The Dark Side of People Pleasing: 5 Warning Signs

November 23, 2021

People-pleasing behavior is both necessary to our humanity and good if it is engaged with for the right reasons…Is your need to please healthy?

To some people, like me, there is no greater feeling in the world than to know that you have made someone else’s life brighter. For a small segment of the population, the need to please others far outweighs the need to please oneself.

I know it is hard for those who aren’t driven to make people happy to understand, but people pleasing syndrome is really a thing. It is a personality style that is both gracious, altruistic, and self-sabotaging. Yes, there is a dark side to being “too nice” and caring about other people’s happiness more than your own. 

 Why Do People Have a Need to Please?

People pleasers are all motivated by the same things praise, being liked, and avoiding conflict. Almost all people are pleasers at some point in their lives, usually when they are children. Early on, we tend to want to please people like our parents, peers, and teachers. Wanting to please people alone is not unhealthy; it is natural. If we didn’t ever want to please other people, we would all be self-serving. And if that were the case, I doubt that the species would survive.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to please others unless it is an addiction. When the need to please people trumps the adverse effects of always putting other people first, then it becomes incredibly detrimental and harmful.

So, where is the line drawn?

There is nothing wrong with wanting to make other people happy. But if you are continually seeking to satisfy everyone else’s needs but your own, then it might be time to examine whether you are doing it because something is lacking in you. If you are pleasing people to gain acceptance from them, whether you agree with them or not, then you require self-approval and acceptance and are seeking to get it externally.

The DarkSide of People-Pleasing Syndrome: Why Pleasers Need to Please Others

1. To avoid feeling bad

Some people will do just about anything to avoid conflict and the uncomfortable nature of it. People who please to avoid confrontation need for their external environment to be filled with peace and harmony. It is easier for them to please someone else and go along with the opinion of them than to stand up and potentially cause conflict. 

Some other people are pleasers because they want to avoid feelings internally that are uncomfortable, like the fear of:

  • Rejection – People pleasers might feel the need to please others because they are afraid if they are honest about how they feel, they might be rejected. And that is a very uncomfortable feeling for them
  • Disappointing – For some people-pleasers, seeing someone else disappointed makes them feel internally bad about themselves and what they did
  • Being criticized – People-pleasers tend not to be like being criticized. They interpret it as an assault on their self-worth
  • Loneliness – Most people want to fit in, but for the people pleaser, they think the only way to fit in is by going along with what others want
  • Guilt – When people-pleasers say “no” to people, it makes them feel guilty, which drives them to do things that they really don’t want to

2. They are Looking for Something in Return

Some people with people-pleasing syndrome might subconsciously or consciously be doing what they do with a hidden agenda in mind. They think that if they are nice to everyone else, everyone else will be nice to them. For some, there is an expectation behind their being nice. Typically, however, they are entirely unaware that they are trying to manipulate a situation by pleasing someone to get what they want.

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3. Some are Highly Impressionable

Some people-pleasers aren’t really people-pleasers. Their intention is not to please others, they are just highly susceptible to being swayed by others. These types of people-pleasers are into new trends, concepts, and ideas not to please others, but because they think they are cool. It isn’t either that they are trying to please or that they want anything in return.

It is just that they are so impressed by what other people do and say, they follow blindly. Teens and children typically engage in this type of pleasing behavior. When you lack self-awareness, you are more likely to follow what other people think or want than to think for yourself.

Children usually believe most of what they are told, and they don’t have any boundaries. People who tend to change their principles and end up being whoever other people want them to be can mistakenly be thought of as a people pleaser.

4. They Find Self-Worth in Doing Things for Other People

Some people don’t value themselves enough to put themselves above others. They base their entire worth on how much they please and do things for others. When they are at work, they are continually helping others finish their projects. At home, they are the “go-to” person that everyone runs to. They over-give to the point where it is smothering and unhealthy.

When someone doesn’t feel worthy, it is not unusual for them to feel valued by helping others. It is a good feeling to know you are in high demand and needed. That makes you feel like you have value. But it is also highly dangerous to look to what other people find your value is to determine what you think yourself. For self-worth to be healthy, it has to come from inside, not to be associated with what others believe your worth is.

5. They are Hiding the Secret That They Don’t Love Themselves

Some people pleasers do what they do because they secretly don’t really love themselves. Their extreme desire to be loved and liked leads them to seek love from the exterior and fill the void they have within their hearts. A microcosm of that situation is the way that children work so hard to obey their parents to receive love from them. Since children don’t yet understand unconditional love, they are afraid that if they don’t behave, they might lose the love kids so desperately crave.

People who please others because they don’t love themselves also refuse to allow others to help them in return. They feel as if asking someone else for help or allowing them to help, is a burden. Please, who don’t love themselves, don’t want to waste anyone’s time or tell anyone their problems. They are always the first to offer up help, but can not fathom being kind to themselves by receiving it. 

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The One Healthy Scenario

Scenario 6 – They are Just Compassionate Good People and Please for Healthy and Altruistic Reasons

Some people gain pleasure from helping others and being altruistic. It is something that they seem to be born with, and it heavily guides their lives. It can sometimes be challenging to discern between the person who doesn’t value themselves enough not to be governed by pleasing others and the person who is just genuinely compassionate. There is one main difference, the person who is a compassionate people pleaser in a healthy way does consider themselves.

They might seek to please people but not to their own detriment. The healthy, compassionate people pleaser does not think that being “selfless” is about wholly disregarding what they want and what is right for them. To them, it means putting their own desires aside to help others who are worthy of it. Pleasing people is not their responsibility nor their obligation, it is something they do when they can. And they don’t burn themselves out or put themselves into harmful situations by putting the needs of others in front of their own basic needs.

People Pleasing Isn’t Inherently Unhealthy

There is no denying that the desire to please people is a necessary component of our human nature. It gives way to altruistic and herd benefits that have been instrumental in helping the species survive for as long as we have. But there does come a point where the need to please people can be mentally unhealthy.

If you find that you are putting other’s needs over your own to your detriment, then that it is not something that will serve you well. Although you want to be your best and do things that make you feel good if doing things that make you feel bad, feel good, then that is not the right emotional balance to strike.

It is okay to want others to be happy, but not if you are expecting something in return, being taken advantage of, or doing it because you don’t love yourself. Sometimes you have to pick apart the reasons why you do something to truly understand whether you should consider another avenue or if it is getting you the life that you want. Saying “no” is not a bad word, nor should you ever feel guilty at needing to put yourself first. 


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