If no one is born as a people pleaser, then how does one become a people pleaser? People pleasing is an attribute of codependency (Codependent behavior is taking care of other people to the point where your own needs and sense of self is lost).
In their core people pleasers are driven by the fear of rejection and are preoccupied with what other people think, feel and want. It’s important to them to make everyone happy. If people around them are satisfied with them then that means they are safe. External validation makes them feel accepted. These core beliefs are formed very early in life.
As a result of these core beliefs,
People pleasers tend to take on a lot of responsibilities because they cannot say no.
They prioritize other people’s needs.
They overextend themselves and are exhausted.
They are over-achievers and perfectionists; they have a very difficult time delegating work and asking for help.
People pleasers are very attuned to other people’s needs. They can sense what someone feels and needs. When they enter a room they can sense the energy in the room and adjust their expectation and presence accordingly.
These traits might help them feel liked by others, but it results in;
Develop low self esteem
Disconnect with their own needs
Nothing feels good enough and they don’t find peace or contentment
Lack of external validation can make them feel anxious and depressed
Suppressing needs results in forming resentments
How does one become a people pleaser?
People pleasing is learned very early in life. It is a skill that children develop to maintain connection with their parents. People pleasing is one of the symptoms of developmental trauma.
Wounded attachment patterns result in people pleasing tendencies. I have read some literature that highlights people pleasing as a result of anxious attachment. However, in my experience individuals with both anxious and avoidant attachment can be people pleasers.
Caretakers of children with insecure attachment patterns are usually unpredictable and inconsistent. They lack attunement with their kids. They are not present and emotionally disconnected with their children’s needs.
People pleasers are able to decode what people want and feel and can read the room because they have had to do it since they were kids to feel in control and safe.
Since they were very young their parents have been preoccupied and overwhelmed with their own concerns and worries. The concerns overwhelming the parent have nothing to do with the child most of the time. They could be worried about life circumstances, their health, their relationship. They could be perpetuating their own cycle of trauma.
Cognitively, children between 2 to 7 years are egocentric in the way they see the world, which means that they just have their own perspective. Therefore, if their parents are not paying attention to their needs then they believe that they must have done something wrong to upset their parents.
Parents of kids with insecure attachment are not always absent. There are times when they are present and connected. But, these moments are not consistent or predictable. Based on the worries and concerns they are facing in life they are sometimes affectionate and loving and other times distracted and distant.
The kids try to look for patterns and figure out based on their observation of their parents what they can do to make their world predictable and to make sure that the positive experience is repeated again. They start focusing on what their parents want from them and disconnect with their own needs more and more.
They don’t express their needs and wants. Instead they focus on becoming the way their parents want them to be. They grow up to be a good girl who listens to her parents and does exactly what they want her to do.
For example, A parent might be extremely critical of the child. But if the child makes less noise, gets good grades in school, helps around the house, in short keeps his or her focus in fulfilling the parents’ needs then the criticism is less.
They learn that love is conditional and if they want to be accepted they have to give something in return. Hence starts the journey of becoming a people pleaser. They learn that they are not enough. Their worth is not in who they are but in what they are doing for other people.
In this process they develop several inner protector parts like the self critique part. This part keeps them on their toes and makes sure that they never feel rejected. Every mistake is met with a lot of criticism and negative self talk. The only standard accepted is perfectionism. The perfectionist part protects them from shame and abandonment. In trying to be perfect, they experience anxiety and exhaustion.
Constantly suppressing their needs can develop a self sabotaging part. When under the influence of this part they make choices that people don’t associate with them. They act in unpredictable and unexpected ways.
For example, it looks like everything is going fine at work, then one day they suddenly have an angry outburst at a work meeting. Another example is when a partner does not express their needs in the marriage, is very agreeable and when things get very overwhelming they end up cheating. This self sabotaging behavior triggers a lot of shame and they are willing to do anything to gain back the acceptance again.
Their parents being present and loving from time to time confuses them even more. As adults they are not able to completely embrace their experiences as kids that lead them to developing people-pleasing. They keep rationalizing their experiences and deny their experience of emotional neglect. Their wounded child parts carry a lot of shame, self doubt and fear of abandonment. How they became a people pleaser is difficult for them to accept.
Healing from people-pleasing starts with accepting the impact of your experiences as a child, Working through the cycle of shame. Identifying your own self worth by connecting with yourself and allowing yourself to take up space and be who you want to be.
As parents we try to do our best. All of us make mistakes, some days are better than the others.
One of the important things about parenting is to spend time repairing.
To confess to the kids that you are having a hard day and that they are not responsible for it. For parents to take responsibility if they snap at their children because they had a long day and ran out of patience and apologize for doing that, might help with their concrete thinking in the early developmental stages of life. Helping them make sense of the situation and not take on the blame. Hence protecting our children from becoming a people pleaser.
If you resonate with this article and are curious to learn more about people pleasing, check out the following articles.