Article by Dr Karen Kaye Graham, author of Accept How You Feel and Mind What You Think
It can feel really good to please someone or when we make people happy. However, there is a big difference between doing our best to please some people – and trying too hard or expecting that we can please everyone.
Trying too hard to please someone is stressful and can lead to more disappointment or frustration. We feel under pressure to succeed because we think we should be able to make them happy, or that somehow, we just need to do more. We remain worried or have concern in the back of our mind that they won’t be satisfied, or about not doing enough for them, or perhaps even being good enough.
Having the expectation that we can please everyone involves believing that it is always possible, and that it is our responsibility. But it doesn’t take into consideration that other peoples’ priorities and expectations can change. That their hopes and desires can change. That what they think, including about us, can change. The result is having more stressful worry and frustration as we try harder to keep up with what we think is being expected from us.
When we focus too much attention on satisfying people, the happiness we feel is very short-lived anyway. Our mind can remain vigilant about whether they are still happy with us, or we instantly look again to seek someone else’s approval. So how good we feel about ourselves will fluctuate, because it becomes dependent on how we think others perceive us all the time. Rather than being at ease about our efforts to please, we can end up with more self-doubts, and could feel like a failure when it doesn’t work out. We can be quick to question ourselves with, ‘What have I done wrong?’ ‘Am I good enough?’
Saying yes when you really want to say no
People-pleasers often have anxiety. To avoid disappointing someone or perhaps a confrontation, they will say yes when they really want to say no. But agreeing with them doesn’t make them feel better. They are left with nagging resentment or internal conflict about it, because deep down they know that they don’t want to agree or shouldn’t have to. And they worry about it happening again next time. In a way, people-pleasing is a type of self-sacrifice, because there is loss of self-esteem in the process of continually expecting this from ourselves. It genuinely hurts how we think and feel about ourselves.
When our focus of attention involves striving to make ourselves happy, prioritizing what is best for us, and on the people, who really matter in our lives, there is longer term benefit. We won’t rely on people in general to always be pleased with our efforts or answers, or to like us, but can enjoy it when it happens. We understand that peoples’ opinions, and their views of us, are out of our direct control. We can cope with feeling disappointed if we didn’t get a result we hoped for, or when others are disappointed with us, without being stressed about it.
What really matters is doing our best, while appreciating that there is no guarantee that everyone will be pleased with us. We simply enjoy trying to please some people without putting too much pressure on ourselves and can be satisfied that our efforts are good enough. We will also have greater freedom of self-expression, more confidence, and a stable self-esteem.
Companion self-help guides, Accept How You Feel & Mind What You Think, by psychiatrist Dr Karen Graham, available online and in all good bookshops as paperbacks and ebooks, £15.50