- People pleasing means never saying no & going out of your way to help others
- Fixing other people’s problems & apologizing too much are two signs
- READ MORE: My week trying to break people pleasing habit (and stay married!)
Most people enjoy being helpful and pleasing others.
Yet for a small but significant proportion, selfless behavior is taken to the extreme – risking serious mental health problems.
Psychologists have coined the phenomenon people pleasing, which is said to descibe those who never say no and always go out of their way for others at the expense of their own mental wellbeing.
According to studies, the roughly 14 per cent of people who engage in this behavior are more likely to develop serious mental health issues like anxiety, stress and depression.
One high-profile people pleaser is Hollywood superstar Jennifer Lawrence who, in 2021, admitted she’d been ‘people-pleasing’ for the majority of her life.
Jennifer Lawrence temporarily stepped away from the spotlight in 2018 because she was struggling with anxiety stemming from her people-pleasing behavior, she previously admitted
‘Working made me feel like nobody could be mad at me,’ she told Vanity Fair.
‘And then I felt like I reached a point where people were not pleased just by my existence. So that kind of shook me out of thinking that work or your career can bring any kind of peace to your soul.’
But how do you know if you’re a perpetual people pleaser, or just a kind person?
Dr Juli Fraga, a San Francisco-based psychologist, has revealed the five signs of chronic people-pleasing that you should watch out for.
The first clue is often an underlying feeling of being out of control, she says.
When people perceive us in a way we don’t like and can’t control – for instance after a relationship break-up – there is a temptation to over-compensate in other areas of life, to ensure people like us.
People pleasers bend over backwards to make other people’s lives easier at their own expense. This often leads to feelings of inadequacy, friction and stress
Dr Juli Fraga said, behavior-wise, the first red-flag is over-apologizing, especially for things that aren’t your fault.
‘For instance, one of my former patients said he apologized every time he asked his boss a question,’ she told the Washington Post.
‘Because he “didn’t want to make them mad.”’
Another is taking responsibility for another person’s sadness, anger, or disappointment.
The people pleaser will assume they did something to cause the negative emotion, and attempt to fix it – even if it comes at their own expense.
The next sign is agreeing when you don’t, in order to avoid tension.
Dr Fraga said: ‘Years ago, I worked with a patient who championed her father’s political views, even though she couldn’t stand them.’
Then there’s being a ‘yes’ person when you want to say no.
Perhaps you take on a larger workload you can’t handle, or agree to pay for things you can’t afford.
The final sign is lulling yourself into the false belief that your feelings and needs don’t matter as much as other people’s.
Dr Fraga said: ‘Often, you hold a false belief that expressing [feelings] will be a burden, or cause someone to abandon you.’
A people pleaser often sets their own needs to the side for the benefit of others. For instance, running hours of errands for someone else or covering for a co-worker during the work day, leaving little time for moments of calm or a nutritious lunch.
Psychologists have long debated the root cause of people pleasing, but it is thought to be associated with a personality trait known as sociotropy – an unusually strong desire for social approval and acceptance.
People with this trait rely heavily on the quality of their relationships with other people to inform their own sense of self-worth and wellbeing.
Those with sociotropic traits are more likely to hold harmful self-beliefs like ‘I am unlovable’ and ‘I am helpless’, according to a 2018 study.
The behavior can also result from aggressive parenting, said Dr Fraga.
‘I once worked with a patient whose father shamed him whenever he expressed sadness. “If you want to cry, I’ll give you something to cry about,” he was told.
‘On other occasions, his dad said, “I’m not in the mood to hear any of your stupid whining.” As a result, my patient worked hard to be “good” by doing what he was told. “If people like you, they leave you alone,” he told me.’
This is a trauma response known as ‘fawning’, or pleasing others to avoid conflict and establish a sense of security.
Dr Fraga advises patients to work on self-compassion and being as forgiving of themselves as they are of other people.
She said: ‘Start by asking yourself: “What is one thing that will help me feel soothed?” It could be taking a walk or drinking a cup of tea. Or it might be calling a friend or spending time with your beloved pet.’
She also encourages people to practice saying no and setting a boundary.
5 SIGNS YOU’RE A PEOPLE PLEASE
San Francisco-based psychologist has revealed how to tell if you’re a people pleaser – and at risk of stress, depression and anxiety
- An underlying feeling of a loss of control
- Saying sorry for things that aren’t your fault
- Assuming you’re the cause of another person’s bad mood
- Agreeing with opinions, despite holding the opposite view
- Acting as if other people’s needs matter more than your own