What’s the Harm in People-Pleasing?

drawing of a woman hugging herself surrounded by harmful people-pleasersThere is a small voice inside people-pleasers (both current and in recovery) that tell us that it is harmful. And yet, we can’t stop. At least I couldn’t. It was like watching myself from the outside and not doing anything to stop the downward spiral.

I had convinced myself that it was doing all of those things to make sure that everyone else was happy. But as I wrote in People-Pleasing Makes Me Miserable, that was not the case. I was the one who needed to feel needed, to feel valued by running around trying to make others happy. Deep down, I felt so low about myself and needed people to tell me that I was valuable and therefore worthy.

I remember thinking that I would be letting so many down if I didn’t keep doing what I was doing – making them happy and making sure they were pleased. What was going on was that I was letting myself down, and worse, I was hurting myself.

People-Pleasing: Harmful Things

The following list of harmful results of people-pleasing is not exhaustive. I am sure that there are many more out there. These were the ones that I saw repeated across many articles and blogs. And these are the ones that I saw within myself once I realized what I was doing.

Emotions, What Emotions?

It isn’t that I don’t have any emotions; I suppress them. My previous therapist told me that emotions are not going to kill me. On an intellectual level, I know that expressing feelings will not kill me. But buried deep within my subconscious (perhaps my amygdala?), I don’t think that is true.

Feeling things hurts, and if I can avoid the pain, I will. Part of the avoidance of my own emotions was to hyper-focus on others. As I was too busy dealing with other people’s feelings and issues, I had no time for my shit. And I was okay with that, for a time.

No One Knows Me

When I first wrote that ‘no one knows me,’ I envisioned myself as a child, stamping my feet, declaring that no one understands me. Even though ‘no one knows me’ is an accurate statement, envisioning me as a petulant child shows how I minimize and push away my own valid needs. No one knew me, not even me.

I didn’t know me anymore. I was so far down the rabbit hole of pushing emotions down, focusing on others and not myself, that I lost myself along the way. Who am I? It is an existential question. But that small question can make a huge difference in a person’s life.

I Cannot Do One More Thing

I needed to say ‘no’ more often, but I couldn’t. It was almost like my brain forgot that word. Or that if I was thinking about saying ‘no’ what would come out of my mouth without me even being able to think about it was ‘yes.’ What that ended up doing was me saying ‘yes’ to so many things that I could not accomplish them. I worked myself ragged trying to achieve all of the things that I had said ‘yes’ to and several of those I did not complete.

The more I said ‘yes,’ the less time I had to get those things done. When I didn’t get something done, the guilt would come roaring through my brain like a raging river. It was a never-ending cycle, saying ‘yes,’ not accomplishing those tasks, letting people down, followed by guilt. I felt helpless to get myself out of that vicious cycle. It is no wonder I drank. I was miserable.

People-Pleasing Harms Mental Health

Surprise, surprise, all of that focus on others and no focus on myself. What I needed and not getting was leading to what was nearly a mental health crisis. My husband saw it, and that is when he stepped in and said that I needed help. In the previous section, I listed that the inability to say no, feeling alone, and pushing down emotions can lead to serious mental health illnesses. I know it led to anxiety and depression for me. I was at a loss.

Who is Anxious? Not Me.

On the outside, no one would have ever known that the anxiety war was raging within me. Pushing myself outside of my comfort zone to be everything to everyone created a no-win situation. I was anxious not doing things that I thought others would expect of me, and when I was doing those things, I was resentful and anxious because I didn’t want to be doing any of that.

I wanted to be successful because I thought that would get people to respect and like me. I used other people’s definition of success, which is not my idea of success. Back to people-pleasing, I was so desperate for accolades that I adopted what others found important as my own. All of that led to a level of anxiety that was almost debilitating. And no one knew, not even me.

I’m Fine!!!

When someone asked how I was doing, I told them I was okay. Hey, when I pushed my emotions away and left with a blank space, I am fine. There are no issues. Yea, I know, it isn’t true. I was pushing myself to make more and more people happy so that I would be happy. What I ended up feeling was anything but happy.

I think for me, that anxiety can’t exist without some level of depression. And boy, was I depressed. I am still in some ways because I am still working through quite a lot. When I was in full speed people-pleaser mode, I stayed a minuscule amount ahead of my depression. Everything I did pushed me closer and closer to the edge of deep depression.

People-Pleasing Gifts of Harm

The goal of people-pleasing is to feel loved and valued. Unfortunately, what we seek we never receive. That is the most significant harm that people-pleasing does; the means do not ever justify the ends because we don’t get what we need. I never felt valued or loved the entire time. I only thought that I was failing and nothing that I did was good enough.

People-pleasing leads to more people-pleasing until I had nothing left to give to anyone, let alone myself. All I needed was to be valued and loved, and I was, by my close inner circle, but I didn’t or couldn’t see it. I continued to search for that validation and love outside of myself. I did not get what I needed.  

Sources Used

I did not directly cite any of the following sources, but I did utilize them to get an idea of people-pleasing’s typical harmful results.

  1. Anna LeMind. (December 2, 2020) 30 Signs You Are a People Pleaser & Hidden Dangers of Being Too Nice. Learning-mind.com. Retrieved December 3, 2020. https://www.learning-mind.com/people-pleaser-dangers/
  2. Crystal Raypole. (December 5, 2019). How to Stop People-Pleasing (and Still Be Nice). Healthline.com. Retrieved December 1, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/health/people-pleaser
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