feel the need to be liked no matter what

* You often suffer at the expense of helping/doing a favour for others

* You act based on what other people might think of you

* You feel guilty if you say no

* You blindly believe in other peoples goodness, even when they are abusive to you

* You rarely show compassion/kindness towards yourself

* You suppress your emotions

* You constantly seek outside validation

Being a People Pleaser often attracts the kind of people that are the opposite type: narcissists, energy vampires, bullies, professional victims and others. They take advantage of our helpful and giving nature, as having weak boundaries, low self-esteem and the constant desire to please makes us the perfect “use and abuse” targets. The worst part is, at some level they make us feel needed and wanted, so we continue this toxic cycle. This is one of the reasons people stay in unhealthy and abusive relationships for so long; we are brainwashed into believing we are worth nothing without them, that we deserve the abuse, that we "made them" do those things to us by being who we are, that if we ever have the courage to leave or say something they will do something drastic or something horrible will happen, which of course will be all our fault. This situation becomes our new normal, and it's not until we are out of these relationships that we realize just how abnormal it really is. This kind of relationship isn't just limited to our partners, but can also be between parents, siblings, children, friends, bosses and co-workers.

This begs the question, "At what point do our needs, our wants, our health and happiness become just as important as everyone else's?" How do we stop our constant need to be People Pleasers and maybe occasionally think of ourselves first rather than last? It's not easy, and we can't go cold turkey, but here are a few small steps that we can begin with:

Realize we have a choice - Often we feel like we have to say yes, that we don't have any other choice. We always have a choice, and sometimes just realizing this can be an epiphany.

Start with small no's - When we're used to saying yes all the time, it is hard to say no, so start with small ones. If someone invites you to a get together and you really don't want to go, say thank you, but that you have other plans. If someone wants to grab dinner with you but you really don't have the time, suggest getting together for a cup of tea instead.

Give yourself time - We don't have to give a definite answer to someone's request immediately. Make your default answer, "I'll have to get back to you," because you need to check your schedule or check with your spouse to make sure you don't have something else planned. This gives you the opportunity to consider if you can commit to helping them and to ask the person for details about what the commitment involves. It also gives you the time to ask yourself, "Do I actually have the time to do this? What am I giving up? How stressful is this going to be?" This way you can either say no or say yes but with a time limit ("I am only available between 10 and 12").

Consider if you're being manipulated - Sometimes people are clearly taking advantage of you, so it's important to be aware of this and the way they try to corral you into doing what they want. For example, someone might say, "Oh, you're so good at doing this, can you do this for me?" or "If only someone could do this for me, it would be so nice! " *sigh* while looking at you.

Say no with conviction - Being assertive about your desires and saying no doesn't mean you're a jerk or stepping on people. You can let people know you understand where they're coming from, but unfortunately you can't help. Don't apologize because you have to prioritize or offer a bunch of excuses why you can't do it. Don't feel bad that you have something else to do. You are standing up for you; and really, if you don’t stand up for you, no one else will.

Get rid of toxic people - You may be reading this and certain people come to mind that take advantage of your kindness. Not everyone has good intentions or your best interests at heart. It's ok to no longer have these people in your life, making you feel bad. Or, if you can't avoid them entirely, limit your exposure to them like you would a virus and try not to let them affect you.

Shift your focus from the outside world to the inside world - As People Pleasers, we look to external sources for validation. With time and practice, realize and really believe in your mind and your heart that you are enough unto yourself.

Learn to love yourself - We have to learn how to love ourselves. Often we are our own worst enemies, overly focusing on our flaws and weaknesses, comparing ourselves to others who seem to have it all together. Guess what? Nobody is perfect, nobody has it all together and figured out. We are all struggling in our own ways, whether it's visible or not. I was once asked by a counselor that if I had a friend that went through some of the things I went through, what would I say to them? I said I would tell them that it wasn't their fault, that the person that did this to them was the bad person, that they were a good person and totally deserving of happiness. She looked at me and asked, "Why can't you be that kind to yourself?" I really had no answer, except that I was not deserving of kindness and understanding because that was what I had been made to believe. It's ok to love ourselves; it doesn't mean that we're selfish and narcissistic; it can simply mean that we've made peace with ourselves and who we are. Don't know where to start? Check out these links to learn more: and

If you learn anything from this article, I hope that you learn and believe the truths that you are as important as everyone else, your needs are as worthy as anyone's, your opinions and voice are just as valid and need to be heard as the next person, and that you are as deserving of as much kindness, happiness and help that you give. Be nice to yourself, and make that your goal for the New Year. Bright and joyous blessings to you all today and every day!

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