You know when you really want to say one thing, but you say the exact opposite?
We’ve all been there.
Whether it’s as trivial as agreeing to go with your friend to a movie that you didn’t really want to see, or as significant as being pressured into saying yes to trying a drug you didn’t want to try, people pleasing shows up relentlessly in our daily lives.
So what, you may ask? We want others to be happy, and that’s not a bad thing. And we want others to like us—that’s not necessarily a bad thing, either.
But it can become a bad thing when the stakes are high and the pressure of pleasing others trumps what we want to say.
People pleasing has lots of short-term benefits, which is why a lot of us struggle with it.
When I’ve had an exhausting day and by 8 p.m. all I want to do is crawl into bed and watch Gilmore Girls on Netflix but my friend calls me and absolutely needs to talk, I don’t tell her “you know, I’m just too tired to talk.”
I suck it up, put on real clothes, and drive to her house so we can talk. Because she’s my friend and I care about her.
Short-term, this is beneficial to our friendship because I’m communicating that I care about my friend, that I’m reliably there for her and that her needs are important to me. She may reciprocate in the future, or she may thank me and tell me what a good friend I am, which feels good. I may even become known in our group of friends as the “kind, helpful one.”
Hence, the extra effort to go over to my friend’s house and expend a lot of energy listening to her when I really just wanted to chill out alone.
Another reason we may feel driven to people please is that it feels like there are unspoken rules or expectations in a friendship.
A lot of times friends aren’t great at communicating, and a lot of things go unsaid, leaving certain tensions in the air. This can leave us feeling like if we say “no” to our friend in their time of need, they’ll get upset and maybe won’t even be our friend anymore.
So, we always say yes, to avoid the potential conflict. We always do what the other person wants. And we build up our own expectations that they’ll always say “yes” when we ask for something.
And the cycle continues, continues, continues…until a conflict or breaking point. But in the short-term, the easy thing is just to say “yes.”
Despite some of these reasons that we people please and the short-term benefits that are associated with them, people pleasing over time can be very damaging to both ourselves and our relationships with others.
Like I just mentioned, perpetual people pleasing in a friendship can create tension and unspoken expectations. When these expectations are not met, it can create conflict, which will likely confuse the friend on the receiving end because nothing was spoken or communicated well.
In addition, people pleasing doesn’t always make us feel great long-term. Eventually, we realize that we let people walk over us and that we’re always the one to defer to other people. Our self-esteem might actually decline.
Lastly, you sacrifice what you want — and depending on the severity of the situation, you may sacrifice what you value. While this could be trivial in some certain situations, it can really have a negative impact on you and what you hold dear. Over time, you may actually shift your values to morph into those of the people around you. Depending on who you surround yourself with, this could be a not so great thing.
So, what do we do? We know we shouldn’t always say “yes,” but at the same time, always speaking our mind may not be the best decision, either. Here are six tips that may help us to people please a little less and communicate effectively a little more.
- Understand your own worth as a human. When you realize that you have intrinsic worth, it’s a lot harder to just let people walk all over you.
- Think about what you value. What do you prefer versus absolutely insist upon? What are you not willing to change or sacrifice? When you determine these things, you’re able to discern when you can let someone else have their way and when you need to insist upon what you value.
- Learn how to say ‘No’ in the most effective way possible. If someone really is trying to pressure you, the best way to combat it is by respectfully telling them you don’t want to. Be sure to take into account their feelings, your feelings and the situation at hand.
- Make friends with people who respect you. Your closest friends should be able to listen to you, care about you and respect your choices.
- Have honest and open communication among your friends. Can you speak your mind honestly to your closest friends? Do they listen to what you have to say?
- Learn the difference between people pleasing and being a good friend. When you are putting your own physical, mental or emotional health in jeopardy, or are compromising your personal values in order to do what someone else wants or says, then you’re people pleasing. When you are choosing to do something for someone else because you want to help or serve them, then you’re being a good friend.
Now, you’re armed with some tactics to take into situations where you feel pressure to people please.
You’ve got this!
You don’t have to always concede to what other people want. And when you do, it’ll be your choice, not because someone pressured you to. Get ready to feel empowered!
Lizzie Timberlake is a CCPE intern and senior at Indiana University studying psychology.