People pleaser? You're 'people' too!
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
I am learning to be comfortable living in the knowledge that some people disapprove of me.
This is not a “you can’t please everyone” feeling, the wider population aside, I often know exactly who isn’t feeling too kindly, and I’m ok with that…because I’m finally learning to embrace authenticity…and that means not everyone – in my own friendship circle – will like me all the time.
I’ve grown up being a bit of a “people pleaser”.
Just as an example, I’m generally the organiser, the instigator, the hub, and actually, 8 times out of 10 I love it – and because I’ve done it so much, I’m pretty good at it. However, I noticed over the last few years that it was becoming more of a habit…even a chore. I was organising events for people I didn't really want to see, let alone host, and had less and less time for those friends I was missing.
Ultimately, people pleasing is like a comfort zone, at best it can hold you back, at worst your performance and your relationships may suffer for it.
Why do we people please?
People pleasing may arise if you have a belief that to be liked, you must be 'nice'. Perhaps you were always the one to look after the new person, the reliable one, the sensible one. Alternatively perhaps it's your way of ensuring you're included. It's often a strategy set down in childhood which - like many such unconscious behaviours - hasn't really changed even though our circumstances may have.
While my example is about organising, we may people please in many areas. It's like a comfort zone gone uncomfortable. Yet more recently I've nailed my colours to the mast during my radio interviews on a very popular - yet divisive Reality TV Show. I've been very clear that while we may be able to justify watching Love Island, it doesn't make it right - since when is bullying others to be included in conversation, or taking pleasure in others' pain the right thing to do? Should "escapism" be making us feel inadequate as statistics seem to show where after watching the programme people - who say they like it - have considered augmenting their bodies. I find it hard to accept that the contrived situation would be acceptable as a psychological experiment, let alone entertainment.
I expect to be "put in my place" (scheduling meant I left the studio before the phone in), but I'm glad - especially as a psychologist and an advocate for wellbeing - I was brave enough to make my stand.
Therfore, it's worth saying at this point, if you have begun to feel uneasy with something (even if it was right for you once) it can help to take a moment to reflect and see if now is the time to alter your behaviour. This may go some way to making you feel in control again...whatever we are doing to people please is often an old strategy that no longer sits well with your current goals or lifestyle.
An added element to my 'pleasing' - I’m also very open to being asked for help – and try to offer if I know it is needed before being asked. However, I also noticed that I would respond to long rants about very little from some people with a page of possible solutions – none of which would be taken, and then I’d be spending the rest of that day persuading them to take some sort of action; or I'd continue to pursue a relationship which I'd felt run its course because I struggle(d) with being rejected...even though I probably wanted to reject it too! As a psychologist and coach where my business is change, I never seemed to have this sort of issue with my clients.
Managing your inner pleaser I transferred four very simple behaviours from my coaching:
1. I wait to be asked directly for something. Then I answer honestly although politely – if I don’t want to, I will often just say what I had already planned to do. If a hint has been dropped I’ll simply say – “Great idea, what will you do to/let me know when you've organised that”.
2. If I’m on the receiving end of a rant I ask “What is most helpful to you for me to do?” – kindly. I don’t mind offering solutions if that’s what’s wanted, neither do I mind being a sounding board – but I’ve realised it’s better for both of us to know what is best in the situation. That way I don’t interrupt being a good listener with problem solving, and avoid “there there” when “Have you considered…” is a more helpful response.
3. If my advice is not wanted – even when it was sought, I wish them well and get on with my life. I no longer spend time and energy fretting over persuading them to my approach. It's never our right to control other's behaviour anyway.
4. And if I’d like to progress something but there is an air of uncertainly, I’ll form my own plan and follow that – even if it means saying “I’ll be here…” and having coffee alone – it’s a great time to catch up with blogging anyway!
I don't like being disliked, but sometimes it's the brave thing to do on the broader as well as the personal scale.
Maybe it means some of my friends have to work a little bit harder if they want to get-together, maybe fewer will ask my counsel, and maybe there's a sense of 'who does she think she is' but I'm going to be OK with that. I'm going to get on with my life.
This way, I feel more authentic…and that pleases me...and if it means we can all sit a bit more comfortably in the grey area of conflict - especially if it helps bring positive change that I believe in - that might please others too.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt