“Lean too much on other people’s approval and it becomes a bed of thorns.” ~Tehyi Hsieh
Let’s be honest with each other.
You’re a people-pleaser
So am I.
And so is Oprah, the President of The United States, and the guy next door.
We’re all people-pleasers to some extent. And that’s okay. Wanting to be approved of—and loved—is as natural as wanting food and shelter.
It’s when you try to please everyone that it becomes a problem. In fact, more than a problem, a disease. Harriet B. Braiker called it “the disease to please.”
And it’s making you ill.
Because you want everyone to like you. To love you.
You dread disapproval. Pleasing everyone seems to be the answer, the safe way to inoculate yourself against conflict and confrontation in relationships, whether family, friends, or work.
So you fail to speak up, fail to say what’s on your mind, fail to allow yourself to be the real you.
Instead you become the go-to person:
- The one who will always change their plans at a moment’s notice.
- The one who will always take on more work and stay late.
- The one who will always say yes.
The one who never says no.
The Disease To Please
I know exactly how that feels.
From what I wore to where I lived, I couldn’t live with anyone’s disapproval, so I spent my days stressing and second-guessing what to do or say.
But every time I sought someone else’s approval, a little piece of the real me died inside.
And it made me ill. Which was ironic, as my cure to conflict and rejection of always saying yes never worked anyway, for reasons I’ll explain later.
How was I ever going to make it through life with that much stress and anxiety every day?
But the alternative seemed impossible. If I gave up saying yes to everyone and every request, if I put my needs before theirs, if I stood up for myself and learned to say no, they’d reject me, surely? There’d be rows, repercussions. They’d disown me.
The very idea was enough to bring on a panic attack.
But by now I was literally sick with the constant anxiety and stress over what to say and do, over who to be. I had to do something. So I set out to understand why the disease to please had taken over who I really was, why it consumed me.
I soon noticed that there were those who seemed immune to this disease. Indeed, many of the people I was constantly trying to please said what they thought, did what they wanted and yet were still popular, loved, respected even.
And not despite standing up for themselves, but seemingly because of it.
I started taking notes from them, learning ways to stand up for myself, to give a straightforward answer, to say no. It wasn’t easy at first, and I still need to check myself to stop falling back into my old people-pleasing ways to this day.
But the amazing thing is, there have been very few rows or repercussions. And far from disowning me, apart from a few people who were better out of my life, I am more liked and respected than I ever was before.
This week, for instance, I said no to my boss…without passing out in fear! I politely refused to do something I felt strongly was an unfair request. Standing my ground that morning removed a situation that had been hideously stressful for three years.
And far from falling into a fire pit of angry responses and reprisals, my boss simply respected me the more for speaking out.
Are you trying to please everyone? Are you afflicted with the disease to please?
Read on to find out why it will never bring you the approval and love you seek and what to do instead to reclaim the real you and cure yourself.
Why Trying to Please Everyone Doesn’t Work
1. You attract people less.
I had always looked up to anyone who had the strength to go out and be themselves. But all too quickly that admiration would turn to adulation. I found myself never speaking up, always going along with whatever they said and did, the eager puppy on their heels.
And then, when I looked dispassionately at how they really saw me, there was one overriding word that hit me—weak. Strong people seek strong people to be around, so it was not surprising they were polite but always chose their true friends elsewhere.
2. You love yourself less.
Because those very people you wanted to admire, respect, and love you now reject you, you tell yourself that you cannot be a lovable person. In desperation you increase your people-pleasing behavior and it becomes a depressing spiral.
The gap from the way you act to the way you really want to act widens with every people-pleasing act. This leaves you feeling disappointed and ashamed of who you have become.
3. You become more manipulative.
I would often feel resentful when a friend or colleague was asking for yet one more favor. They seemed to be manipulating me, taking advantage. Boy, that was hurtful.
But you know, once I’d looked logically at the way they treated me, I realized it was more down to the way I’d treated them. I’d set the rules for their behavior toward me. I’d been the one to say, “Hey, that’s absolutely okay, go ahead.”
In reality, I’d actually been the one doing the manipulating. Gulp!
4. You’re seen as less trustworthy.
Always agreeing or saying the “right thing” seems to be well-intentioned, but however you dress it up, hiding what you think isn’t telling the truth. And as humans we hear alarm bells when we sense that someone is being false.
It might seem like just a little white lie to flatter someone’s ego, but would you trust someone who only ever told you what you wanted to hear? Someone who hid their true feelings?
5. You end up with less confidence.
People find you untrustworthy because you only tell them what they want to hear, so they are hesitant to confide in you. So you never know what they are really thinking either, which leads you to feel less confident in dealing with them.
6. You end up with fewer friends.
Trying to please everyone is rooted in the fear of rejection. The irony is, because you end up seeming less attractive and less trustworthy, the very people you are trying to get approval from are often the people who reject you. Maybe not to your face, but in their hearts.
Without intimacy, relationships wither and die. And no one wants to be intimate or vulnerable with someone who hides their true feelings.
8. You end up with the worst of both worlds.
And what happens if you are trying to please two people who do not like each other? If you ingratiate yourself with one person and offer friendship, how do you now please that other person without un-pleasing the first? How do you decide who to please?
It ends with up both of them disliking you as they believe you must be betraying them behind their backs. Who wants a two-faced friend?
9. You become more resentful.
I have found this out for myself: you end up resenting the very people you’re trying to please. You feel they are taking advantage of you. However, when you are being honest, you also beat yourself up for trying to get them to like you by putting their needs before your own.
You imagine they only like you because you say yes to their every whim. And in truth, you have no real way of knowing whether this is true or not, so you become more and more resentful of them.
9. You hate the things you used to love.
Again, this is something I found from personal experience. For instance you may love cooking, maybe making cup cakes. So you offer to cook some as a way of getting love and appreciation.
But soon you are either cooking them all the time for one person or, once again, you become the go-to person and you end up cooking them for everyone. What used to be an enjoyable pastime now becomes a chore you hate.
And you’re not even sure any more if people actually like your cup cakes or if they are just seen as something free and easy they don’t need to put any effort into. Which is how you think they see your relationship with them.
10. You fail to please the one person that matters.
But the most important reason to stop trying to please everyone has nothing to do with everyone and everything to do with just one person—you.
Trying to please everyone is tied into the fear of rejection and the fear of failure. But the biggest failure in life is failing to be yourself. And the biggest rejection in life is rejecting yourself.
By trying to please everyone, you make both these fears come true.
Cure Yourself Of The Disease To Please
Trying to be please everyone is a disease.
Learning to be the real you, to stand up for yourself, to say no, is the only cure.
Make a promise to yourself to start today.
Gently and with kindness, tell just one person no. But tell them.
Not everyone will like or love the real you and that’s okay. You can cope, you are stronger than you think.
Because when you stop seeking the approval of others, you’ll find that you never needed it in the first place.
The world doesn’t need another insincere people-pleaser, the world needs the real you.
So step up and let the real you shine.
The world’s approval is waiting for you.
About Laura Tong
Learning to say no is one of the biggest steps in becoming a reformed people-pleaser. Grab Laura’s free cheat sheet: 5 Guilt-Free Ways To Say No Without Offending Anyone (Even If You Hate Conflict.
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