Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: People-pleasing

August 06, 2019 / by / 1 Comment
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Dr. Deb Wade

By Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services

Thinkers of ancient Greece held the notion of “moderation” in high esteem. Hesiod, a Greek poet and historian from the ninth century B.C., claimed, “Observe due measure, moderation is best in all things.” And the Greek philosopher Aristotle promoted “moderation in all things.”

Doesn’t that still hold true today? It just seems that anything, to an extreme, can result in a life out of balance. Sometimes even GOOD QUALITIES, when exhibited in an extreme, can be unhealthy.

Are you a people-pleaser? Of course, it’s healthy to care for others, to want to do things that are pleasing to those around you, and to care about others’ feelings.

BUT when that trait goes to the extreme and is no longer in moderation, negative results surely will present themselves. Attempts to be a “nice person” certainly can backfire when your behavior crosses over into people-pleasing.

You can be a kind and considerate person, one whom everyone loves to be around, without trying to achieve the impossible task of pleasing everyone every time, all the time.

Let’s look at some revealing signs:

  • You feel responsible for how others FEEL.
  • You go to great lengths to avoid conflict.
  • You tend to say “yes” to others’ requests even though you don’t want to do it or you don’t have the time/energy/resources available.
  • You put a lot of energy into trying to impress others.
  • When you are in a group of people, if someone is not having fun or is not happy, you feel responsible.
  • You often feel overburdened or overscheduled in trying to accommodate others’ needs.
  • You often seek praise and approval from people in your life.
  • You usually don’t tell people when you’re offended or when your feelings are hurt.
  • You often apologize, even if you did nothing wrong.

Whew! Do these sound familiar? If so, are you exhausted? Logically, it is impossible to please all the people all the time … and it’s downright unhealthy! Remember these critical results from a lifetime of people-pleasing:

People-pleasing could damage relationships. If you find yourself being a chameleon in your relationships – trying your best to be all that the person you are with wants – not only will you lose yourself and your own identity, but you may lose the relationship you are trying so hard to hold onto as well. Who wants a puppet as a friend? And who wants a martyr for a friend? (“I do everything around here.”) People-pleasing backfires in the very relationships we hold most dear.

People-pleasing could cost you your own identity. Suppose someone asks, “Where do you want to go eat tonight?” … and your response is, “I don’t care; whatever you choose is fine.”  Then, suppose this person chooses Chinese. The problem could be that you don’t even like Chinese food, but now you are stuck. Forevermore, this friend will suppose that the go-to place to eat for you is the nearest Chinese restaurant. You see, when you yield your own desires, needs, thoughts, plans and dreams to meet the needs of others, before too long your own identity is yielded, too. On top of that … you are exhausted.

People-pleasing ultimately can cause resentment. Of course, it is so very important to be selfless in our relationships — to a healthy degree. That is, denying self to please someone you love results in pure joy. However, if you EXPECT reciprocity from all that you are yielding all the time – and you don’t receive it – you may wind up feeling resentful, angry and downright puzzled at why you don’t seem to matter to this person. The antidote is healthy reciprocity in a healthy relationship. Accepting that you cannot please everyone is liberating.

Remember, your words and your behaviors and your choices must be in line with your beliefs before you can live a truly authentic life. Of course, the other extreme – not giving a flip about what others think or feel – has its own set of unhealthy results!

The answer? As the great Aristotle said: “Moderation in all things.” Giving of self, pleasing the ones you love and care for, and yielding your own needs in order for others to have theirs met are very admirable and praiseworthy traits … when in moderation!


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One Response
  1. David Doyle

    Hi Deb, I love your articles but I have to disagree with you on this one. The Bible says not be people-pleasers at all but rather do all for the glory of God. Colossians 3:22-24 comes to mind:

    “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Col. 3:22-24 ESV)

    Aug.08.2019 at 2:28 pm
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