Pleasing The People

Pleasing The People

Do you put others before yourself, even if it makes you unhappy? It’s time to end the urge to appease, argues Tea Adesanya

I have a question for you. Are you a people pleaser?

Perhaps you’re not sure. Don’t worry, I’ve got you. I’ve created a helpful quiz, just answer the questions below. But only if you want to! I wouldn’t want to make you do anything you are not comfortable with. So sorry for rambling. I hope my cleverly inserted illustration of people pleasing tropes wasn’t too jarring. I’ll let you carry on with the article. Sorry!

  • Do you litter all your conversations with vigorous nodding to signpost you’re in permanent agreement with everything that leaves your companion’s lips? Do you fear that if you stop, even for a second, your head will fall off and that person will be annoyed with you?
  • If there was a machine that could count all the times you apologised in a week, especially to strangers who bump into you, would it break due to overuse? And then bump into you, prompting you to apologise?
  • Lastly, how sick does the prospect of saying the N word make you feel? *Cough cough* My melanated self would expect a hard no from my alabaster sisters… But in this case, the N word is ‘No’. And if it makes you feel furiously queasy then you, my friend, might just be a people pleaser. 

First up, if you agreed with all those things in order to agree with me, you’re a people pleaser, kingpin. And the sycophantic world of people pleasing is a terrible place to be. It’s an abyss that has long kept many trapped as its perennially smiling prisoners. The people who live here are always keen to ensure that they are liked by everyone, and are so desperate to make sure no one’s toes are being trodden on, there isn’t a single toe left in this netherworld.

This is the place I’ve, reluctantly, long called home, tapping my toeless foot while patiently awaiting my release. But I’ve got a sneaking suspicion about this town… A conspiracy theory, if you will. The more I look around, the more it becomes apparent to me there is a gendered skew in the population. Why the hell does it seem like most of the Trip Advisor ratings for this place are from women? And of course, they all rated this hellhole five stars so as to not upset the owners. Is there, in fact, a gendered disparity when it comes to people pleasing characteristics? And if so, what are the lasting impacts on the subsections of society that struggle to enforce their boundaries, prioritise their own wants and leave honest Trip Advisor reviews? Let’s explore. 

What does it mean to be a people pleaser?

The main driving force for people pleasers is the appeasement of everyone around them. Often, their strongest motivator is the promise of external validation which, they hope, will curb the deep-seated insecurity that they’re not good enough. As a master people pleaser in reform, I can confirm it doesn’t work – you should demand your money back immediately. The people pleasing mindset falsely, and kind of egotistically, tricks us into believing that it is solely our job to make others happy. This inevitably leads to failure in setting up healthy boundaries, difficulties with taking strong stances and dealing with conflict, as well as debasing oneself in order to appear non-threatening. All of these trigger alarm bells for me, but the one that rings the loudest is the fact that people pleasers survive by being chameleons to everyone they meet. 

In the harshest of terms, we are liars. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, and it’s definitely not malicious, there is a level of pretence one has to keep up in order to be liked by everyone. This bit is the one that makes me most uncomfortable. Trust me, I am writhing in my chair as I write this. Facing up to the fact that my people pleasing might actually make me a bit of a liar makes my heart sink. But it is true.

Think about it, you can’t be favoured by all manners and flavours of people if you stay staunchly true to yourself. Case in point, while most people like chocolate, there are people, far more than we’d like to admit, who don’t. *Gasp*, I know…we move. But if chocolate was riddled with the need to people please, it would have to change itself for every taste bud it encounters. That is what we do, and that kind of crass morphing isn’t healthy for a stable and secure self-perception. There is no strength of character in that.

Of course, to some degree, we all change slightly depending on the context we find ourselves in. Your job interview voice will attest to that. However, it can be dangerously destabilising when you find that you are a radically different person depending on the faces you meet. Personally, I find that my core self stays the same. I don’t compromise my principles and values. But if I find myself talking to a significantly shyer individual, my body shrinks, my voice mellows and my smile rests on mild. Whereas if I’m colliding with a sasspot, I become rambunctious, unapologetically loud and significantly more animated. I’ll probably bust out jazz hands mid-conversation. I’m actually not impartial to a cheeky conversational jazz hand. But I notice these fragmented sides of myself unfurl depending on my companion and it bothers me. I don’t know if what I do is normal or not. But what I do know is that people pleasing can be dangerous to people’s sense of identity, as well as to their mental health and social comfort.

Are women more prone to people pleasing?

Women, as a group, have been societally conditioned to be palatable, to have an agreeable existence. That’s not news, is it? From the arsewipes who demand “gimme a smile” to the fact we are explicitly and implicitly told from childhood that ladies are meant to be subservient, we all have a thousand and one examples of how this remains a part of our modern day-to-day lives. So, is it really any surprise that women are skewed to be more people pleasing than men?

Susan Newman, author of The Book of No, writes that “Women have been raised to be caregivers and nurturers, which is why the problem is more prevalent for us than men.” The effects of having this ingrained in our socialisation can be massively harmful in a variety of ways, as the necessary insurgence of the #MeToo evidenced. The barrage of stories that came out of the woodwork showed millions of women have found themselves in dangerous situations where they felt threatened, but due to pressure and intimidation, couldn’t say no. Additionally, women in the workplace also suffer from this people pleasing trait, often struggling with asking for a promotion or to be paid their worth in the first place. They tend to rescind leadership positions due to lack of self-worth and are more likely to shrink themselves at work to avoid being seen as a bitch. The trend also impacts on our mental health and personal relationships, with women continuously sacrificing their alone time and feeling uncomfortable setting boundaries.

As we can see, people pleasing can seem like an insignificant personality trait at first, but when you take a closer look, it can be seriously detrimental. Good for Trip Advisor… Terrible for women.

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