Why are women susceptible to people-pleasing and perfectionism?

While people-pleasing and perfectionismaren’t exclusively women’s issues, women are socialized in many cultures to be caretakers, put other people’s needs before their own, and be passive.

They worry about what other people think of them; they don’t want to displease or be seen as “difficult” or “high maintenance.” So, they say “yes” and don’t make any waves.

American women continue to struggle with the pull between motherhood and working outside the home. The notion of “having it all” puts tremendous pressure on women to work tirelessly, be self-sacrificing, not ask for help, and do it all perfectly. Women with perfectionist tendencies equate their achievements (whether as a mother, employee, volunteer, or athlete, etc.) with their self-worth.

People-pleasing and perfectionism are efforts to prove your worth. Underlying both is fear — fear that you’re not good enough and that others will reject or abandon you. As a result, you believe you have to keep pleasing, achieving, and perfecting in order for people to like and want you. This is like a hamster wheel, you’re stuck doing and doing, but no matter what you do, it’s never enough. Perfection is impossible and pleasing everyone is also impossible, so there doesnt seem to be any way out of this.

When you focus on pleasing others, a disconnect forms between your true self and the self that you present to the world; you start living your life to please others or for the gold stars and accolades. The problem with this is not only is it tiring and impossible to please everyone, but their acceptance and love for you is for the outward persona youre showing them. Their approval cant quiet your self-doubt and anxiety because you still fear that people wont love and accept your true self.

People pleasing and perfectionism are like shields that hide and protect your true self. The more pleasing and perfecting you do, the more out of touch with yourself you become; you no longer know what you like, what you believe, what’s important to you, or even who you are because so much of your time and effort is spent trying to be what others want you to be or an idealized version of yourself.

Finding yourself can feel like a big endeavor (and it may be), but you dont have to do it all at once. Bit by bit begin to explore and experiment, constantly checking back in with yourself to see how it feels. Self-discovery truly is a life-long process because we are all constantly changing.

You cant allow your self-worth to be completely dependent on other peoples approval. One of the biggest shifts that you can make is toward increasing your own positive self-talk and self-compassion. By beginning to give yourself more love and acceptance, you can become less dependent on other people for making you feel good and worthy.

I recently spoke to Dr. Lourdes Viado on the Women in Depth Podcast about how women can overcome people-pleasing and perfectionism. Women in Depth is a podcast about womens struggles, hopes, fears and dreams, and aspects of their experiences which are hidden from view, unfamiliar, uncertain, and uncomfortable.

I invite you to listen to our conversation in Episode 22. In it, I explain more about the connection between people-pleasing and perfectionism, the challenges they present to women, and how to start making changes.


For more support and ideas for embracing imperfection and learning to accept yourself, connect with me on Facebook and by email (sign-up below).

2016 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved. Photo by: Anthony Clearnon Flickr