People pleasers laugh at your jokes and agree with your opinions. They are perceived as followers who rely on inputs of others to do anything. They often become the last people to be brought in on discussions or involved in a decision-making process. In social settings, they tend to be ignored as if their faces don’t exist. They never say no when you ask them for a favor. They silently turn their schedule upside down to meet your schedule. They are perceived as naïve, pushovers, doormats, and indecisive.
But why is it so bad to be a people-pleaser? Aren’t we supposed to be pleasant and nice to one another? How could a term that consists of the words “People” and “Pleaser” have come together to bear a negative connotation in our society? When did it adopt the meaning of “an obsequious, subservient person, especially in a workplace” as it’s defined in dictionaries?
If you look into the French, Latin, or Spanish origin of the word “please” you’ll find the following definitions:
- To be agreeable
- To be acceptable, be liked, be approved
- To be calm
Building on these definitions, a “pleaser” is a person who is agreeable and wants to be accepted, liked, approved, and calm.
Again I wonder, since when has being agreeable and wanting to be liked, approved, and calm become non-desirable traits in any person? Wouldn’t we all want to be surrounded by “people pleasers”, especially at work?
Perhaps the terminology is misused and does not convey the social understanding of a people pleaser. Being kind to others is what we all ought to strive for but not at the cost of our own emotional and physical wellbeing and not on an ongoing basis. Perhaps the more accurate way of describing “people pleasing” is “self-neglect or self-abandonment”.
To the people who beat themselves for neglecting their own needs I would like to say: be more kind to yourself. You may be frustrated for being “too kind” and “too agreeable” but be patient with yourself to understand the root cause of your self-neglect.
Often we overlook the influence of culture in our interactions. We forget how our family culture could position us to be misunderstood and perceived as subservient by the dominant culture. Some family cultures are founded more on a collectivistic values and some more on individualistic beliefs. People-pleasing is a social construct and therefore it’s a subjective matter.
Another element to consider is the relational context as we behave differently with different people. It is interesting that the definition of “people pleaser” evolves specially around “a work place”. In that respect, you may want to examine in which environment you loose your confidence or are perceived to lack confidence. Is it only at work that these feelings arise and or is it also in other situations where you find yourself trying too hard to belong and to be liked?
Life is a journey full of balancing acts of who we are and who the society wants us to be. Through this journey you are challenged to find a balance between meeting your own needs and others’. You may have to work through childhood issues that drive your infinite hunger for belonging and being liked. You may need to re-discover your self-worth and learn to hold firm boundaries to protect it. You may have to teach your surroundings about how your pleasantness is rooted in your culture.
It has been said that statistically, when you meet a person there’s 25% chance you both would like each other, 25% that the person would not like you, 25% that you wouldn’t like the person, and 25% that you both won’t care much about each other. Life experiences and interactions are not clear-cut scientific matters. However, this statistic may help you remember to make room for yourself and your needs in relation to others.
If you’d like to further explore how you could make room for yourself, contact me. I’d love to discuss how I might be able to help you on your journey.