People Pleasing And The Devastating Impact On Your Confidence

being a people pleaser undermines your confidence

Being a people pleaser is not a bed of roses; it’s a lot of hard work. But we all want to be liked, right? 

Everyone wants to feel safe, accepted and loved. We are, after all, social creatures, so you could say it’s written in our DNA.  Part of our evolution and survival has relied on us being accepted by others. 

So on the face of it, being a people pleaser may not be a bad thing.  After all, as a people pleaser, you’re one aim in life is to make others happy.  But is it really a good thing?  And what does it do to your confidence?

Hint – it does terrible things for your confidence.  Read on to learn more.

Defining A People Pleaser

As always, I like to start with a definition.

According to the Cambridge dictionary, a people pleaser is

“someone who cares a lot about whether other people like them and always wants others to approve of their actions.”

Two points stand out to me that I believe impact confidence.  The words

  • cares
  • approve

Okay, caring a lot about others is good, but we’re not putting ourselves first if we care too much.  And, if we want other’s approval, then we’re seeking external validation.  Both undermine your confidence.

But before we move on, I feel it’s important to distinguish between being a people pleaser and being kind.  There is a massive difference and the two should never be confused.

kindness should not be confused with being a people pleaser

A heartfelt action without personal gain is kindness not people pleasing

Are You Being A People Pleaser, Or Are You Being Super Kind?

Are you kind to everyone you meet? Would people describe you as big-hearted? Or, do you sometimes accommodate others even though you’d rather not? That is not enough to qualify as a people pleaser.

Let’s look at an example of kindness.  A taxi driver takes a boy with learning difficulties to school and stays with him for a morning in class because the young lad becomes distressed at being left.

Indeed an act of kindness, mainly because the taxi driver could have been making money by taking other fares. So there was no other motive than to lessen the distress of that first morning at school for that young boy.  A story told to me in passing much later made me feel so proud of that taxi driver – my wonderful brother-in-law.  A person I consider to be one of the kindest people I know.

An act of pure kindness.   My brother-in-law wasn’t interested in making himself look good in front of others or boasting about his actions.  No, there was no other motive but to ease the suffering of another person.

Kindness is something we should all aim to practice at every opportunity.  It makes the giver and receiver feel good and it also boosts confidence.

How Being A People Pleaser Impacts Your Confidence

As I mentioned above, there are two factors to being a people pleaser. 

The strong desire to be liked and the need for approval.  Both of these have an impact on your confidence.  If you want to learn more about what confidence is, you might find this article helpful; - What Is Confidence & Why You Need To Understand It

Let's look at them in turn.


1.  Strong Desire To Be Liked

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned how everyone wants to be liked. Of course, to a certain degree, we all want that.  But when you need this to be accepted, then it’s detrimental to your confidence.  The tendency is to act like a chameleon. You change your behaviour to suit what others are looking for. 

Let me give you an example.  Do you remember your school days?  At my school, there was the “cool girls gang”. So naturally, everyone wanted to be a part of that gang.  But to be part of the clique, you had to be just like them:

  • Dress the same
  • Talk the same
  • Have the same boring views and interests (well, that’s what I thought they were!)

Who wants to be the same?  For many who lack confidence, being liked by a group that set standards for them made it easier and gave them a sense of belonging.  But at what cost?

There’s no

  • Individuality
  • Growth
  • Exciting experimental experiences

For some, being liked in this way follows them into adulthood. Then, socially and at work, they surround themselves with friends and colleagues who hold them back because they don’t want to do anything that the ‘others’ would disapprove of.

Serious Consequences To The Need To Be Liked

There are some real consequences when you focus on the need to be liked.

You:

  • Say yes to everything – hello overwork, exhaustion and being pulled in 100 different directions at the same time.
  • Put other’s needs first, so their wants, wishes and desires take precedence over your own
  • Agree to things you might not actually agree with
  • See criticism as a personal attack and not an opportunity to help you grow and be better at what you do
  • Do so much for others you have little time for yourself – very dangerous as you’re not taking time to look after yourself and receive needed rest and relaxation
  • Avoid conflict and therefore allow issues that could be easily dealt with when faced early on, escalate until they become a real problem
  • Apologise for everything, even when it’s not your fault

All of these impact how you live your own life.  In fact, you’re not living the life you want, but live a life designed and heavily influenced by others.

Don't lose sight of who you really are

You Lose Out

Sadly when you focus solely on being liked, you lose a sense of yourself and who you are.  You’re so busy trying to be liked by the other person’s definition of a likeable person that you lose yourself in the process.  Your confidence will suffer because you undermine your sense of self and what it is to be truly you.

And ultimately, you lose confidence in yourself.  You become someone you’re not, which can lead to feelings of emptiness and unhappiness.  You have no purpose of your own, no driving force to do what you think is right for the most important person - you.

Seeks approval from others - constantly

The second element of being a people pleaser is the need to constantly seek approval from others.

Mention Covid and I’m sure you’ll discover that everyone has an opinion on it.  Whether that involves

  • Wearing a mask
  • Social distancing
  • Foreign holidays

It’s healthy that people have their own views and make decisions accordingly. However, we all need to do what’s right for us.

Imagine you have a condition that causes an immune-deficiency disease.  The decisions you make about the need to wear a mask, keep to social distancing and travel abroad will be massively different from someone who doesn’t have a deficiency.  Would you take the advice of someone who didn’t have any knowledge of your condition?  I doubt it.

Covid is just an example; in life, you’ll find that everyone has an opinion on something, and often they’re happy to share it! 

When it comes to opinions there are very few people you should listen to.  You can find more details in my article Whose Opinion Really Matters And Why It Should.

The Downside

But, being a people-pleaser, you find yourself often seeking reassurance about your actions, views and opinions from others.  As a result, you allow:

  • other people to make decisions for you
  • become easily persuaded by their views and
  • care more about what they think about you than how you feel about yourself

The above Covid example is extreme.  But whatever the issue, blindly seeking the approval of others is dangerous.  Their life experiences and values system is different to your own. Therefore their opinions, whilst valid to them, might not work for you or sit comfortably with how you view life.

Ultimately you allow others to decide how you live your life which means you no longer have any control.  Your life is no longer your own design but someone else’s.

Serious Consequences When You Seek Other’s Approval

You are responsible for your own life.

If you want to live a life of your own design, then the following are critical.

  • Make your own decisions
  • Form your own opinions
  • Carry those through without worrying about what other people think

Decisions

When it comes to decision making, there is power in making your own decisions.  You determine what is suitable for you and take control of your life and how you want to live it.  What might be ideal for one person may be totally wrong for you. 

Opinions

Your opinions matter and are made up of your own life experiences and cannot be formed based on the experiences of others.  There’s a lot of talk about walking in someone else’s shoes, but the reality is, it’s impossible to do. 

You cannot replicate what works (or doesn’t) for them because your frame of reference will be different.  You’re influenced by factors such as your:

  • Upbringing
  • Education
  • Socio-economic position

To name just a few.

What other people think

When you care less about what other people think, you’ll have greater belief in yourself and your own abilities. This is because you’re not influenced by any baggage or hang-ups that they might have.  The biases that they have formed as a result of their own experience are individual to them.

So, if you want more control over your life, being a people pleaser will not help you. 

The more you allow others to make decisions for you, the less confidence you will have about making the right decisions for yourself.

And more seriously, you will end up with a life that’s not of your own design but what someone else wants you to do.

How To Move Forward

Being a people pleaser is a learnt behaviour.  You can find out more about this from a brilliant article by Psychology Today

But what can you do about it?

Quite frankly, it’s not easy.  If you’ve always been a people pleaser, it’s tough to start putting your needs first and make your own decisions.

Below are some techniques for you to try that I have personally used.

4 Techniques To Move Forward

You come first

  • Your needs should always be met first.  If you do it the other way round, you’ll never have the time or energy to address your needs.  It’s okay to make yourself a priority.
  • If someone makes a request, you can simply explain you have some things to do for yourself right now.  Take the time to recharge your batteries.

Schedule

Think of your time like you do your finances.  Just as you sit down and create a budget, you can sit down and create a schedule of your time.  What time do you need for yourself?  What time do you need for tasks, errands, and responsibilities, and what is left over? 

When someone asks for your help, you can consult your schedule.  Remember, just as you make a financial budget, you can also budget energy.  Do you have the energy to take on this request?  Don’t overwork yourself just because you feel bad.

Delay Agreement

Don’t feel compelled to agree to something or someone immediately.  A common people pleasing response is to instantly agree only to realise later it’s impossible. Instead, give yourself time to check your diary and give yourself space to consider whether you want to or can help out.

Just Say No

Some say “sorry” is the hardest word, but it’s “no” for a people pleaser.  When you say no, don’t feel as though you have to offer a justification.  There’s no need to provide an explanation or an excuse.  When you learn how to say no, you re-establish your boundaries.

Final Thoughts

Being a people pleaser impacts your confidence.  When you focus too much on wanting to be liked you:

  • Say yes to everything
  • Put other’s needs first
  • Agree to things you might not actually agree with
  • See criticism as a personal attack
  • Have little time for yourself
  • Avoid conflict but create bigger problems in the long run
  • Apologise for everything, even when it’s not your fault.

And, when you focus on external approval, you can end up with

  • Decisions that don’t fit with your way of life or how you want to live your life
  • Inability to form your own opinions based on your own experience
  • Worry about what other people think about you

These create a devastating impact on your confidence and your ability to create a life of your own design.

Don’t live someone else’s life. You deserve to live the life you want.  One that makes you feel fulfilled and happy.

Take the first step and:

  • put yourself first
  • schedule your time
  • delay agreement
  • say no


By Alison

Life is complicated. We get caught up in the should, need and must do's. I know I did. I lived a life where I was more concerned about pleasing others and keeping up appearances for many years. Until I became ill. The confidence I had disappeared overnight, but slowly I built my confidence back up. I know what it's like to have confidence, lose it and then regain it. Confidence isn't a shout in your face, loud behaviour. It's more about having control over your life and having belief in yourself. I believe you can gain confidence, whatever your age. Kiss stress, anxiety and people-pleasing goodbye and live life on your terms. Let me show you how.

View all of Alison's posts.

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