Psychoanalysis

Help For People Pleasers

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On the surface people pleasers seem laid back, amiable, and happy to go with the flow. But underneath, in the private world of their psyches, a storm rages. What they really feel is hostile and resentful. They feel pushed around and bullied. They feel angry at others for taking advantage of them. And they feel drained, drained at constantly having to put up the false facade of cheerful compliance when what they wish they could do is say no in no uncertain terms.

Therefore the first and most important thing people pleasers must embrace and fully own is that the hostility, resentment, and anger they direct towards others is a clear cut case of projection. They’re not actually upset at others for making them do things they don’t want to do, they’re upset with themselves for doing things they don’t want to do, for feeling compelled to say yes despite their authentic needs and desires telling them to say no.

Why do they have such a hard time saying no? The concrete reasons are usually opaque to them. It’s  more like a feeling of dread that something bad will happen in their relationships and their lives if they stop putting up the friendly, pliable false front and start making their true thoughts clearly known. We might say that people pleasing is, in effect, conflict avoidance. People who become people pleasers have an ambivalent relationship with conflict. Their solution is to transfer conflict from the external world, where it’s perceived as unsafe, to the internal world of the psyche, where it might be painful but is at least safe in that there’s little risk of rejection or ostracism.

Summoning up the courage to say no when a no is called for starts with the realization that the world isn’t going to suddenly stop spinning upon vocalization of that no. The imagined bad consequences are way overweighted. Even rejection or ostracism, the most feared outcomes, are not the end of the world if and when they come about. We’ve all experienced rejection at various times in our lives. Sure it hurts, but most of us don’t stay down for long.

Actually what most reformed people pleasers notice as they start to stand up for their own needs and wants more is that the remain quite pleasing to people, despite or maybe precisely because of the fact that they make what they want and need known. It was a projection in the first place to believe others were forcing their compliant behavior. When most people hear ‘no’ they adjust their expectations and move on. They don’t resort to abusive, exclusionary tactics to try and get what they want. And one last thought for the struggling people pleaser desperate for a change. Why would you want to be in a close relationship with anyone who would ostracize you for being clear about what you need to be happy and healthy?

Greetings I'm Michael, the owner of Evolution Counseling and the author of all the articles on this site. I got my master's degree from Seattle University in community mental heath counseling and have committed myself to advancing my knowledge of psychology and my own theoretical system ever since. The content here represents my personal evolution of thought. I've also become a big fan of photography and I take all the pictures you'll see at the top of articles. We don't advertise to get traffic so this site's increasing popularity is grassroots, it's based on you and people like you deciding for yourselves that these articles are a good source for psychological insight and that they're worth sharing with others.