Why People pleasing actually harms our Relationships

We already heard so much about the nice girl (or nice guy) syndrome. But in my opinion not quite enough because that kind of behavior is still expected in our society, especially from women. So maybe we should talk even more about the price we all have to pay for it. When people try to build relationships at their own expense, the relationships are not stable and everyone involved is unhappy. But people pleasing can also be a stress or trauma response that we often confuse with just being too nice.

What is People pleasing exactly?

People pleasing happens when we do something that we think someone else would like us to do and we maybe don‘t really want to do. But we still do it because we want to be perceived in a certain way. Now the difference between a loving act – like watching Star Wars with our partner although we don‘t really care for these movies but they do – and people pleasing is healthy boundaries. When we don’t have healthy boundaries we take care of other people’s needs but not of ours. As in saying YES when we really mean NO. Like taking on the grocery shopping and the cooking on a daily basis although we have full-time job as well. Or not speaking up when someone does us wrong. Or not talking about our needs at all and just assuming the other person should know.

Why do we People please?

People pleasing is a phenomenon that comes in layers. Like onions. Or parfaits. First of all most women have been raised that way. Girls have to be quiet, polite and do what they‘re told without any resistance. And if they are not, they suffer consequences. Yeah… patriarchy… a system the world doesn‘t need. When we have that conditioning running through our veins it takes a lot of time to undo the harm. Learning to trust ourselves more than societal norms and practicing to talk about our needs is hard work. But definitely worth it!

An unpleasant truth is that people pleasing is actually a kind of manipulation. We hide our own truth in favor of someone else‘s perceived needs to control the outcome of the interaction. Because we want them to like us and are trying to make them like us. Please don’t get me wrong here. Being kind and loving to others is not people pleasing. If you are kind, you don’t have an agenda. You do nice things for someone else without an expectation of ever getting something in return. (Of course within healthy boundaries without overgiving.) With people pleasing on the other hand you do nice things because you want to be liked, loved or admired by someone.

But it could also be a stress or trauma response. There is more than the fight or flight response that most people know about. In dangerous situations (perceived danger is already enough for our brains) we can experience a freeze or fawn response as well. Freeze is what happens when an antelope is being attacked by a lion and loses the ability to move her body. Or someone who is being criticized and unwillingly checks out mentally in that moment. Heidi Priebe gives a very good explanation on the not yet very well known fawn response. She says that when we perceive a situation to be dangerous and go into fawn response, we give up on all our own needs and focus only on other people‘s needs. Basically we say yes to anything just to survive. And we don’t even understand why.

Why is People pleasing harmful?

First of all it cuts us off from other people emotionally. When we cannot really be ourselves around others we cannot fully connect to them. They don’t see who we actually are because we never show what we really want and need.

Also when we suppress our needs constantly to fulfill only someone else‘s we build up resentment towards that person and sometimes towards the whole world. At some point we lash out at them because it has been too much to hold onto. That way we can destroy our relationships very fast. Without even knowing if that other person would have been happy to give us what we need so much.

And if we don‘t destroy them that way, we at least show the other person that we are not trustworthy. Even if we act as if everything was fine, other people feel that something is off. That we are not telling the truth on some level. Maybe they cannot point out what is wrong exactly but they probably feel it. And of course their instincts tell them not to trust us.

If we are always nice to others and give them everything we can, no matter how they treat us or what they give us back, people lose their respect for us. And they take us and everything that we do for them for granted. In a way we might condition them to not think twice about how they talk to us or treat us. Because there are absolutely no consequences for bad behavior.

Even worse, that way we can get involved with people that use or abuse us over and over again. Because these kinds of people always look for opportunities. They test people and stick around when they find themselves to be successful with their tactics.

As if that was not enough, constantly being inauthentic and not getting our needs met in relationships makes us just unhappy and emotionally hungry. And it makes us physically sick, too. (If you would like to learn more about that, listen to any Gabor Mate interview or read one of his books.)