People pleasing is a problem that in my experience mostly afflicts women, but men certainly don’t escape this issue. It is difficult to explain this precisely, but the phrasing is quite intuitive: you strive to please other people, even though it may be at your disadvantage to do so. It comes under many forms, which I will explain, but it’s incredibly difficult to stop. Even if you point it out, most of the time the behavior will just morph into something less obvious. So what do you do in this case?
How to spot people pleasing
I’m sure that a lot of people will think it’s mostly others at fault here, but when spotting people pleasing you have to first look at yourself. It’s very easy to judge others for sucking up to others or being bootlickers. You can quickly find a reason to cast them out of the main social group and for some that’s their life goal, unfortunately.
For example, people pleasing can appear strategic sometimes. This happens in highly hierarchized groups, like classrooms or certain workplaces. Sometimes a person appears to take extra time talking to someone important or they might be bending to their will. There are people that are ‘temporary’ people pleasers and only do so for important figures, whereas others extend this behavior to pretty much everyone. So, despite someone being targeted for supposedly sucking up to the boss, they might be actually doing this with others as well.
When this happens, these people often end up being called ‘doormats’ or other less-than-nice terms. Abusive people seem to have a sort of detector – they can often single out people pleasers. This just leads to a very difficult abusive relationship where the abuser continuously takes from the victim, without any push-back. In casual conversations, people pleasers might adjust their likings to the ones of the dominant person in the group or they might simply refuse to voice their ideas or wants.
Why people pleasing exists
It’s difficult to pinpoint a certain cause, but it’s often the case that people pleasers have learned this in their childhood. It can be used as a childhood strategy to protect oneself from the abuse of authority figures, such as parents, other relatives, or even teachers. Narcissistic parents will react very well to this kind of behavior, so it’s not surprising that children develop this coping mechanism.
Unfortunately, people pleasing extends way beyond childhood and it permeates most areas of life. While it might’ve been a good way to protect yourself as a child, the adult world is not kind to this kind of behavior, as it often comes with deep insecurities. People pleasing still works in certain contexts, but you risk being taken advantage of most of the time, as you can’t completely know the intentions of anybody.
But is it really more common in women? Well, in my experience it definitely is. Why is that? I am merely speculating, but since women are socialized differently since childhood, it might stem from that. Being taught that you are supposed to be subservient, docile, nice and in certain respects weak means that you are more likely to turn to people pleasing as a means to survive, especially in abusive relationships or scenarios. Unfortunately, sometimes you have no choice as a woman – what are you to do when you face possible murder and rape?
Why it’s time to stop people pleasing
I think the reason why it’s quite obvious – you will be taken advantage of and you risk being trapped in horrendous long-term relationships. I have seen too many cases of women being turned into mere maids or otherwise personal ‘pleasers’ to the men in traditional marriages. And because they haven’t been taught otherwise, women with low self-esteem will internalize the abuse and resist change. It can happen with men as well, although it’s more likely to occur in social interactions.
There is no way to effectively impose this on other people – that would be insane. However, if you can, gently making someone else aware of this behavior is a good first step. If they appear to be open to further help, especially when the relationship allows it, continue helping. A lot of times people won’t realize when this kind of behavior turns toxic.
A person with low self-esteem won’t be able to pull themselves out of this toxic cycle of behavior, so they might need external help. Therapy is the best course of action, obviously, but educating yourself on the matter is good as well. Taking time to reflect on your daily actions is a good step forward as well, as long as it doesn’t turn into plaguing anxiety over the smallest interactions. And remember, not everybody has to like you.