Mental Health
Jul 16, 2024

Are You a People Pleaser? 9 Tips for Putting Yourself First

I have noticed that people are identifying themselves as people pleasers.  They are indicating that this is a problem and something they want to work on.  This has got me thinking about how I understand and work with this issue.

As humans we are inherently social, we are driven to connect and cooperate with others, this is how we have evolved.  The group needs to act together in order to survive, to have some people hunt, or look out for dangers, while others take care of the children or grow the food.  This inspires our drive for togetherness, to go along with and be a part of the group.  It seems to me that the people pleasing behaviors fit with the need to adapt to preserve harmony in the group. It serves a purpose.  However we also have a drive to take our own direction and follow our own goals.  According to Bowen Family Systems theory anxiety is generated by the tension between these two drives.  

People pleasing is part of our natural adaption in relationships.  I think that most people are engaged to some degree in people pleasing. Most of us find that pleasing others can calm things down.  That if we please another and they are calmer or they approve of us we can feel better about ourselves and feel calmer.  However this stabilising effect is only temporary and we find ourselves needing more of it.  We find ourselves accommodating to others more and more to achieve this.

In Bowen systems theory this dependence on the reactions of others to calm and stabilise ourselves is called borrowing self.  The idea is that borrowing self can boost a person’s pseudo-self.  Psuedo-self is the self that is vulnerable to relationship pressure, that changes depending on who you are relating to.  This often shows up as being different things to different people.  The theory is that to some degree everyone relies on pseudo-self and seeks to boost this through attention, assurance, approval or agreement from others.  My thinking is that people pleasing is a pseudo self booster.  It may be that it is a powerful pseudo-self booster because it can get you attention, approval, assurance and agreement, all at once.  

On the upside people who identify as people pleasers are likely have a boost in functioning when people are pleased with them.  I think that the people who are identifying people pleasing as a problem have reached the point where they have accommodated to others and given up so much of themselves to please others that they are experiencing symptoms.  There is little energy going into following their own direction and pursuing their own goals.  Their moods and functioning have become dependent on others being pleased with them.

What can someone do when they find themselves in this position? The idea is that when you are reliant on people pleasing you are focused on the reactions of others and how to shape yourself to please them, there is little energy for what you believe or value.  

According to Bowen family systems theory it comes down to building up solid self to decrease reliance on pseudo-self.  Solid self consists of a person’s true values, beliefs  and abilities.  The parts of them that are not negotiable that do not vary according to relationships.

Things people pleaser’s can do

  • Knowing that people pleasing is one of your automatic behaviours for calming yourself and others is useful.  
  • You can start to put the focus back on yourself. Observe who this happens with most, what situations you are most likely to do this, what you do to please others, what is most typical?
  • Stay connected with others but try not to depend on them indicating they are pleased with you.  
  • Think about how you function when someone is not pleased with you and what could you do to function a little bit better in the face of the displeasure of the other.
  • When you notice that you are wanting to act to please another, breathe and relax and try to think before you respond.  
  • If you have trouble saying no, practice saying I will need some time to think about it and I will get back to you.  Then think about: how you want to spend your time, how saying yes fits with what matters to you, how is the balance between following your own direction and accommodating to others going?
  • Define your own beliefs and values.  Think about what really matters to you and what your goals are and how you are devoting energy to pursuing these.
  • Know that if you make changes and do less automatic people pleasing you are likely to get a change back response from others, they are not likely to be pleased and congratulate you on your efforts.
  • If you make the thoughtful choice to do something that will please someone, notice the difference from when you do it automatically to boost pseudo self.

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