Are You a People Pleaser? The Psychology Behind it

people pleasing
Foto: CC0 / Unsplash / Brooke Cagle

People pleasing behavior is not uncommon, but it’s more than just being nice. Let’s look at why people act this way and what psychology can tell us about stopping it.

A people pleaser is someone who wants to make sure everyone is happy. These people are usually very good at making others feel comfortable and loved. However, they tend to do too much for others and sometimes neglect themselves in the process. People pleasers often put other people before themselves, and this leads to some self-destructive behaviors.

We’ll highlight the differences between people-pleasing behaviors and simply being nice while also covering some steps you can take to stop.

The Psychology of People Pleasing

What causes people pleasing?
What causes people pleasing?
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / geralt)

The desire to be liked is a natural human tendency, but how we achieve this goal can often lead to unhealthy interpersonal relationships and habits. People pleasing is just one example of this. What separates a people pleaser from simply being nice is how one depends on another person’s response to achieve a sense of satisfaction. 

For example, kindness is not dependent on whether the recipient comes to like you or not. It is not performed with any expectations of return. You gain no recognition or social capital from your actions – but this is not the case with the people pleaser. Moreover, they often violate their own personal boundaries and beliefs to achieve this goal.

Psychologists suggest that people’s pleasing behaviors can stem from an insecure-anxious attachment style. Within attachment style theory, this manifests as a concern that others don’t reciprocate your feelings towards them, and it may stem from our relationship with our parents as infants. As an adult, these insecurities can become characterized by a sociotropic personality.

What is Sociotrophy?

Sociotrophy is a personality trait best described as an extreme investment in one’s relationship. The sociotropic personality is often very submissive to those around them, usually to their detriment. Research shows that this personality type is more likely to be susceptible to depression as sociotrophy can lead people to feel low self-worth and value. They may often think:

  • I am not good enough.
  • I am not loveable.
  • I need to be liked so I can feel good about myself. 

The research notes that the most significant characteristic of a sociotropic personality is negative core values such as these. To deal with depression and the need to please others, we must first address these values. 

How to Stop Being a People Pleaser

We start by building a positive belief system.
We start by building a positive belief system.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Wokandapix)

The first thing to understand is that pleasing people doesn’t come inherently from our relationship with others but from how we see ourselves. If we believe we aren’t good enough, it’s easy to think we need others to validate our existence. 

We must look at the underlying reasons why we do such behavior, such as the idea that you will be abandoned or unworthy if you can’t meet the needs of others. This thinking can be dangerous and result in a low sense of satisfaction with relationships in general. We may feel underappreciated, resentful, or generally anxious around others. 

There are a few things to help mitigate these feelings:

  1. Practicing detachment: This is when we take time to be alone with ourselves, away from those who we feel we need to please for a suitable amount of time. The aim is to gradually come to understand that we can live a healthy and prosperous life without the presence of constant attachment. This does not mean complete isolation from our support system, but rather a form of self-care. It is about creating enough distance to step outside our comfort zone.
  2. Recognition triggers: Firstly, a trigger is a person or situation which evokes people-pleasing behaviors. When it comes to this, you can change your perspective—for example, trying to see them as flawed individuals no different from you and being mindful of your emotions. This means not projecting a sense of superiority onto others. It is the first step in becoming more open about how we actually feel so that expressing displeasure or negative emotions has less stigma. Researchers have concluded that those with an anxious attachment style are more likely to conceal these feelings for fear of being disliked. Conversely, communicating honestly and openly can actually help us improve and strengthen our relationships.
  3. Distinguishing being nice and people-pleasing: This is essential in changing how we think about our actions. One of the hardest things for a people pleaser is saying ‘no.’ However, recognizing when our efforts aren’t motivated by genuine kindness can be a tool for stopping this behavior in its tracks.

While these suggestions can help break patterns of people pleasing, don’t forget – it’s okay to get help. Always ask a professional for support and coping strategies if you need them.

Making Positive Changes to Stop People Pleasing

Change your priorities and build positive core values to help break the people pleasing pattern.
Change your priorities and build positive core values to help break the people pleasing pattern.
(Foto: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash / Nathan Dumlao)

To continue on your journey of getting rid of people-pleasing habits and behavior, you need to make some changes in yourself. 

  • Change priorities: A big part of tuning into emotions and the actions surrounding them is noticing when a request makes us uncomfortable. This is often a sign that we aren’t acting in line with our true feelings. Learning how to politely say no can be a way of respectfully asserting our boundaries and prioritizing our own needs. It isn’t selfish to decline a request.
  • Build positive core values: Core values are the beliefs and attitudes that guide our behavior. In therapy studies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), recognizing negative thought patterns is a significant way to realign our actions with our beliefs. It begins by identifying and reframing thoughts, behaviors, and emotions within a given situation. We might consider when our thoughts are irrational, self-defeating, or harmful and try to retrain ourselves to think differently. For instance:
    1. If a friend doesn’t call back – our immediate thought might be that you’ve done something wrong, or that they don’t like you anymore. CBT suggests you evaluate such ideas. You might adjust by rationalizing – one missed call doesn’t mean they don’t like me; something may have come up; I won’t let one phone call ruin my day.

Everyone goes through a point in life when they have doubts or feel low. People pleasing can become a habit without even realizing it. However, if you feel depressed or unhappy with your situation, there’s always time to take action. Remember that you deserve love not just because of the things you do but who you are. If someone makes you feel less than or underappreciated, saying no can help you ground yourself and is the first step in recognizing your own self-worth.

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