We’re taught at an early age to be responsible, to be kind to others and to avoid becoming selfish. Without these values, our survival as a species would be in question.
So how do you know when you’ve crossed the line from caring to people-pleasing?
It’s a subtle line, but one of the biggest clues is that you’re suppressing your thoughts, feelings or desires.
That may seem like a good thing in the moment – and often it is. You don’t need to tell your best friend what you think of her pink hair (unless you like it, of course). And if your boss doesn’t ask what you think of his latest “creative” idea, he probably doesn’t want to know.
But if you make a habit of keeping your feelings and opinions to yourself, even among friends, or you’ve stopped even thinking about what you want, then it’s time to ask what happened to your life.
Because when you give away your power, you tell yourself some ugly things:
- My thoughts and feelings don’t matter.
- I don’t deserve respect.
- Who I am isn’t good enough, so I’m better off pretending.
According to Christine Carter, PhD (sociologist and Senior Fellow at U.C. Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center), there are some good reasons to stop trying to please everyone:
- We may think we can pretend, but actually we can’t. According to Carter, “our micro-expressions trigger mirror neurons in the brains of people around us. A little part of their brain thinks they are feeling our negative feelings”. This creates more stress for them than sharing our problems would have!
- Pretending also prevents us from fully connecting with others, so it’s bad for our close relationships.
- Even when it’s just keeping quiet, people-pleasing requires self-control. According to Carter, “our ability to repeatedly exert our self-control is quite limited” and is “diminished by previous efforts at control, even if those efforts take place in a totally different realm.” So pretending robs us of our ability to stay cool under pressure or focus on our work. It even makes us more likely to eat junk food or skip the gym!
And there’s more…
People-pleasers tend to take on other people’s responsibilities. They’re so willing – and usually so good at it – that it becomes expected. This is hard on more than just the body. It leads to anger and resentment – which means more thoughts, feelings and desires to suppress. This can lead to physical and emotional burn-out. And it certainly isn’t good for our relationships.
There’s still one more reason – possibly the most important one of all. If you’re afraid to be yourself, how can anyone love or accept you for who you are? Even when someone genuinely cares for you, you’ll wonder whether it’s you or the façade they care about.
As you can see, people-pleasing isn’t very “pleasing” after all.
And though the alternative might seem scary, living in your truth has some serious advantages:
- You have more time for yourself.
- You see who’s taking advantage and who really cares. Most of the takers will disappear on their own.
- When someone does care, you don’t have to wonder whether it’s real – there’s no façade to fall for.
- You demonstrate to yourself that you matter and you deserve to be happy.
- You’re free to live your life according to your highest values. This means you won’t have any more reasons to dislike yourself – and you just might end up living a fulfilling life.
Keeping other people happy at your own expense doesn’t make you a good person. Balancing other people’s needs with your own is not only good – it brings you one giant step closer to happiness. So go ahead and give it a try. You deserve it!