The Need-To-Please Disease

Worrying what other people think of you. Needing approval and praise to feel good about yourself. Constantly saying and doing things simply because you feel obligated. Becoming anxious when someone doesn’t like you. Thinking other people’s opinions are more important than your own … These are all symptoms of the ‘need-to-please disease’.

In my not-remotely-scientific opinion, I think 90% of people suffer from this disease, often in silence, and sometimes for their whole lives. There are very few people who like to be criticised, unrespected or disliked. But does saying “yes” to everything and putting everyone else’s happiness before your own really equate to everyone liking and respecting you? Hardly.

I used to be a chronic people pleaser. I felt personally responsible for other people’s happiness and if someone was rude or nasty to me for no apparent reason I would try even harder to make them happy, assuming it had to be my fault in some way. I am definitely getting better at not taking these things personally, and accepting the only person whose happiness I control is my own. I now realise that most of the time nastiness is the nasty person’s problem and actually has nothing to do with me at all.

However, like most people I don’t think I will ever find being criticised or disliked easy to deal with. So when we are overcome with an attack of the People-Pleaser, what can we do to cure it? Psych Central has come up with a list to answer this very question, all scientific-like: 21 Tips to Stop Being a People Pleaser. I’ve adapted the list down to my top 8:

1. Realize you have a choice.
This is the most powerful ah-ha moment a people-pleaser can have. You are not obligated to say yes to everything. You have a right to say no if you do not want, or are not able, to do something.

2. Stall.
Take time to think before you agree to something. Imagine saying yes and consider how it would make you feel.

3. Set limits.
If you choose to say yes, qualify it with boundaries. Let them know if you can only help on a certain day, or with a specific part of their request.

4. Consider if you’re being manipulated.
Don’t say yes if you feel the person is taking advantage of you. Say what you want and how you feel (it’s hard, but you’ll feel better when you do, and they might even respect you more for it.)

5. Use an empathic assertion.
If you say no, let the other person know that you have listened to them carefully and empathise with their situation but simply cannot fulfil their request.

6. Don’t give a litany of excuses.
It’s hard not to feel the need to justify yourself but its not necessary to give a long drawn-out explanation for why you can’t do something.

7. Be realistic, not dramatic.
Usually the consequences of saying no are far less significant than we imagine.

8. Remember that saying no has its benefits.
You can’t be everything to everyone. It is important to have time and energy for yourself and those closest to you. Saying no to things you don’t want to do is giving yourself the opportunity to do things you truly enjoy and value.

So if I’m a recovering need-to-please addict, you’re probably thinking that a Year of Kindness is not one of the recommended twelve steps. Here’s the thing: pleasing people is a great thing. Needing to please them is not. In light of that, this weeks kindnesses have all been completely annonymous, thus making it solely about pleasing others and removing the element of praise/approval. I put coins in public telephones and expired parking metres, bought coffees for two people and then slipped away before they found out, left money scratchies for people to find on park benches, and made a conscious effort to be a super considerate driver on the road. I was worried that the “annonymous” nature of these acts would indeed make them less enjoyable, but I’m pleased to report that simply knowing these things would brighten up someone elses day made me just as happy as if they had expressed direct praise and gratitude. Kindness is not an obligation but a conscious choice, and choosing it makes me happy.


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Eric Winger
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 14:34:48

    There’s a vast difference between helping someone and pleasing them. Sometimes a ‘no’, or offering an alternative instead of either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ helps that person learn to help themselves … This is a good list and definitely provoked some thoughts. Thanks!


    • happydancecat
      Jul 03, 2011 @ 20:22:59

      Thanks for your thoughts, Eric. I definitely see what you mean – pleasing and helping are not the same thing, although there can be an overlap. However, doing something purely to please someone can be very worthwhile and fulfilling so long as it is a choice and it does not make you as the pleaser feel resentful or taken advantage of.


  2. happydancecat
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 16:15:40

    A very interesting topic. Thanks for reminding me that i can cure this disease that has affected me for a some time. I think a ‘ no please ‘ is sometimes the right answer. Honest John Wright .


    • happydancecat
      Jul 04, 2011 @ 15:31:11

      Hahaha, Dad you’re signed in as me! But thankyou for reading and responding, I do appreciate it. 🙂 Sometimes its good to say yes, just everything in moderation…


  3. Lesh @ TheMindfulFoodie
    Jul 04, 2011 @ 10:58:06

    Your words are so true. And you’ve articulated this topic so clearly! I do find myself getting caught in the need-to-please state at times. But as the years have gone on, I think I’m getting better at doing what feels right for me – although it doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty sometimes! Thanks Cat – I always feel good after reading your posts 🙂


    • happydancecat
      Jul 04, 2011 @ 15:35:06

      Thanks Lesh! That’s great that you’re able to listen to your instincts most of the time rather than listening to the guilt. It’s tricky but it makes such a difference to overall happiness levels. Aww, I’m glad, thanks for reading!


  4. Trackback: Choice vs. Obligation: Intention is Everything « yearofkindness

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