Growing up hearing how important it is to be helpful to others and how it is an excellent virtue to live by, no one teaches you when to stop. With constant positive reinforcement for every behaviour of a child that portrays helpfulness, we are hard-wired to constantly help others even if it’s not within our means. As time goes by, some even form an identity with such intense helpful character of theirs to the point others have developed expectations on them to be that way. Not showcasing the behaviour might just lead to your own self-esteem to get hurt or people with expectations to react negatively when you refuse to help them. It is important to acknowledge that being helpful in itself is not the problem, but what is bad is developing such a character that goes to any extent to be helpful, or be a certain way so others will be pleased with them (even if it’s disastrous to their own mental and physical well-being). Here’s why:
- You’ll evolve into someone who will neglect your own needs.
As much as being as people want us to be like will sound like the solution for all problems that exist and a way out of all the drama, being a people-pleaser is not healthy for the self. As you go through life each and every day complying to the wants of other people, you might evolve into someone who always puts the needs and wants of other people in front of yours. You will begin to invest more energy, time and other resources on others even if you are in desperate need of it. Consider being someone who is dealing with depression, but also a people-pleaser who constantly puts the emotional well-being of others before his or hers. It will be exhausting to your physical, mental and emotional self; ultimately leading to only the worsening of your depression.
- You don’t live an authentic life.
Additionally, when you keep saying ‘Yes’ to behave a certain way so that everyone else will be happy, you might be losing chunks of your own self, forcing yourself into things and situations that do not align with your core values. For instance, one of the most crucial decisions you’ll ever make in life is what you are going to pursue in your undergraduate studies. But just to please your parents and the dreams they couldn’t pursue due to circumstances you say ‘Yes’ to becoming an engineer when your real interest and passion lies in psychology where you plan to help enrich the lives of other people psychologically. Slowly, every aspect of your life will be changed not according to the way you want, but to what others expect you to be like; and in the long run, you end up not living your life on your own terms.
- Because we can’t hope people will understand.
Not forgetting that lengthy internal monologue to express frustration towards people who endlessly asks for favours when you fail to say ‘No’ can in no way help you. We certainly cannot hope that people who do this, including the ones who take advantage of you, would understand how unfair it is to treat you this way. Thus, your endless suffering for your lack of success to say ‘No’ can never in any way stop your torment.
Now that we’ve laid out all the problems that will come with being a people-pleaser, how do we deal with them?
- Self-acceptance of how the habit was developed.
However, all hope is not lost if you have unconsciously developed an attitude of people-pleasing. The first step is of course self-acceptance. For many, people-pleasing could have developed due to past negative experiences; such as losing a friend when you didn’t comply to their demands or being criticised when you’re not obedient to your parents, or maybe even a trauma that could have been avoided if only you were compliant. Accept what has happened. Acceptance doesn’t mean surrender in this case but truly acknowledging and understanding how you have come to form such an attitude. This is because so many people are not even aware of the fact that they are people-pleasers.
- Spot patterns through self-awareness and give yourself time.
The next should be self-awareness. Try to observe and puzzle out to what and whom you constantly agree and say ‘Yes’ to - when you don’t actually mean it. It can be certain situations like when people will dislike you if you were to disagree or a particular person who constantly needs your assistance. Make it into a habit to reply with ‘I’ll get back to you’ to give yourself a sufficient time to work out on your schedule to see if it’s manageable, instead of saying ‘Yes’ immediately out of habit. If you’re unable to help out, say the ‘N’ word! NO. The next time when your neighbour asks you to take care of her toddler for the 100th time and you truly feel like it’s not within your capacity to help out, politely decline by respectfully stating why you’re not in a position to help. Understand that you are not selfish for declining but just considerate enough about your own future well-being.
- Prioritise your needs.
Lastly, take care of your needs before others’. List down yourself and your needs as a priority. As the old adage goes, you cannot pour from an empty cup. When your priorities are sorted out, you will clearly see what are the things you’re not willing to compromise on when it comes to others needing you. If visiting your parents on the weekends is your priority, then make sure not to put others’ need for help on the weekends before visiting your parents. When you don’t, you only end up helping others reluctantly without getting any true happiness and satisfaction out of your deeds as you’re doing it at the expense of your own well-being. Instead of pleasure, helping others becomes a chore.
As much as being helpful and considerate about others’ feelings are important, it's vital to be conscious so they don’t make us into a people-pleaser. People pleasing can exhaust you to the point of losing your authentic self and hoping others would understand will not help. Thus, educate yourself and take the necessary steps to stop the people-pleasing cycle. It is important to recognize however that as we normalise saying ‘No’ to others when we mean it, remember to accept the ‘No’s of others’ without judgement and criticism.