On the surface, striving to please others and acting happier than you feel, doesn’t seem problematic. They feel like noble acts that prioritise making others feel good. It feels like you’re always ‘on’ and ready to please. By centering everyone else’s needs, expectations, desires, feelings and opinions, you limit their exposure to anything from you that you regard as inconvenient, undesirable or problematic. Others don’t want to know the ins and outs of how you’re feeling, right? You can tell yourself that you want to make others happy; that faking happiness will eventually lead to you feeling it. 

You can engage in these habits occasionally and be okay because they’re not your modus operandi. Instead, what you do the majority of the time supports your well-being. When these habits become your way of life, your modus operandi though, you lose your sense of self. This includes awareness of where you feel different from what you’re outwardly projecting. How could you know when your habits effectively stop you from feeling your feelings? People around you will also have little clue when you’re struggling or what you might need because of your always ‘on’ attitude. Even though your people-pleasing ways may stem from wanting to keep people around you, ironically, they put distance between you and others. They block intimacy.

Often, beneath our people pleasing is fear that people can’t handle the real us.

Acknowledging the self-neglect of our habits, though, means also acknowledging where we have not been able to handle our real selves. It means recognising that part of our quest to please others stems from not wanting to be exposed to too much of their real feelings. Much as we might fear exposing others to anything inconvenient, undesirable or problematic, we, equally, don’t want to be exposed to that either. Hence what can feel like our compulsion to please and appear ‘sunny’ at all times. 

No, we don’t need to expose people to every mood, whim and feeling, but we do need to be in a consistently honest relationship with ourselves. 

No one who genuinely has your best interests at heart needs you to be compulsively dishonest. It’s also fair to say that if these are people you truly care about, they don’t need or expect you to never have problems. If you stop telling yourself that you’re people pleasing to be ‘nice’, you can make more honest choices. 

The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon/HarperCollins) is out now and available in bookshops on and offline. Listen to the first chapter.
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