Kyle is a classic people-pleaser. He’s been dating Lucy for four years and hopesto marry her. From the beginning, Lucy has been clear that she wantsKyletoattend church with herand finish college. Kyle isn’t particularly interested in church and isn’t sure he even believes in God, but be attends every week. He flunked out of college in his freshman year and knows he doesn’t want to go back. Instead of telling Lucy, he makes excuses for not enrolling in classes. He’s working for his dad’s construction company. Kyle’s father has always talked about wanting Kyle to take over the business. Kyle feels stuck. He’s afraid to tell his dad and girlfriend what he really wants. In fact, most of the time he doesn’t even know what he wants anymore. So, despite being unhappy, it’s easier to just go alongrather than risk his dad’s disappointment orLucy breaking up with him.

People-pleasers are like chameleons, always trying to blend in. If they’re less than perfect, “difficult’, or different in any way they fearrejection or abandonment. Being a chameleon can be a survival skill in unsafe relationships.

Perfectionism is all about appearing to be perfecton the outside. The best way to do this is to be a people-pleaser. If you figure out what people want and give it to them, they’ll be happy with you.Better yet they’ll love you, which will prove you are worthy and lovable.

There are six problems with people-pleasing.

You have created an impossible situation for yourself. Trying to please everyone means always complying, never complaining or disagreeing.And we all know people who are simply impossible to please, even if you do exactly what they ask.

Just like Kyle, when you focus on pleasing, you lose sight of your own values, goals, and personality. It means you never stand up for what you believe in or go after your own dreams. Last week I wrote about perfectionism in adult children of alcoholics. The organizationAdult Children of Alcoholicssays the same thing: “…we became people-pleasers, even though we lost our own identities in the process.” Whether you’re the child of an alcoholic or not, your true self gets buried when you become a people-pleaser.

You’ve come to believe that you have to please others or they’llreject, leave, or belittle you. You have created a situation where youfeel unworthy or unlovable when you don’t please others.

In your efforts to make others happy, you do things out of obligation rather out of genuine interest or desire. It might be doing a favor for a friend, loaning moneyto your brother again, or agreeing to work on Saturday.

You are so busy meeting everyone else’s needs that your needs come last (or not at all). You may try to numb them or pretend you don’t have any needs, but this doesn’t work.

We all have needs and wants. Some you canmeet yourself and some are met in relationship with others. You have to communicate your needs by being assertive and setting boundaries. Otherwise, your needs don’t get met and you eventually become resentful.

  • Try going to a CoDA meeting.
  • Get treatment for your anxiety. People-pleasing is an unhealthy way of managing your anxiety. As you change your people-pleasing patterns, your anxiety will probably increase. I encourage you to work with a therapist or doctor.
  • Identify what you need and begin to ask for it.
  • Being assertive is not selfish.
  • Set boundaries so that others don’t take advantage of your kindness or inability to say “no.”
  • It is OK to have conflicts with others. Appropriately expressing your displeasure or disagreement is a sign of a healthy relationship and healthy self-esteem.
  • Practice doing things you enjoy – pursue a hobby or interest, catch up with friends.
  • Spend time by yourself. Once you are more independent and realize you’re OK by yourself, you will be less afraid of rejection and abandonment.


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Chameleon photo courtesy of Jan Pietruszka on