A friend is complaining to me about her family.
“The problem is that I’m such a people pleaser,” she says. “I always put everyone in front of myself.”
She says that she doesn’t want to put her own needs first because then she’ll feel selfish.
With this type of binary thinking, your actions are either people pleasing or self centered.
The only time that you can “win” is if your people-pleasing actions also happen to meet your own needs.
I’ve noticed that my friend who identifies as a “people pleaser” will sometimes snap. She is so accustomed to doing things for others that sometimes she gets to a point when she simply wants things her way, and at that point, will act out in a way that can be surprisingly self-centered. This type of behavior also manifests when people are very passive. They can be so passive that sometimes they act surprisingly aggressive in backlash to their usual passivity.
But, we don’t think of being passive versus aggressive in a binary way. We see it on a scale, with being assertive in the middle.
I think that the same principle applies when thinking about being a “people pleaser.” Those who identify as “people pleasers” sometimes think of themselves as martyrs. They see their selflessness as being a testament to their character, when really it is a sign of imbalance, much in the way that being too passive is.
Instead of being either a “people pleaser” or “self centered,” someone who is assertive considers the needs of those around them, while also making sure that their own needs are being met. It’s not a zero sum game. When this balance is struck, a person is able to operate in an assertive way.
The next time someone laments the toll of being a people pleaser, it can be helpful to let them know that there are healthier options available so that they can manage their interactions in a more assertive way. Being a people pleaser simply isn’t sustainable, but being assertive is.