The Curse of the People Pleaser

The phone rang. It was Jack, “Hey, Peter! Wanna head into town? I’ve got some shopping to do and I don’t feel like driving all the way there on my own. What do you say?” I went along to help out and together we loaded up the car with the supplies he needed.

Another day Jack called around and wanted me to help him with some work he was doing on the roof of his house so I headed over there with him, we sweated in the afternoon sun and got the job done.

A few weeks later Jack was on the phone again. This time he wanted me to look after his dog for the weekend while he headed out of town for two days of partying. When I said “No, I’d prefer not to!” he was shocked and said he was surprised I wouldn’t help him out. After all it was only a small favor as he put it.

After that I rarely heard from Jack. I’d bump into him from time to time and he was always friendly but somehow always in a hurry. It was then that I woke up and I realised what I’d done – I’d fallen into the trap of being a people pleaser yet again. I was always ready to help but otherwise there was no friendship.

This was years ago and because of my history of being too available and helpful whenever someone asked I can now easily spot the same trait in others. Maybe you’ve had times when you slipped from being a good friend to being a people pleaser…

Do you find it hard to say no when people you hardly know ask for your help? Are you always available to to your friends even when you do so at great inconvenience to yourself? Are you the one always running around helping everyone else but rarely the one others are running to help?

If these patterns sound familiar you may be a people pleaser out of habit. Often we do this when we want to be liked and we know that people will like us sooner and more often if we are helpful and agreeable. And there is nothing wrong with that it’s just that unless you are confident and comfortable saying “No!” when you choose not to be the perfect and always available friend then saying “Yes!” doesn’t mean anything and other people know it even if you don’t yet.

If so called friends drop you like a rock if you are not ready to serve them at a moment’s notice then be thankful. You don’t need “friends” like that and when they leave they make room for people who will appreciate you.

A friend of mine who is a classic people pleaser has paid a high price for his always available and nothing is too much friendship policy. Unscrupulous people, more than once, have borrowed large sums of money from him and never paid it back. He just can’t say no to a friend in need even when these people are not real friends. He can’t see the difference because he needs approval so desperately. The last time I spoke to him his business had failed, his money was gone and he was planning to emigrate in search of new opportunities. Meanwhile his “friend” is driving a Jaguar, eating out everyday and partying like he’s won the lottery.

So you can see, this people pleasing fixation can drain you of time you could be spending with true friends, it can cost you a lot of money and it can leave you feeling used and abused. With that in mind, let’s make sure we minimise the damage these people can cause, let’s spot our people pleasing habit early and avoid people who would see our friendliness and generosity as a weakness.

Three Ways to Be a Good Friend and Not a People Pleaser:

1. Sometimes say no to small requests made by close friends and family. Like I mentioned above if you always say yes it becomes taken for granted and your opinion isn’t considered or valued. That’s why it’s good to keep them guessing and to exercise choice, get used to making the decision to help or not and don’t leave it to others to always decide for you. This way you contribute more to those who matter most because now you are truly committed when you say yes.

2. Be decisive and choose what is good for you and not just the other person when you are dealing with an acquaintance. For someone who is not a close friend you don’t have to bend over backwards to always be there for them whenever they need you. That kind of commitment and trust needs to be two way and it can takes years to develop. If your heart says no then trust it’s wisdom and say no.

Any true friend can and will accept that you’re not always available, it won’t hurt the friendship if you say no to a minor request. If it’s a major request then you’ll need to be more flexible and decide based on how willing and supportive your friend has been for you in the past when you’ve had a major issue to deal with. Regardless of the situations that crop up over time a good friendship is about give and take, it’s not about you always giving out of fear that the friendship will fade away otherwise.

3. Sometimes you need to test the state of a friendship especially if it’s after a run of favors performed by you for your friend. You can do this quite easily: ask you friend to help you out with some things and see what the response is. If you consistently find you don’t get the support and help you need then be unavailable the next time he has a minor request. This is a test. If you’re a habitual people pleaser you might need to do this to assess the state of the friendship in an objective way otherwise you’ll never pause to see if your care and attention is reciprocated. You may also need to learn to ask and to receive help from people, don’t blame others if you always turn down kindness with the excuse that you don’t want to bother anyone.

Over time you’ll notice that some of those so called friends drop away because they saw the friendship as a one way street to benefit them. Again, the sooner you spot these people the better so you can spend less time with them and be less available to help them.

To sum up, only when you appreciate your true worth will you stop being a people pleaser, when that happens you’ll naturally gravitate to people who’ll appreciate you for who you are. However in the meantime bear in mind the points above and make conscious decisions about who you spend time with and what you will and will not do to build and maintain a friendship.

Doing so will put you in the driver’s seat, you’ll have more time for the people in your life who love and appreciate you and you’ll willingly and happily help them out because you love them, not to win their approval because you’ll already know deep down that you have their approval and that it’s not dependant on your availability to run errands and do favors for them.

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