The Origins of the “People Pleaser”

Do you find it difficult to say no to others?  For example, you say yes to requests from other people even though you are already terribly busy and feeling stress and pressure from commitments?  If so, you may have a “people pleaser” within you.

This “people pleaser” part of you develops for a reason and it has likely been around for a long time.    As we develop, we want to please our parents and primary caregivers since we are dependent on them.  We need a loving connection with them since this creates safety and helps us develop into healthy and emotionally resilient adults.  If we feel we have made them angry or upset with us, or if we sense their displeasure, we do our best to turn this around. 

Growing up, you probably had a lot of rules from your parents because they care for you and love you.  They want to shape you into responsible and moral adults.  If you run into a busy street without care, a worried parent might yell at you or speak sternly, so you learn not to do it again.  However, there are other times you might sense your parents’ displeasure and this creates conflict within.  You won’t be aware of this on a conscious level rather it registers deep in your psyche.

Imagine a child coming home from school with their report card and the parent says, “you can do better” or “why didn’t you get an A?”  Or, perhaps during hockey practice, a parent yells instruction at their child and then afterwards dissects how they could have done better.  The parent may think they are providing encouragement but what may be happening is that the child is learning they are not okay the way they are.  They internalize that a parent’s love is conditional on certain ways of being.  And, since it is critical to have the loving connection to the parent for the child’s sense of being okay, they learn ways to please the parent.  If they please mom and dad, they will not get angry, they won’t withhold love and attention and they won’t abandon the child who cannot care for themselves.

This all happens at a subconscious level within the psyche.  And we may never become aware of this people-pleasing part of us until things become unmanageable and we seek to understand ourselves better to change our lives and our way of being.  Once we gain awareness of our people-pleasing part, we can then better understand its purpose and accept it is there for a reason – to keep us connected and feeling loved.  With awareness and acceptance of this part of us, we are then in a position of personal power.  We can make the choice between following the people-pleaser or letting it know that things are okay.  That we are okay, and we understand why it is there and that it does not need to do this job anymore.  We are all grown-up now and we do not need to please everyone.  It’s okay to say no when we need to.