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People Pleasers and Fear of Rejection

People Pleasers - The Fine Line between Generosity and Fear of Rejection

While consideration for others is an admirable trait, it can lead to problems when left unchecked. When we consistently put the needs of others before ourselves, we live our lives out of alignment and leave ourselves vulnerable to abusive, controlling people. If you've become a chronic people pleaser, learn how your excessive generosity can lead to mental suffering.

Why think about people pleasing?

Whether it's intended to court friendship, favor or love, unchecked generosity can be a fallback for people who struggle with social identity. Studies suggest low self-esteem can be a major catalyst for people-pleasing behavior. At the same time, some people struggle to say no, because they can't bear the stress it might bring.

According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience , agreeable people tend to follow people-pleasing patterns of behavior as way of avoiding social stress . Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers discovered that specific brain areas related to cognitive dissonance fired up whenever a subject was presented with an opportunity to say no. These areas of the brain also appeared to go offline whenever the participant opted for a "yes" response.

Are you a people pleaser?

Whatever the specific cause of their behavior, people pleasers tend to have similar characteristics, which include:

  • Fear of abandonment or rejection

  • Preoccupation with what others might be thinking or feeling

  • Fear of setting limits, saying no or seeming mean

  • Eager to gain approval or validation from others

  • Stuck in one-sided relationships which take more than they give

  • Having overdeveloped senses of personal responsibility

  • A tendency to neglect personal needs

Unfortunately, people pleasing isn't just a burden on your busy schedule. Over time, it can become a serious detriment to your mental and physical well-being. In addition to exhaustion related to meeting everyone else's needs, people pleasers tend to develop resentment, passive aggression, low self-worth, stress, depression, insomnia and more.

Breaking the pattern

It's not easy for chronic people pleasers to change their ways; however, you can move toward healthier behaviors by adopting the following mindsets:

  • Understand the origins. Ask yourself when you may have started this behavior, and see if you can identify your reasons.

  • Honestly assess the results. Has people pleasing made your life better or worse? Has it attracted the right people or the wrong ones?

  • Realize you have a choice. Understand that your feelings are just as important as those of others, and that you can say no to unreasonable requests.

  • Establish priorities. Ask yourself what is most important to you and honestly weigh the importance of these feelings before giving in to a request.

  • Stall your decisions. If someone asks for something, tell them to let you think about it. Many times, it's easier to say no when we've allowed anxiety to dissipate.

  • Evaluate the request. Take time to determine if you are being manipulated and ask yourself if you should be helping someone who would treat you this way.

  • Say no with conviction. Although it's fine to be appropriately empathetic, refrain from giving excuses when you refuse a request.

  • Be mindful. Try to stay focused on your current activities throughout the day, instead of ruminating about what others think of you.

When to seek help

Most of us learn as small children that pleasing others will bring rewards. While a normal part of development, this cause-and-effect behavior can cause big problems when carried over to adulthood. Many times, excessive people pleasing can be a symptom of other underlying problems related to childhood difficulties. If you are having difficulty managing your need to accommodate others, consider talking to a therapist to explore the reasons for your behavior, so you can develop effective strategies to change for the better.