Why do we struggle so much to please other people? Note the key word there: struggle. To me, this friction shows and imbalance in the words and actions in our minds, as well as the ones we express to others.
Where did it come from? I believe that there is a seed of purity and healthiness in every personality that attempts to please others. There is a joy in giving and delighting others that can build community and give us purpose. And even if it becomes imbalanced, the peace of a balanced and confident life can return to someone who has become stuck or unhappy with the way things are currently going. I heard a quote the other day that “what you resist will persist.” The world is giving you a clue through the friction that something is out of whack, and giving you a chance to learn about yourself and make an adjustment. And the world will continue to dish out the same lesson repeatedly until it’s learned. Let’s make sure we’re on the same page by looking at where the friction comes from.
Unhealthy people pleasing can breed indecisiveness when we develop a habit of poring over the options because they all could upset someone else. Too many options on a mental carousel creates option overload. We’re just not wired to sustain an active look at all those options without deciding on one and moving forward! It sizzles our brains and drains our energy.
Thinking of others to an unhealthy extent can then erode our self-confidence. Since trying to please others all the time is an impossible job, when we start to measure ourselves by the perceived happiness of the other person, or how well we’ve done to satisfy them, we’re in trouble. Our self-talk wallows and despairs without enough concern for our own well being.
Eventually, others may develop a negative impression of you and lose faith in your ability to make decisions. Many will simply not be attracted to being around you or working with you when they feel that your confidence stinks, or you’ve created a life where you don’t make tough choices.
The problem with this type of pattern is not just that it’s potentially harmful for you; it’s also not good for anyone else in your life! It may have begun as an intention to please others, but at some point it ceased to help others. You see, we have a decision to make when it comes to the influence and impact we have on others. We are uniquely positioned in life to help them. But we’re not helping them at all if we’re not helping them to grow. And attempting to please people too much is actually selfish because it’s all about an unmet desire to be liked. It’s nice to make people smile, but you can make someone smile for a moment, or help them grow for a lifetime. You can’t do both at once. I cannot break any tough news to you or challenge you to grow to your next level if I’m too busy seeking your approval of me. Does that make sense?
Perhaps the scariest part of people pleasing is that it buries the truth every time it happens. We can’t see our own blind spots. Those we care about are relying on others to name the issues they can’t see, to let them know how they’re coming across in their behaviors, and to call out the pitfalls they’re approaching. We must prepare our hearts in advance for the discomfort of telling someone a difficult truth. It may bruise their ego, confuse them, anger them, or make them despair. But that’s the result of them looking at their own situation in the mirror, and if we’ve spoken without the need of their approval over us, then it’s not about us. We don’t need to internalize the turmoil someone goes through when they hear a difficult suggestion or truth as long as we do it in love. Love is confident, assertive, and honest. Our people can’t respect us and can’t grow with us if we can’t love them that way. Tell people the truth they need to hear and get out of the way while they deal with it.
I’m sure there are other internal changes and maybe even counseling that could help you overcome struggles you’re facing with being a people pleaser. But the reason I’m focusing on this “it’s not about you” approach is that it’s actionable.
Think of a close friend or family member right now. What are they going through? What are the things they truly struggle with? How have they been responding? Is that response a healthy one or are they selling themselves short?
If you don’t know the answers to these questions, maybe you haven’t really been listening to people. Or maybe you’ve been listening, but you’ve been allowing the conversation to be superficial and comfortable in a stagnant way, and you don’t want to rock the boat. But it’s not about you! It’s time to look at the loved one and say, “remember that thing you did or you’re going through? Tell me about that. How did that start? How do you feel about the way things are going? Are you open to some feedback about that?” Let them speak about it first, and ask permission to tell the truth! The truth may be a word of encouragement rather than accountability. Or you may not even receive permission to give them feedback, because they don’t want to hear it. And that’s fine. You get to decide how to handle that.
People pleasing is about saying yes too much, or choosing not to speak enough. It has no opinion, its encouragement is not meaningful, it doesn’t rock the boat or promote any growth, and it doesn’t reveal or speak the truth. People don’t learn about their own dreams talking to a people pleaser. People don’t sharpen their purpose talking to a people pleaser. People get away with disrespecting themselves and others in front of a people pleaser. And even good people will outgrow a people pleaser when someone else earns more of their real respect and appreciation.
Aren’t you hungry for growth? If you can begin to help people grow by breaking the chains of people pleasing and speaking into their lives in a meaningful way, they will gladly try to help you grow, too.
Here’s to Your Greatness,