- Do you find yourself saying yes each time you are asked for help?
- Do you feel hurt when someone is upset with you?
- Do you go to great lengths to avoid conflict?
- Do you feel guilty every time you say no?
- Do you feel like you need an excuse when rejecting an invitation or request for help?
If so, you might be a people pleaser.
A people pleaser is someone who has a difficult time saying no, thus will go above and beyond for others even if it is at the expense of their own health or happiness.
I am a recovering “people pleaser.” Notice the word recovering and not recovered.
Slowly I have learned that being a people pleaser is not something to be proud of. It is not noble or kind. It is a problem that produces little seeds of resentment and leads to complete burnout if it is not managed effectively.
Let me give a little background. For years I have found myself falling quickly into the “yes” role. If I was asked to help with something, there was a 99% chance I would say yes. More than I would like to admit, I volunteered for coordinating events, consulted with business owners for free, saw clients on my days off, spent extra hours assisting co-workers with projects, cooked for group outings and spent numerous years doing things that others requested of me.
In theory, these things all sound very “nice”. In fact, these things are nice and several studies show that it is positive to engage in altruistic behavior. But not to the point of complete exhaustion. The problem is I did all of these things out of complete obligation. This stuff was not done with a desire to truly help, but rather because I felt guilty if I did not do them. My time was spent serving everyone else and even my family could see the toll it was taking. It was not uncommon for me to hear, “Emily you need to slow down.” “You look so stressed.” “You are overdoing it.” Needless to say, they were right.
My husband and loved ones did not deserve the frequent long hours away, grumpy moods, rushing behavior, migraines, overwhelm, agitation, stress, complaints and negativity that this people pleasing brought on.
The problem with being a people pleaser is it is easy to give to everyone, except yourself and the ones closest to you. One simply does not have the energy or capacity to give to the whole world and their family too. Thus, the families of people pleasers are at great risk of feeling uncared for.
There is a reason that we hear on airplanes, “In the event of an emergency, please put on your oxygen mask before assisting others.” This is because we cannot effectively help others if we are not well. Long term people pleasing leaves folks emotionally exhausted, mentally agitated and at worst they will experience full on burnout.
“Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place. Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give (Smith, 2017).”
Burnout is common among therapists and warning signs for burnout need to be monitored much more intensely than in other careers. It took awhile to recognize that I was on the brink of burnout and this people pleasing was harming me. Along with being a (recovering) people pleaser, I work in the helping profession. Helping people is what I do. However, there is no way I could continue to help people unless something changed. I had to get honest with myself and adjust to the growing pains of forgoing people pleasing.
These days, I work extra hard to set intentional, fair and healthy boundaries. I find myself saying no more often. Gently, compassionately, but ultimately no. Not only for my own wellness, but also for the sake of my husband, my family and my clients. It is not quite a perfected process, but there has been tremendous growth. One book in particular was a great resource for aiding in this recovery process, “Present Over Perfect.” This book resonated deep within my bones and helped me to remember that real kindness comes from a place of presence and sincere care, not through people pleasing.
Brené Brown could not have said it better when she spoke about boundaries and people pleasing. She states,
“I am not as sweet as I use to be, but I am far more loving.”
Smith, Melinda, et al. “Burnout Prevention and Treatment.” Preventing Burnout: Techniques for Dealing with Overwhelming Stress, HelpGuide, July 2017, www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/burnout-prevention-and-recovery.htm.
Thank you for writing g this. It was very helpful