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Are You a People-Pleaser? Here’s How to Break the Habit
It’s time to hit the pause button on your regularly scheduled life and do some self-reflection. Read the following statements and mark them true or false, based on whether they apply to you.
- I often find myself putting other people’s needs ahead of my own.
- I have trouble saying no to people because I don’t want to disappoint them or have them disapprove of me.
- Making other people happy, having them rely on me, earning their appreciation or praise, is incredibly fulfilling to me.
- I have a tendency to go out of my way to please people, try to get them to like me, or give them what I think they need.
- I frequently go along with what other people want or defer to their preferences to keep the peace or make them happy.
If you marked any of these statements true, you’re personally familiar with the people-pleasing habit. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make other people happy or to have a positive effect on them. But if you find yourself going to great lengths to please other people and sacrificing or shortchanging your own needs consistently to do so, the need to please has become a problem.
“The unfortunate part is that a lot of people who are chronic “yes” people don’t even grasp the concept that they’re overdoing it,” says Susan Newman, PhD, a social psychologist in the New York metropolitan area and author of The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say It—and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever. “They can become addicted to the need for external validation. There are some people who need to liked and needing to be needed or liked can become an addiction.”
The trouble is, having a people-pleasing habit can create stress and anxiety for you without your realizing it. It can lead to frustration and depression if you become defined by other people’s approval, Newman says. And it can stand in the way of your taking care of your own needs, which can in turn affect your health and well-being. For example, a 2012 study from Case Western Reserve University found that having sociotropy — a preoccupation with pleasing others and maintaining social harmony —can lead people to eat more candy when they believe a peer wants them to or to match the companion’s eating behavior to make him or her feel comfortable. Meanwhile, in a 2010 study, researchers at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine found that people-pleasing behavior was a barrier to group exercise adherence among breast cancer survivors.
Whether you developed this pattern because you want to avoid conflict or being left out, because you crave praise and approval, because you think you do things better than other people do, or because you were brought up to be a pleaser, it’s time to take steps to break the habit. Here’s how:
Consider what’s important to you. Think about your own goals and how you can make them a priority. Then, map out a plan for how you’ll pursue them and spring into action! Achieving your goals will bring its own rewards and help you gradually become less dependent on receiving praise or validation from other people. This will naturally help you put the brakes on people-pleasing behavior.
Think before you say yes. Before you agree to any request, stall for time by telling the person you’ll have to get back to him or her. Then, think critically about whether you have the time, whether you’ll feel pressured to get the task or favor done, whether you’ll resent the person who asked, and what you’ll be giving up if you do say yes, Newman suggests. In other words, think about the potential costs of saying yes.
Remember, too, that more often than not, “when you say no, people will not be upset with you,” Newman says. “They’ll move on to the person they think will say yes and forget about you.” Besides, saying no often has its perks, such as more time or energy to do things or spend time with the people who matter most to you.
Honor your limits. There’s only so much you can take on physically and emotionally so try to be realistic about what you can do and what can be handled by other people. Then, set boundaries and communicate them by spelling out exactly what you can offer in the way of help and where the limit is. “If you don’t have boundaries, people invade your space and your time constantly,” Newman says, “and you never get to what you want to do.” So even when you do say yes when a friend asks you to help her move, watch her kids or run an errand, set a time limit; be clear about how long you can help and stop when you say you need to. Many requests are as straightforward as they may appear on the surface, Newman notes, so it’s important to set boundaries ahead of time.
Practice saying no. Once you gain clarity about your own priorities, start turning down requests that feel inconsequential to you. There’s no need to provide a list of excuses or to say you’re sorry; simply say that you don’t have the time or wherewithal to help and wish the person well. Learning to say no is yet another instance where “practice makes perfect,” Newman says. Once you gain the comfort and courage to decline minor requests or voice your dissenting opinion to friends, you can work up to more challenging situations at work or in your social life.
Recognize that you can’t make everyone happy. For starters, “it’s not your responsibility to make other people happy — each person has to make him- or herself happy,” Newman says. Secondly, it’s not realistic to expect to please anyone or everyone 24/7. So make it a priority to consider and cater to your own needs — so you can make yourself happy — rather than always putting other people first. Remember, too, that not everyone in the world is going to like or love you, and the reasons may have nothing to do with you. So accept that some people simply aren’t going to be won over by your charisma and kindness, and stop trying to ingratiate yourself to them.
By Stacey Colino