Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Are You a People Pleaser?

 

                                      Are You a People Pleaser?

 

If you are a people pleaser, you may be attracting or repelling the Stress Monster. How so? It depends on you, your motivation and the results of your people pleasing. Let's start with the positive picture. The Stress Monster likes many four letter words but is displeased and disarmed by another four letter word: LOVE. When your people-pleasing is motivated by empathy, compassion, altruism and love, you will reap the many wonderful benefits of this way of being in the world. The Stress Monster will slink away, totally disgusted by your positive attitude. In this case your people-pleasing is motivated by love: love of the person you are pleasing, love of mankind and the world, and ultimately love for yourself. This is your motivation; not seeking any specific results for yourself, not self-aggrandizement, thanks, praise or power, just giving for the sake of giving.

 

Great thinkers, from philosophers to religious or spiritual leaders, see only two basic kinds of emotions, positive and negative; a cluster of positive emotions such as love, gratitude and joy with the other cluster being the negative emotions comprised of fear and anger. Your people- pleasing can be motivated by either set of emotions or a combination. But whenever the negative emotions color your people-pleasing behavior, the Stress Monster is immediately attracted. Instead of enjoying the benefits of selfless giving, the situation becomes much more complicated, and negative results outweigh the positive.

 

So when does people pleasing end up stressing you more than benefiting you? There are several problems with this way of being in the world. If you are a people pleaser, look at your motivation. If you think to yourself, "I should" or "I must" or "I have to" please or give to someone else, you are feeling coerced rather than freely choosing your gifts to others.  Feeling coerced or trapped into having to take care of others leads quickly to feelings of resentment. Instead of the wonderful warm expansive feeling, this approach leads to feelings of constriction, depletion and ultimately anger at others who appear to be taking advantage of you. You may be labeled or label yourself as co-dependent, serving others at your own expense, attempting to heal an inner emptiness by needing to please others. You may over give and not have enough resources to meet your own needs. Fear feeds this type of behavior and keeps it going, fear of displeasing someone, fear of saying no, fear of asserting your own needs.  You may act like a doormat and feel like a doormat.

 

A complication arises when you give money. In this instance, both parties should be clear as to whether the money is a gift or a loan. Sometimes you are asked for a "loan" but the recipient is unwilling or unable to return the funds. This leads to a stressful situation at least for you and often for the other party when they begin to avoid you. Loans should be treated like a business transaction. The agreement should be written with clear delineation of payment dates and interest if this is a part of the financial deal.

 

I don't want to present an overly positive picture of the altruistic lifestyle. Of course there is no stress free life. You may avoid the "companionship" of the Stress Monster, but still need to deal with the ordinary stresses of life. For example, when you are freely giving caretaking to a loved one who is ill or in home hospice care, you will need to cope with problems such as lack of time or money, worry or sleeplessness. Yet, when your care is freely given to a person in need, you will ultimately experience the heart felt benefits of true people-pleasing.

 

Let's look at a wonderful model of love and altruism, Mother Teresa. We don't all have to adopt her lifestyle, but we can look at her good works for inspiration.  When thinking about how life should be judged, Mother Teresa said she believes that God asks "How much love did you put into what you did" and not "How many good things have you done in your life?" If you want to learn more about the heart-felt life, check out my article on the Loving Kindness meditation in the Reading Room section of this website.

 

Additional information and clarification: this article is not primarily about relationships, although I will add some information in this regard. It's important to realize that "takers" look for "givers." The taker may just be someone with a lot of needs or maybe someone who habitually takes advantage of others. These people assume you will continue giving to them and that they have no reciprocal relationship with you. When you assume that your giving to them will result in mutual positive results, you will be bitterly disappointed. The people-pleasing discussed in the first part of this article does not assume a reciprocal relationship, but instead is giving for the pleasure of giving. If you are a giver and you are looking for a mutual positive relationship, you will be well advised to join with other givers who share your positive attitude toward life. The giving should be equal and balanced to ensure the best results for both of you.