How do I stop pleasing everyone all the time?

people pleaser significant

Illustration by Djanlissa Pringels

In ‘Ask VICE’ we answer your life questions with the help of psychologists, experts and experiential experts.

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I have always considered myself an understanding and open person. A friend who is always ready to help you. Maybe it’s hard for me to say ‘no’ sometimes, but I’ve never felt that character traits defined me.

Until I read a tweet about people who always say yes are immediately considered assholes as soon as they stop doing this. It got me thinking: am I a pleaser? Am I too focused on being liked and “fitting in”—both of which are feelings I associate with my teenage years—and worried that I’ll disappoint people if I’m less available?

When I think about my own behavior and try to answer this question, I have to say a resounding ‘yes’. Since then, I can’t help but view all my relationships through this lens. I think about how I put some parts of my character and thoughts aside and adapt them to the person I’m with at the time. Or how I apologize for things that have nothing to do with me just to avoid conflict. What I’m really worried about has to do with my last relationship. For fear of losing this person, I didn’t dare end the relationship, even though I knew we weren’t right for each other.

And now that I’m dating again, I’m afraid I’m making things harder than they already are. Will I end up in the same situation again? What is the fine line between kindness and pleasing others? How do I stop being so afraid of being unwanted or disliked? And what will happen if I continue to live this way? Maybe I’m just pretending.

Thank you.

Hi R,

You are absolutely not pretending. Humans are social animals who naturally need feedback and validation. But as you said yourself, the interaction with everyone is different. And that is precisely the point of this conversation: how do we know what image the other person has of us?

“A pleaser always tries to make others happy, in any situation, no matter what it takes,” says Gianluca Franciosi, a psychotherapist from Milan specializing in couples. You probably already knew that, but as you yourself said in your letter, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between people’s happiness and general kindness. That difference lies in the “context, frequency and, above all, self-awareness” of that behavior, according to Franciosi. For example: do you say yes to absolutely everyone, no matter what is asked? Or are there people or situations that you easily say no to?

Most people adapt their communication style at least a little to the person they are talking to, based on their relationship with that person and the purpose of that conversation. Let’s say you’re talking to a new co-worker – you may consciously decide to be more approachable in order to gain an advantage, such as getting a raise or simply wanting to have a pleasant interaction. “This,” says Franciosi, “is a form of functional adaptation.”

But with people pleasers, this adjustment process continues, resulting in relationships where their individual “wants, needs, and personal beliefs are fully suppressedFrancis said. In these cases, “the social component of being accepted and meeting other people’s expectations trumps everything.”

In the long run, this can be harmful, especially since it leaves no room for people-pleasers to “get their real personality manifest,” he adds. Ironically, trying to please everyone around you can make you seem more uptight because you don’t feel free to be spontaneous and show your authentic self. In addition, “others can also become unsure of who you really are and where you really stand,” continues Franciosi.

Our tendency toward complacency or aggressive self-interest is on a spectrum, with these two opposing traits at either end. Everyone “fluctuates on this spectrum,” Franciosi explains. “The two extremes are dysfunctional, but there is a lot of behavior in between. If we realize that we are approaching one of the extremes, then it is worth taking action.”

Based on your letter, Fanciosi can’t really tell if you’re a “real” people pleaser or not. But you’ve clearly made yourself too available to those you care about most, even when you wanted to focus on something else.

Your trip getting older, you’ve also come to realize that you need a little more liberation and self-love in your life. “It doesn’t mean you have to be selfish, but rather that you understand that you can improve your level of satisfaction within a particular relationship,” explains Franciosi.

You wonder what would happen if you didn’t make tough decisions for fear of being unlikable. “Long-term dissatisfaction with a relationship can lead to stress, breakdowns and physical ailments,” says Franciosi. If you are in a dysfunctional relationship, your partner can also take advantage of you.

But how do you actually go about overcoming this fear? It’s a process that takes time, Franciosi admits, but the first step is to understand whether you’re agreeing to do something for someone because they’ve convinced you it’s a good idea or just because you want, that they should be nice to you. find . Then you have to train yourself to be more confident in your communication. It’s hard, but once you get your point across, you’re less likely to go back to it.

You also need to revise your attitude towards conflict. It can seem scary, but “conflict is also helpful because it can make you feel like a real person who stays true to their point of view,” says Franciosi. It is also a quality that people like and appreciate. In the long run, clearly communicating your needs and boundaries will actually earn you long-lasting respect.

Dating can be a good exercise in this regard. Because new people know little about you, you can appear more confident on dates than with someone closer to you. Over time, you’ll also have to internalize the idea that saying no to a loved one doesn’t mean they love you any less or change their opinion of you. And if they are, they are the ones with the problem – not you.

Ultimately, “it’s impossible to be liked by everyone,” says Franciosi. “It doesn’t automatically mean that they don’t like you either. They may also not care about you, and that’s fine too.”

This article originally appeared on VICE Italia.

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