I hope you are all keeping well and safe as the pandemic continues and, in many parts of the world, escalates once again. Again, please keep doing the basics – wearing masks and washing your hands – no matter how “over” this stuff you are.
We all often seem to get in our own way when trying to achieve whatever we are trying to achieve and so it’s no surprise that coaches find these self-limiting, and sometimes self-sabotaging, beliefs emerging in our sessions with our clients. Mostly, we don’t realise how we get in our own way; often, we are too busy blaming outside circumstances and other people when the real challenge lies within us. Last week, we discussed one of these self-sabotaging beliefs, perfectionism, and how some of us marginalise ourselves in trying to achieve the unattainable when really what we are looking for is quality and the maintaining of high standards.
This week I would like to talk about another ‘type’ of person that I meet in my sessions – the People Pleaser. Virtually all of these people are simply lovely people – they can’t do enough for us. What’s not to like! With all of us, not just Perfectionists and People Pleasers, something to remember is that our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses. And they’re our greatest weaknesses simply because we overplay our greatest strengths – we try too hard.
The People Pleaser, for example, is great at caring for or about people. The problem is, however, that at some point they start to look after the interests of others at the expense of their own interests. They become great rescuers, rescuing others at times when those others should take, and aren’t taking, responsibility themselves. Sometimes, a lesser-known variety of the People Pleaser is actually trading – they are giving (their strength) but, either consciously or more normally (I think) subconsciously, they want something in return, for example, acknowledgement or recognition and they can be pretty peeved if they don’t get it. For many People Pleasers, however, showing their “love” is unconditional.
People Pleasers are helpers and rescuers of other people – and that is really admirable. They are like the white knights that armour up, are lifted up onto their poor stead and head off into the sunset to rescue the lovely damsel or loyal colleague from an army of five hundred that kidnapped the poor victims, all of course at great risk to themselves. A little dramatic you might say, but often they simply can’t say no to these requests and, anyway, they can’t let people down, or they cannot be seen as selfish and so they put their money on being selfless.
So, what should one do if one is aware that one is a People Pleaser at heart (excuse the pun!)? Here are some practical approaches I have tried in my practice:
- Firstly, rather than thinking of being a white knight, they should be the passenger on the aeroplane listening to the safety regulations, particularly that bit about “if there is an emergency oxygen masks will fall from the hatches above you. Put yours on first and then help your child next to you.” Just as in this metaphor, you are only of use to another person if you look after yourself first – your interests first, then those of others. You are valuable in your own right; your self-belief and confidence suffer if you put yourself second all the time and those ‘muscles’ grow when your interests are of first importance.
- Often People Pleasers respond to this approach by saying that by not putting others first, they would be selfish, hence they choose the selfless approach. But the selfless approach, as I have hinted, eventually erodes self-belief and confidence. In any event, what if we are able to broaden our perspective on this and see the opposite of selfless not as selfish, but self-full – not full of self, but self-full, a fuller version of self?
- People Pleasers are often short on the balance between backbone and heart; in fact, they are long on heart (e.g. helping) and short on backbone (e.g. saying ‘no’). When we say yes to others, we are generally saying no to ourselves and when we say yes to ourselves, we are saying no to others. So, it’s not so much about ‘or’ as it is about ‘AND’ – it’s not backbone or heart or firm or fair, but about balancing the paradoxes; backbone AND heart, firm AND fair.
Finally, a cautionary note: please understand that the examples I use and commentary I provide are largely anecdotal and based on my observations of and experience with numerous clients over 20 years. Although I tend to read extensively, I am not a psychologist and the “theories” contained herein are intended to provoke thought, discussion and awareness. I hope that you enjoy them in the manner intended.