Everyone likes to be pleased. And we all of us put out vibes to others letting them know how it is they can please us. Some of us are very susceptible to the vibes put out by others and we fall into a pattern of succumbing: we give others whatever they seem to us to want from us to make their lives easier.
This people-pleasing pattern harms us. Without fully realizing what we are doing we will unquestioningly give others the results they wish. In doing so we may suppress or not even bother to ascertain our own feelings and inclinations, from which we become detached. We do this with our parents, our spouses, our children, our friends and also in business negotiations. When we are selling a house or car we accept an offer that is lower than the price we might have obtained. When we are buying we pitch our offer higher than we might have done to avoid upsetting or offending the seller.
But the monetary cost to us of people pleasing pales into insignificance beside the psychological cost. The suppression of our own feelings and inclinations, our own needs and welfare, builds inner tension and affects wellbeing. The accumulated stress is evidenced in various ways. We may be chronically anxious or depressed and we may exhibit defensive behaviors including irritability, process addiction (for example, compulsive shopping) and self-medication with alcohol or other substance.
Underlying our pattern of people pleasing are early family experiences from which we concluded that it is of vital importance to us to keep other people happy. The idea of making someone upset or angry fills us with dread – although we may not be fully conscious that we have these cognitions and that they govern our behavior.
The work in psychotherapy of bringing to consciousness and exploring these cognitions, those memories and that dread releases us from the people-pleasing pattern.
Emerging from people pleasing feels like emerging from a dark cave into the light. It feels like growing wings. New possibilities – never before available – present themselves. We offer the price we are prepared to pay for the commodity we wish to buy. We tell our friend that we wish to have dinner at 7 o'clock and not at 8. Curiously, when we do these things, we do not provoke the anger of the seller or lose the love of our friend. It feels as if we have entered another world. We had, as usual, forearmed ourself with that slight, almost imperceptible inner tension we experience when we think we may be asking someone for something the person does not wish to give us. We find, initially to our surprise, that we didn't need the anticipatory tensing.
As we experiment further with new, more adaptive behaviors in explaining our position or asking for what we need, we grow more accustomed to others' positive response. We experience the anticipatory tensing less and less: the other person is not angry or upset and is responding to us in a way that suggests our relationship is as strong and cordial as it was before we made the request or offer or explained our position.
As we emerge from people pleasing we discover that our environment is very well able – much more so than we ever before dreamed – to tolerate our expression of our feelings and needs. What we want has equal validity to what others want and is experienced by others as perfectly reasonable. If what we want and what others want are not quite the same thing, we are able to negotiate calmly and fairly. We are free from the crushing burden of having to subordinate our self to others' preferences. We have finally come into our own.
People-pleasers are disempowered individuals. The foregoing description accurately delineates the path to and experience of empowerment.