The Need to Please

Helping people can feel really good and is a natural human behaviour. We want to bring happiness to the people that we love. However, it may become too much when the needs of others take priority over our own needs. The difference between simply helping others and people pleasing, is that we over extend ourselves beyond what we are willing to offer at the sacrifice of our needs or wellbeing, and take over the responsibility that others have for themselves. It might also come in the form of not allowing ourselves to have a voice when others say something that hurts us, out of fear of hurting their feelings or upsetting them. We may do so by telling ourselves that it is not that big of a deal, that it is not their fault, or that it is not worth saying anything as it will just make things worse. However, it takes energy to suppress what we are feeling in order to keep others comfortable. Furthermore, it does not offer the other person the opportunity to interact with you differently, as they may not know that they have hurt you. This could lead us to become resentful, tired, and even disconnected from others. It might take so much of our energy to always be caring and worrying about the other person’s need, wellbeing and happiness that we can lose touch with your own needs. Of course, in the short run, it feels good to be helping others feel better and to feel needed. And, it can feel really good to have people like us because we are helping them. But eventually, it can get to the point where doing so much for others becomes exhausting and can feel like it is just never enough. Furthermore, the people we are helping might become dependent on us to make decisions, to find their solutions and to keep them happy. Of course, humans have a tendency to want to help one another, but when we become responsible for other’s responsibility, it can become a big responsibility of a task that is out of our control.  

Pleasing often stems from the need to be approved and to be liked by the very person that we are pleasing. The downside to this is that it gives all the power to outside sources for us to receive approval. In addition, looking for approval outside of ourselves can bring us into a perpetual cycle of a search for approval. When our approval comes from outside sources, it can feel like it is never enough, and when it is over, there is a need to return to pleasing again so that we can get more approval. Not only that, but it leads us to living a life based on other people’s expectation of us and can cause us to live a life further and further away from what we truly want for ourselves. In fact, we start to live our lives based on what others want from us, rather than living a life that we truly want to live. While we are relational beings and of course want some form of approval from others, obtaining it only from outside of ourselves and based on what others want, does not bring lasting feelings of belonging. 

If this rings true, you can start by observing in what areas of your life that you please others. You may want to reflect on how it is affecting your mood. You can reflect back on how it feels right at the moment that you are pleasing someone, as well as what it feels like when you are away from that person. In the moment, it could feel great to be helping others; however, later you may feel drained, overwhelmed, burned out, resentful and angry, which is a sign that you are over-extending yourself. In order to know what is driving you to please, it could help to reflect on how you would feel if you said no. What feelings come when you think about saying no? Start by observing how you respond in your relationships. There are always two parts, where on the one hand, someone might be highly demanding of your time, and on the other hand, there might be a way that you are not holding on to your boundaries and giving in. If you offer your time, the other person will of course take it. It is important to observe yourself in your relationship and look for the part that you play that continues to contribute to what is no longer working for you. Rather than waiting for the other person to change, understanding your own pattern can help decide what you want to do differently for yourself in order to break the cycle. They may like the way things are going, and so if you never do anything differently, things might stay the same.