The curse of being a people-pleaser. It helps us adapt in society; we do well at work since we are so “cooperative,” we get along well in friendships, and people seem to like having us around because we’re so “nice.”
On the outside we are pleasant, we smile, we seem to have things together. But on the inside we are a thick knot of obsessive, anxious thoughts.
Did I do that right? Does he like me? Did I meet her expectation of me? Did I say the right thing? Was I too quiet? Did I talk too much?
We are applauded for being helpful and being team players. We are attentive and loving. Others appreciate our kindness.
But on the inside we struggle with the crushing emotional pain of never feeling good enough.
Wanting to be liked is maybe my biggest struggle. I write a lot online about my experience of mental illness, but my everyday anxiety often circles around the same, childlike questions, Does she like me? Do they like me?
As a counseling student and a long time participant in therapy, I can analyze the roots of my people-pleasing. I can say that my mother and her mother are anxious people-pleasers who have always felt inferior. I can say that I didn’t experience much affection, acceptance, and reassurance growing up. So now I constantly seek reassurance from others.
I can analyze why I am this way…. but in the end I just want to deal with my problem now.
It doesn’t matter as much how I got to be this way, it matters how I deal with it.
Are you a people-pleaser?
Does your mind constantly run over the things you need to do to make someone happy?
Do you analyze words, facial expressions, and actions in a longing to know how someone thinks of you?
Does a belittling word or negative evaluation crush you?
Being a people-pleaser puts us in a very vulnerable position. We are putting our sense of self-worth and sense of security in other people’s hands. If someone criticizes us or insults us, we might crumble.
That is a lot of power to award someone else. Especially if we give that power to Everyone – to any stranger or bystander or acquaintance nearby…. If we need Everyone’s approval, then we are putting power in the hands of people who may be untrustworthy.
So how do we get the power back?
I’m still trying to figure it out.
I have been working on accepting myself for who I am, with all of my imperfections.
I have been working on being proud of things I have accomplished, without needing other people to compliment me.
I have so far to go. Negative words still wound me. Affirmations and compliments make me feel better for a little while, but then I’m deflated again.
I am a student counselor at our college counseling center. My clients often come in with the same problem. They long to be liked and are crushed when they don’t receive the affirmations they crave.
I try to draw out their strengths. I have them write lists of positive affirmations about themselves and write poems about their identity. I try to help them find a coherent sense of identity and find worth in themselves, not in others’ estimations.
I talk to my clients about how, to some extent, we have control over our thoughts and can choose which thoughts to focus on and which to dismiss. I bring in poems for us to read in session that encourage self-acceptance and empowerment. My methods have been helping my clients, but it takes time.
But then, after the session is over, this student counselor retreats to her worries about whether everyone likes her and whether she is good enough.
I type up my case notes in the workroom of our counseling center. I am older than most of my classmates. I feel awkward and different. I worry about whether they like me. I worry about whether my supervisor will approve of the video of my last session. I am dealing with the same thoughts I just addressed with my clients.
I sigh. I wonder if I will be able to escape the destructive cycle of people-pleasing.