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Self sacrifice: 10 Signs That You Are A “People Pleaser”

Do you sacrifice your happiness for other people?

I’ve decided that my mission in life is more specific than just helping people design awesome lifestyles. I want to help a certain type of person.

The kind of person I used to be…

 

THE PEOPLE-PLEASER

(also known as “Mr and Mrs Nice Guy” and “Approval Seekers” – guys who are pleasers)

 

For most of my life I was cursed with a strong unconscious desire to please others and make them like me. Over the last few years I have been on a path of self-discovery that has led me to understand why myself and some of my clients are/were like this:

1. Fear of abandonment. For some reason we develop a child-like paranoia that if we aren’t “good enough” people will not want to be around us. We always aim to impress people with the quality of our work, skills, and other forms of entertainment. For example, I would often make fun of myself to make other people laugh (and make them think I was not “stuck up”), and I would feel awful if I got low scores on an exam.

2. Fear of rejection. We think that public humiliation, rejection and isolation are huge sources of pain. We do everything possible to avoid someone disliking us, or having a reason to reject us. For example, a number of men I worked with end up in the dreaded “friendzone” with girls because they never make a move sexually.

3. We think we are “good” for pleasing others. This was my biggest barrier to understanding that the pain I was causing myself was unnecessary. We feel that we HAVE to please others, like it is some Law of the Universe we are compelled to follow. We see other people taking care of themselves and think they are selfish. I used to see myself as a saint, using self-sacrifice for the greater good. Little did I know I could do so much more good in the world if I stopped trying to please others!

Are you an “approval seeker“?

Seeking approval is DANGEROUS.

Firstly, you’re chasing a rainbow. It’s impossible to please everyone, so you will never succeed in this goal. Secondly, you are leaving your self-esteem and confidence in the hands of everyone else. You have no power over it.

This article is about taking the power back; it’s time for you to own your self-confidence.

After years of exploring my own mind and the minds of hundreds of other approval seekers and people pleasers, I have come up with a list of 10 common approval seeking behaviours. If you do 3 or more of the things on this list, you are probably a “nice” person who is actually seeking approval in an unhealthy way.

Understand the difference between being a “good person” and “seeking approval”, because the behaviours look the same. It’s the MOTIVE behind the behaviour that’s different.

1) ALWAYS TRYING TO SOLVE EVERYONE’S PROBLEMS

…and then getting frustrated when they don’t take your advice.

For people-pleasers, nothing gets us high like a good hit of “fixing”. Fixing is our fix! We help people whether they want it or not. And when they don’t appreciate it, we seethe with frustration and injustice.

Here’s a thought: maybe, just maybe, when we try to fix other people’s problems, it’s more about us helping ourselves than them. We are therefore trying to RECEIVE value rather than give it.

What to do instead:

Ask first. Do NOT give solutions or problem-solve unless you have permission. And yes, you are really going to struggle with this one!

Secondly, use questions to get the person to solve the problem themselves. “So what do you think you need to do next?” and “What’s a better way you could have done that?” are two great questions to put the power back into the person’s hands.

Take no credit for this either.

 


2) GIFT GIVING

This can take the form of physical gifts or it may be something intangible like compliments. Again, if you’re doing this because you want to recognise a person for their contribution or success, that’s fine. But if you’re really doing it to try to influence how they feel about you, even just a little bit, then you are seeking approval.

One way to check is to honestly ask yourself:

“Would I feel any different about them receiving this gift if they didn’t know it came from me?”

If you can give anonymously without any feelings of missing out, or without the urge to make sure they know you gave it, that’s confidence. Another warning sign is giving gifts that the person doesn’t deserve, like complimenting someone when they haven’t earned it.

What to do instead:

First, stop giving physical gifts for 6 months, unless it’s someone’s birthday or wedding. Now, use this model to give someone some well-earned positive feedback every day. Only do it when you think they have earned it.

At least half of the time, make your positive feedback anonymous. Make someone’s day without being able to receive recognition for it. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels.


3) DOWN-PLAYING YOUR SUCCESS

I used to hate receiving compliments, even though I secretly tried to get them all the time. It was lunacy but I couldn’t help myself.

Approval seekers are averse to actually getting the approval they seek, for some reason. We have a toxic shame about success, like we should apologise for it. Particularly in New Zealand with our stupid “tall poppy syndrome”.

So we play down our success, using passive and weak ways of expressing it (like name-dropping or “accidentally” allowing someone to find out about it).

What to do instead:

Either give credit or claim it – never use a half-measure passive attempt. This means if you want to be recognised for something you did well, then recognise yourself shamelessly. For example, tell a “prison to paradise” story: tell someone HOW you succeeded and the barriers you had to overcome.

This story is a perfect example.

Or give credit completely to someone else. Talk up how you couldn’t have done it without a certain person.

Both of these methods GIVE value rather than take it. You either inspire someone through your story, or you recognise someone else through your praise.


4) ALLOWING PEOPLE TO CHANGE YOUR MIND

To avoid conflict and appear likable, sometimes we will fold in arguments. A particular people-pleaser strategy is to allow ourselves to be “won over” slowly, giving the other person a sense of accomplishment.

Trouble is; we’re lying! We still don’t agree but we want the other person to like us.

What to do instead:

Choose 3 BIG things you believe in more than anything else in the world. Be specific and strong; it could be something like “science has all the answers” or “Criminals should be rehabilitated, not locked up”.

Make a commitment to NEVER compromise on these things (unless you are presented with powerful new evidence). And for an extra challenge: find someone to argue with and don’t back down.


5) MEDIATING OTHER PEOPLE’S BATTLES

We approval seekers often feel like we need to resolve conflict. Why? Because we want to be the heroes of course!

If you find yourself unable to let other people have an ugly confrontation, if you have to step in and help, then you are probably doing it for yourself more than them.

What to do instead:

STOP IT. That’s it really. If other people are arguing, let them go for it. Even if you support one person more than the other, it’s not your battle. Stay clear of it.

Caveat: always step in if there’s violence. Approval seekers are often happy to resolve a conflict as long as they can’t get physically hurt or publicly embarrassed. So if you are presented with a rare opportunity to help someone who is being assaulted, take it. You’ll be glad you did, and you’ll hate yourself later if you don’t.

6) ASKING FOR “FEEDBACK” TO GET A COMPLIMENT

This is similar to the point about playing down success. When people-pleasers ask for feedback, they often do so in a way which guarantees them praise. Then they can feel guilt-free about receiving it, like “well it was his honest feedback, so I MUST be good!”

Ah, how well we bullshit ourselves.

What to do instead:

Ask for “brutal” feedback. Find something you’re working on right now and ask someone to tell you what you need to improve on. Say: “If you could change one thing about what I’m doing, what would that be? And please, be as straight with me as you can”.

Learn to take criticism in a controlled way. Rather than waiting for insults from idiots who are just trying to make themselves feel better, seek out real feedback from honest experts.


7) FIGHTING FOR WHAT IS “RIGHT”… EVEN WHEN IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS

Some people pleasers avoid confrontation. Others seek it out on purpose. Both have the same motive – they want to be liked by others. People-pleasers who appear to be confrontational are often doing it to IMPRESS others.

If you’re one of these people, you know it. You can’t sit back without sticking your two cents’ worth in, can you? You have to “win” arguments, and you prefer to have an audience when you do.

What to do instead:

Same as in number 4, limit yourself to things you will fight for due to your core beliefs. Let everything else go. Train yourself to ask questions instead of make statements, so that you can allow others to prove your point for you. Take none of the credit.

8) GETTING CHOKED UP EMOTIONALLY WHEN OTHER PEOPLE ARE BEING MISTREATED

People-pleasers absolutely hate unfairness. This is because we feel like we are the victims of it ourselves and so we really relate to others who seem to be suffering from it.

We will let someone else’s battle ruin our whole week. Even if we’re not directly involved, we can be as affected as the person who is. It sits on our conscious and we say to others “someone should do something about this!”

That’s when we start going into battle for others.

What to do instead:

Actually, going into battle for someone less fortunate is good. However, what you need to stop doing is diving in without being asked. Stop being a hero – again, it’s all about MOTIVE.

The solution? ASK first. If you see someone being bullied or mistreated, ask them if they want your help. This way you are giving value rather than trying to make yourself feel better. Try to support them on their terms, not yours. Ask them how you can help rather than assume you know best.

9) TRYING TO MAKE PEOPLE LAUGH

This isn’t limited to comedians. This also includes being the class-clown, or using self-deprecating humour to make other people laugh at your expense.

Does that mean making people laugh is a bad thing? Of course not. It’s the motive that makes the difference.

In this case, if you’re a people-pleaser, the motive is to make the people receiving your humour like you more. How can you tell the difference? Ask yourself this:

“Do I care whether or not they find me funny?”

If you feel bad when they don’t laugh at your jokes, then you are doing it to please them. If you don’t even bother to check if they find you funny because you’re just amusing yourself, that’s confident humour. BIG difference.

What to do instead:

Ask questions. Make other people entertain you with information, rather than trying to be the entertainer. Let go of your need to be the one everyone likes the most by trying to make someone else in the situation the star.


10) FEELING UNCOMFORTABLE RECEIVING HELP

We Nice Guys and Gals can’t admit that we aren’t good at something, right? Because then no one will like us and we’ll have to live in a hermit cave high in the mountains, eating nothing but possum droppings and twigs forever.

Admitting defeat is hard for people-pleasers. In school we were trained to believe that if we don’t know the answer we are BAD. “Red pen syndrome” as I like to call it. So we do everything ourselves and avoid receiving help or asking for guidance.

What to do instead:

Pay someone to help you with your current biggest issue or project. It may be a coach like me, a dance instructor, a business-mentor, community college teachers, a sports coach, personal trainers… whomever. Just make sure you admit to someone that you need help.

Do this ALWAYS. There should always be someone in your life who is helping you. This should be a healthy arrangement where there is an equal exchange in value. They help you in return for something you give them.

..

So…

Either this article really spoke to you personally, or you know someone who needs to read it. If it’s the latter, pass this on and share it around. You see, us people-pleasers often don’t know what we’re doing, we simply don’t know any other way! So help someone out today, you may rescue them from a lifetime of slavery.

16 Responses

  1. This was an eye opener experience. I took away two things from reading your observations. One, I felt relieved that I am not alone suffering from this “People Pleaser” syndrome and two, that I can learn to be my true self and feel confident.
    Thank you Dan.

    1. Awesome stuff Yogendra, I look forward to hearing more about your journey as you explore learning to be your true self.

  2. Thanks for this post who is really valuable for me . I’m a f*cking people-pleaser, and as long as i leaved. No more, i will do some effort to avoid it.

    1. Glad to hear it Soulaimane, I hope to hear more about your story as you break free of the people pleasing prison!

  3. I see people pleasing is a form of insincerity, trying to ingratiate yourself to whoever you know; including friends and enemies.. This means you are dishonest, don’t dare to disagree, and invalidate yourself to please the other. I am so dissolutioned that most NZers in Auckland that I meet engage in this practice and are proud of it. I value honesty, honest discussion and disagreement. What is the value of lying about yourself and what you want and what you believe to ingratiate to another person? Why do NZer Auckland people do it to their friends? How insincere and insulting is that?
    Caroline Mabry

    1. Hi Caroline

      Think about it this way – they’re scared of you. Most of the time, people pleasing is not malicious, it’s defensive

  4. I feel like you have a lot of great points here, but the whole friendzone thing. Eh. Women accept the friendzone because we’re happy with, and value friendship. The idea that friendship with a woman is a dreaded zone, holding little value without sex, and not therefore now worth bothering with, is pretty misogynistic.

  5. I’ve been doing research on how being nice, a pleaser or an approval-seeker related to my life and nothing hit home as thorough as this article.

    All needed to better ourselves.

    Thanks Dan

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