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The People-Pleasing Puzzle

In this blog, we'll explore where the people-pleasing behavioral pattern comes from and discuss how it affects our adult lives.
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By Vince Blando

Do you say “yes” to things when you might not actually think it’s the best thing for you? Are you someone who constantly puts other people’s needs ahead of your own, often at the expense of your own well-being? If so, you may be a people-pleaser, though that may not be news to you if you’ve been living this way for a while. Let’s explore where the people-pleasing behavioral pattern comes from, understand its roots in our childhood, and discuss how it affects our adult lives.

Where Does People-Pleasing Come From?

To understand the roots of people-pleasing, let’s rewind back to our childhood (as we so often do when exploring our adult behavioral patterns). Dr. Nicole LePara, New York Times bestselling author of How to Do the Work states that “people-pleasing is a coping mechanism we learned to stay safe.” Sometimes as adults, we discover that we grew up in a household with a parent or guardian figure who was unstable on some level. That instability may have ranged from inconsistent emotional availability or response to abuse. As children, we’re unable to protect ourselves from such mistreatment. So, Dr. LePara describes that some children develop the people-pleasing pattern. If a child can neutralize the threat of their parent’s unpredictability by “pleasing” the parent in order to stabilize their parent’s mood or reactions, they have succeeded in protecting themselves from the emotional and physical toll that this takes.

As those children grow older, that people-pleasing pattern may cement in the brain as a coping mechanism. Some people-pleasers even label themselves as “chronic people-pleasers,” feeling the intense compulsion to put the needs of others before themselves, despite their best logical judgment.

Controlling Our Peers’ Perception

Dr. Nicole LePara takes this conversation one step further by stating that people-pleasing is, in actuality, not about the other person at all. Rather, it is about the people-pleaser trying to control the perception of the other person. As children, we may have wanted to “control” an authority figure’s perception of us. We may have wanted that figure to see us as perfect, quiet, loyal, or easy to be around. People-pleasing allowed us to influence our authority figures in an effort to keep us safe, and now that pattern is still trying to keep us safe even if the threats from our childhood are no longer here.

In our eagerness to please, we end up compromising our authenticity, putting on masks to hide who we truly are. We may agree to things we don’t want to do, suppress our feelings, or avoid conflict at all costs. The result of this is that we become trapped in a cycle of self-neglect and emotional exhaustion.

Breaking the People-Pleasing Pattern

Fortunately, the people-pleasing cycle can be broken. Dr. LePara provides a guiding light:

“Recognize that as adults, we no longer need to rely on people-pleasing as a survival strategy. We can learn healthier ways to establish safety and set boundaries.”

Dr. LePara

It all begins with self-reflection and self-awareness. Pay attention to the moments when you feel compelled to please others at the expense of your own happiness. Why do you do it? What emotions and fears are driving this behavior? Once you understand the root causes, you can begin to make conscious choices that serve you rather than reactionary ones that do not.

Codependency recovery coach Hayleigh Marie Paige adds, “Prioritizing your needs and setting

boundaries is an act of self-respect and self-love. It allows you to cultivate more authentic relationships where you can show up as your true self.”

People-pleasing is a common behavioral pattern often rooted in a childhood need for safety and security. However, as adults, it can hold us back from leading authentic lives and maintaining healthy boundaries. People-pleasing can lead to damaged relationships with everyone around us, including our Selves. Breaking free from people-pleasing isn’t easy, but with self-awareness and commitment to self-love, you can reclaim your life. It’s time to embrace your true self and create a life that genuinely fulfills you.

If you would like some help on the road to healing the people-pleasing pattern, we encourage you to bring this up with your therapist.

You can read more insights from the Evoke Mind + Body team here.

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