The perils of being a people-pleaser

Are you a people-pleaser? Read on to know more about this destructive habit...

People-pleasers always seek the approval of people around them

Picture this: your boss/spouse/ friend/relative/neighbour asks you for a favour. What’s your most likely response (based on your experience over, say, the last six months)?

Of course! I’ll do it; I would love to, but…; No way!

Common sense says that the answer would depend on the favour sort. Is it viable? Is it something you want to do? Is it worth the time and effort? And also, on who is seeking it, and how. Yet there are a surprising number of people whose answer would invariably be a ‘yes’. No matter what the question. They are habitual people-pleasers. 

They have to be liked. People’s approval means the world to them. They can go to great lengths to avoid offending or hurting others’ feelings, even if it means brushing aside their own needs. People-pleasing is their way of life. In her insightful book Be Kind, Not Nice, psychiatrist Dr Marcia Sirota writes, “It’s a compulsive pattern of behaviour in which a person helps, care-takes or rescues everyone around them, whether in their personal or professional life. The problem with compulsive people-pleasing is that those who engage in it are often looking for external solutions to internal problems, which are often emotional or psychological. It’s exhausting and no matter how much they do for others, they won’t get what they need and will likely remain unhappy and frustrated.”

Still not convinced? Here are four good reasons to stop bending over backwards to please others and hinging your sense of self-worth on their approval:

Doormat syndrome

An ex-colleague and friend — let’s call him Anand — was tired of people dumping their work on him and not getting any appreciation or monetary incentive in return. “Why are people like this?” he rued, during one of our chats some time ago. “Why are you like this?” I countered, knowing that we were venturing into tricky territory.

Doormat syndrome
Saying ‘yes’ when you really want to say ‘no’ is not always about being kind

The doormat syndrome, where one becomes resigned to having a servile mentality, is exasperatingly common. Whether it’s at work, home, or in your social circles, if doing things for others is your only way of feeling valued or loved, you are going to have people walk all over you. Often, being assertive and setting boundaries is more important than being liked. It’s okay to rock the boat. Your sense of self is more valuable than others’ opinion of you. Anand is gradually getting acquainted with the art of saying ‘no’. “I think they respect me more at work now. I’m not sure if they like me, but I like myself better,” he quipped, when we chatted the last time.

Life full of lies

Recently, at an event where filmmaker Karan Johar was a guest speaker, he confessed to being a hopeless people-pleaser. “If there’s one thing I wish I could change about myself, it would be to stop trying to please everybody all the time. It has been a habit ever since I can remember, and it is really exhausting,” admitted the Bollywood biggie.

From well-intentioned, insincere praise to pretending to agree with things that go against your values, people-pleasing can turn your life into a bottomless pit of lies. “Without self-honesty — the ability to stay true to yourself and your beliefs — life becomes mere shallow existence. Difficult conversations and conflicts are an essential part of healthy relationships. Avoiding them at all costs to keep the peace can transform you into a fake version of yourself, and keep relationships superficial,” cautions Mrudula Joshi, a Mumbai-based consulting psychologist.

Studies show that people who are unable to speak their minds often have a tendency to be passive aggressive. So, don’t bite your tongue every time you disagree with someone. Don’t hold back simply because you are afraid of upsetting someone. Healthy relationships can withstand differences; mature individuals can agree to disagree.

Love’s labour lost

There are all kinds of people-pleasers. The most chronic cases, experts infer, are those who as children believed that their parents’ love was conditional on good behaviour or achievement. “Such people continue to seek external validation throughout their life, unless conscious efforts are made to break the vicious cycle. Underlying fear of failure or rejection makes them resentful, negatively impacting their health and productivity,” notes Mrudula.

There are others who are brought up in households where parents have always fixed everything for them. “Such people develop an excessive sense of dependence upon others. They don’t have much faith in themselves and constantly seek others’ approval in life,” explains the psychologist, who believes that “overbearing parents are the toughest people to communicate with.” The biggest fallacy, according to Mrudula, is to assume that you have the power to make people happy or unhappy. While it’s healthy to recognise how your behaviour influences others, it’s unhealthy to assume responsibility for other people’s happiness.

No joy of your own

Have you heard of the orgasm gap? A WhatsApp forward recently informed me (and Google confirms it) that only 57% of women orgasm when they have sex, as compared to 95% of their male counterparts, according to an interesting study. That’s not all, most men couldn’t even identify the female orgasm because women are so good at faking it to please their partners!

Most women on the WhatsApp group that debated over the study blamed social conditioning for the sorry state of affairs in the bedroom. “It’s only a reflection of all other aspects of our life. We are never the top priority in our own eyes. We are always doing things for the husband, children, in-laws, neighbours... our own happiness is seldom a consideration,” typed a friend from across the globe.

People-pleasers need a dose of self-love. The kind of love that helps them recognise their own value. The kind of love that empowers them to be vocal about their own needs. The kind of love that frees them from the clutches of other people’s whims and prejudices, and lets them be the protagonists of their own life.

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The perils of being a people-pleaser

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