When does ‘people pleasing’ become a self-squashing habit?
No, this article is not about intimate relationship matters.
But — if you ‘went there’ it’s all good. You’ve connected to a very basic part of being human.
Most of us get pleasure from pleasing others.
So if you get pleasure and they get pleasure out of ‘being pleasing’ — what’s the problem?
Why do you hear dire warnings about the perils of being a ‘people pleaser’?
In many ways, pleasing people is a delight.
if the motivation for being ‘pleasing’ is dodgy — that delight comes at a price.
(And yes — that would apply to intimate relationship stuff too!)
If your motivation chimes with any of the following, is it time to ‘press pause’ and examine your pleasing habits?
- You don’t want to seem rude
- You want them to like you
- You want to appear nicer than you think you are
You might need to get your head around that last one — but fundamentally they are all a part of being human.
We want to be loved and accepted.
When our primary objectives are to avoid disapproval, disagreement, friction, or any sort of conflict, we tend to veer too far into what can be called over-accommodating.
This need to be loved can easily lead to what I refer to as ‘self squashing’.
The ‘self squashing’ properties of ‘people pleasing’
You end up with a vicious cycle of rejection-fear, people-pleasing, feeling like you are not being yourself…
To ‘self squash’ is to surpress your true self due to a fear that revealing and owning your full passion, personality and power will have you judged as an unlikeable show off.
How does this apply to ‘people pleasing’ ?
Be honest — say the following out loud and ask yourself if this has resonance with your inner ‘chatter’?
‘I fear that when my communication is released from my mouth without filters — I might not be nice. I might be judged as being controlling, uncaring, mean, callous…’
If so (and you won’t be alone) — the logical progression is:
‘I really don’t want people to think about me like that!’
But think about this calmly.
Few of us, in reality, behave like that.
In other words — you are pre-loading survival tactics by protecting your image from damage caused by being something you are unlikely to be!
This all falls into the ‘self-squashing prophecy’ syndrome. I have a TEDx talk on this — have a watch.
To bring this back to ‘people pleasing’ — the next step is that you wrap your communication up in an over-compensatory ‘people pleasing’ approach.
You are in fear of revealing even the tiniest slither of something negative about yourself.
You sugar coat your words and actions with personality pummelling people pleasing.
This is not going to help anyone — least of all you.
This behaviour is one of those drip drip habits that slowly erodes your sense of self and squashes you into a bland blob. Not good.
How to be an ‘unsquashed pleaser’
Guess what? It’s all about balance.
I like to use the visual analogy of a mixer board when it comes to communication skills.
You are in charge of your mixer board of communication.
When you consciously slide energy, verbals and non-verbals up and down — you are not being inauthentic, you are wisely adjusting for context.
With people pleasing you need to balance your ‘warmth’ and your ‘strength’.
Experiment with that slider.
For those who tend to slip into ‘people pleaser’ mode easily — your ‘warmth’ default is probably high.
Nothing wrong with that.
However, you sometimes require your ‘strength’ slider to adjust up to the same level, if not higher.
By the way — being assertive doesn’t make you ‘aggressive’!
When you get this right you move from a self-conscious ‘people pleasing’ approach to being present and helpful — with perfectly reasonable boundaries.
By taking control of the sliders — you avoid behaving in a ‘self squashing’ way.
Here’s an example.
Imagine you are in a meeting — online or in person.
Your purpose is to get a succinct brief in order to write a proposal.
The potential client is a chatty type who goes off on tangeants — a lot.
You don’t want to be rude by interrupting — but time is slipping by and you are not getting clear answers.
Your ‘warmth’ slider is doing all the right things in terms of rapport and trust building… but…
your ‘strength’ slider is too low.
You are losing control.
Your boundary setting is in the bin!
Even your body language has gone a bit ‘limp’.
You turn your strength up and say…
“I need to stop you a sec. I want to make a note of something you said that will really help me with getting the proposal spot on… you mentioned xxx…”
Are they looking at you in horror?
Do they think you are the rudest person ever to grace their space?
They are impressed. You complemented them for a start!
You clearly want to do a good job and you are respecting everyone’s time.
The difference between being nice and ‘people pleasing’.
I will leave you with this reminder — curbing your ‘people pleasing’ will not stop you being nice!
To sum up
If you are slipping into ‘people pleaser’ habits that ultimately mean you are giving your time away when you shouldn’t or not expressing opposing opinions when you should — check what is driving this habit.
Ask yourself whether running around being ‘too nice’ is making you feel good or ‘useless’.
Give yourself a kind lecture about the difference between people pleasing and being nice.
Step into the wonderful world of feeling unsquashed — and still loved!
I explore this, along with other ‘self-squashing’ traps, in my book ‘The Mystery of the Squashed Self’. If you find these insights helpful you should also check out my TEDx talk — ‘Beware the Self Squashing Prophecy’ as mentioned above.