I Am Was a People Pleaser
Ever since I was a child, I tried to make other people happy. That people-pleasing part of me I thought most likely stemmed from watching people in my life be miserable. Not only did I not know why they were sad, but I also felt responsible somehow. When my mother blamed me for everything, I began to believe that I was responsible. It left an immense feeling of inadequacy that left me feeling powerless and small.
That is what I thought was the origination of my people-pleasing. It turns out the much deeper reason for my people-pleasing is my role as the scapegoat. But I was powerless to help those around me. Except what I was doing was not that at all. I was people-pleasing, and that is not a good thing. Yes, caring about those around you and helping them to be happy is fine. Putting others before yourself all of the time is not okay.
What then is people-pleasing? It is “a person who has an emotional need to please others often at the expense of his or her own needs or desires.” Wanting to make others happy and to be regarded in a positive light makes sense. We are social creatures, and so that makes sense to me. However, when that becomes all you focus on, then it becomes an issue.1 I spent years putting other people’s needs before my own. And the result was heavy drinking to deal with how unhappy I was. I am not good at putting myself first. It makes me very uncomfortable.
People Pleasing: It’s All About You
At the root of people-pleasing is the need to seek validation from others. It has nothing to do with the happiness of the other person. My people-pleasing is not about me at all, I adamantly thought. Then I did what I do, internalized, and thought about how people-pleasing is about me. Looking at my people-pleasing from every angle, I realized that my needing validation is the cause of my need to people-please.
I think I felt that my need to make others happy came from a self-less place, but it doesn’t. It is a very selfish endeavor. I need people to see me in a good light and to like me. If you have read any of my previous blog posts, I am sure you know where I am going with this. My need for validation is directly related to growing up in an abusive environment.
I was never good enough, and nothing I did was right. My family members told me that every day. As much as I tried to say to myself that wasn’t true, I couldn’t stave off the barrage of abuse that came my way every day. And certainly not without internalizing that those things were right; I was worthless. So, growing up, I needed someone, anyone, to tell me that I had worth. And yes, I would look for that validation in ways that were not the healthiest, like heavy drinking and drugs.
Intriguing signs of People Pleasing
I read several websites about people-pleasing and some signs that I could be a people pleaser. I already knew that people-pleasing was an issue for me, but I like to read about it and make sure that I am thinking about it accurately. I included only three signs below because these are interesting to me on a personal level.
I do this all the time. Or I used to. I became aware of this because I was saying it so often. ‘I’m sorry’ was said so much that even I was annoyed with myself. I would cringe, wasn’t even saying that I was sorry for any reason at all. I was apologizing for my shortcomings, for not being able to be everything to everyone, and most importantly, for my very existence.
Does that make sense?
It is the hidden tool of all those who seek validation; ‘does this make sense?’ And I was a master at wielding it. I ended texts with that, emails, conversations; you name it, I finished it with double checking if what I said was worthy. By asking that question, I wondered if I was worthy if I made sense, which was me asking if I was worthy. I have stopped asking that question. I had to be aware of it to stop it, and I still slip up, but I try hard not to say that anymore. I know that what I say has validity; that I have validity.
I am always fine. Ask me after a bad day. I will tell you I am fine. It is my go-to answer when I don’t want to admit that I have feelings. I still struggle with sharing how I feel. I don’t do this to keep relationships superficial2, which results from not telling people how you feel. The other result, or so I used to think, is that I wouldn’t be hurt. Growing up, the more someone knew how you felt, the more they would use that against you to make you feel even smaller. I had to keep those feelings to myself.
Start Putting Yourself First
I am not an expert on putting myself first. I only recently started even to begin to think about putting myself first. Even thinking about putting myself first is uncomfortable. I don’t know if there is an order to doing things. I am not sure that a person, you, me, or anyone else, can stop being a people pleaser without addressing the underlying issues.
I had to come to terms or begin to come to terms with the reasons why I do certain things. I exhibit certain behaviors that I don’t want to have anymore, like people-pleasing. When I figure out why I am the way I am that I can begin to change. Part of that change has the awareness and insight to look at myself and my life. Where did this come from?
For me, as I have mentioned before, people-pleasing comes from needing to get external validation. Not only was I told that I was worthless over and over, but no one believed me when I tried to tell anyone who would listen, I was in an abusive home. Since doctors largely ignored me, I figured that I was seeing was me blowing it out of proportion. That taught me that I couldn’t trust myself either. So whatever validation I could have provided myself, I doubted that too.
I have doubted myself for too long. I am not at the end of my journey with people-pleasing. I have only just begun. And it starts with me. And my therapist. Having a therapist is critical if you are to be successful in this journey.
- Teyhou Smyth Ph.D., LMFT. (March 30, 2020). What is People-Pleasing. com. Retrieved November 29, 2020. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-finesse/202003/what-is-people-pleasing
- Amy Morin. (August 23, 2017). 10 Signs You’re a People-Pleaser. Psychologytoday.com. Retrieved November 30, 2020. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201708/10-signs-youre-people-pleaser