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Why being "nice" is making you unhappy: Signs that you're a people-pleaser (and what to do about it)

Have you heard of the term people-pleaser, and have suspected that you might be one, but you're not sure what it is or if it's a good or bad thing? Learn if you're a people-pleaser, how it can affect your life, and three beliefs that can help you start living a more authentic life today.

Hi. My name is Chaundell and I'm a People-Pleaser.

Well, I used to be that is. For many years, I spent a lot of my energy trying to make other people happy. This showed up in a lot of ways in my life, though I wasn't really aware of it up until about five years ago. I didn't identify as a people-pleaser at first because the behaviors that were causing it didn't seem like a bad thing, but when I saw these behaviors for what they were and truly saw that they weren't helping me create the results in my life that I wanted, it helped me make the changes that I needed to start living a more authentic life.

What is a people-pleaser?

A people-pleaser is typically defined as someone who does whatever they can to make someone happy. Sometimes people-pleasing can be confused with being a nice person, but a people-pleaser goes a level beyond that as they are usually nice in search of approval, validation, or love. Because of this their actions aren't fully authentic causing them a lot of anxiety, anger, and stress.

Is being a people-pleaser bad?

Many people-pleasers are naturally empathetic and are very good at being in tune with the emotions of others. They are naturally caring and helpful people. This in itself is not a bad thing. It starts becoming a problem when the purpose for being nice and helpful is to get approval, validation, self-worth, or love rather than doing it because it's who you want to be.

People-pleasures think that making other people happy will make them happy and improve their relationships, when in actuality the opposite is true. Not only does it affect your relationships, but it also leaks into every part of your life and often leads to feeling stuck and unfulfilled.

It can be hard to identify as a people-pleaser because many of the beliefs and behaviors that are causing resentment and holding you back from being happy, at first glance, look really good. Here are some examples from my life:

  • I was really good at making people feel happy/loved/cared for.

  • I could get along with pretty much everyone.

  • I was high achieving and could get a lot done.

  • I was great at conflict resolution.

At first glance, all of these things look great right? But behind my mask of being "nice", the truth was not as glamorous–

I was really good at making people happy because I did what they wanted at the expense of my own happiness.

I got along with everyone because I adapted to their likes, dislikes, or preferences.

I used high-achieving as a way to make more people happy and didn't say no to other people's requests, even if I didn't really want to do it.

I was great at conflict resolution because I would give in to the other person, rather than stand up for what I wanted or believed in.

While I was telling myself that these things were "good", I also felt a lot of resentment and loneliness. Not to mention that I was EXHAUSTED! It requires a lot of effort and energy both to keep other people happy and to continually convince myself that I was also happy. Eventually the resentment grew beyond the mask of happiness and my relationships with others and myself suffered.

So, while being a nice, caring, and helpful person is good, doing it at the expense of your own happiness and well-being is not because eventually it will have the opposite effect of what you want in your life and with your relationships with others.

Are you a people pleaser?

Here are ten signs to help you identify if you're a people pleaser.

  1. You apologize even when you aren't to blame.

  2. You rarely say 'No'.

  3. You adapt to the likes, dislikes, and preferences of those around you.

  4. You are crushed when you find out someone doesn't like you.

  5. You can't make decisions without asking for others opinions.

  6. You take on the responsibility of making everyone happy.

  7. You avoid conflict to the detriment of yourself.

  8. You rarely ask or accept help.

  9. You put everyone else's needs before your own.

  10. You volunteer and say 'Yes' then feel resentful afterwards.

How to stop being a people-pleaser

Once I realized that these behaviors were the cause of my unhappiness, I knew I had to make some changes.

At first, I tried to make behavioral changes like saying 'no' more often, but they weren't long lasting because I would often feel guilty and would eventually slip back into my people-pleasing ways.

To make real changes, rather than focus on the external, behavioral things first, I had to start making mental shifts. As I focused on the internal beliefs that were causing me to people-please, the behavioral changes happened more naturally.

Here are three beliefs that have helped me the most as a recovering people-pleaser. I intentionally think these thoughts when I'm faced with situations where my initial reaction will be to people-please. They have helped me slow down, get clear about what I want, and then make the most authentic choice.

1. "It's not my job to make other people happy"

Many of us are conditioned to believe that we can control other people's emotions. We're told things like, "You hurt her feelings, " or "That makes me so happy," and we believe that we are the ones who made them feel those things. But the truth is that we cannot control other's emotions. We can influence them, what we say and do does affect people, but ultimately that person gets to decide how they want to interpret our words and actions, and as a result, their emotions. There were many times where I make decisions based on how I think the other person will feel. This became particularly hard when I would do something to try and make someone happy, but they would still be angry or upset. I would take that on myself; that I was the one who did something wrong. When I remember that I don't actually control other's emotions, I can focus on the greater questions: "Who do I want to be? How do I want to show up in this situation?"

2. "I'm responsible for my own life adventure"

Just as it's not my job to make other people happy, it's also not other people's job to make me happy. Part of the reason that I would people-please was to get love and acceptance from other people. When they were happy, I could feel happy. When they were happy with what I did for them, I felt worthy of that love. My happiness ended up being dependent on how well I was pleasing other people. But just I like I don't have control over other people's emotions, other people don't have control over my emotions. If I want to be happy, I have to decide to be happy. When I remind myself that I am responsible for my happiness, I don't have to depend on that happiness coming from how others feel about me. It comes from me deciding to be happy and authentically enjoying and living life. Sometimes my happiness will still come from helping someone else, but in the times where I don't want to do something or if someone else decides not to be happy, I know that I can still choose to be happy if I am showing up as the person that I want to be and doing what I believe to be right.

3. "I choose love"

I would often say yes to doing things even when I didn't want to do them. I was acting out of obligation. I would have a hard time saying no to anyone because I was afraid of causing conflict or disappointing them. This even included the door-to-door salesman selling the really expensive vacuum cleaner that I was zero percent interested in buying. Those salesman love people pleasers. What's interesting is that I would say yes to requests because I was trying to be loving, yet I often felt resentful about it. In the end, I realized that saying yes to something I didn't want to do is not loving and it actually created feelings that were the exact opposite of love. That's not who I want to be. I want to choose love as much as possible. The belief that I choose love reminds me that saying no is ok and sometimes it's the most loving thing I can do. Not only to show love for myself, but so that I can continue feeling love, rather than resentment, towards the other person.

Start with one step

Any time we make changes in our life, the task can seem daunting and it's easy to get overwhelmed, but the biggest transformations are not made in a day, but by taking small, intentional steps.

Don't worry about changing everything all at once. Focus on one belief, one situation, and once choice at a time. With each step you take, you'll feel a little more confident and it will eventually get easier.

I know that as you apply these three beliefs to your life, you will notice that you start to feel happier. The things that you say 'yes' to can be done with genuine love and without resentment. By saying 'no' to the things that you aren't willing to do, you will have the energy to fully show up for the things that you want to say yes to!

Ultimately, by not worrying about what others are feeling and focusing more on who you want to be, you will be more of yourself leading to a more happy, fulfilling, and authentic life, which benefits you and everyone around you.

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