Are you a person who puts everyone else first and do not put your needs first? In my counselling practice I see many people who are people pleasers. This trait is often created at a young age when a child doesn’t get enough of their emotional needs met by a caretaker. Children are dependent and need to be connected to an adult for survival. If the parent is pre-occupied with their own issues and are not attuned to their child’s needs, over time the child finds a way to remain close – their survival depends on it! The child finds ways to “be of service” to one or both parents. This can often be the “good child” who does not cause a fuss, or who does well in school. When children are exposed to adult worries, like finances, relationship heartaches and parents arguing all the time, they find ways to take care of their needs, so they are no trouble to their parents. For example, if they see their mother cry or she is unhappy, they try to comfort her, or the child may not ask for much if parents are worrying about money. The child is reacting to her parents’ stressors, and in doing so is not being nurtured enough. This leads to less playfulness and more duty-bound talk and behaviours. In effect, the child is parenting the parent (this is what is sometimes called the adultified child). If, for example, mother is depressed and not fully attuned to her child’s needs, the child will find ways to keep mother close, either taking care of mother’s needs, or by acting out to draw mother to her. At the core of this behaviour is fear of abandonment. The child’s need to attach to their parent is all about survival!
Overtime the child, who is now an adult, has learned that their value or worth lies in taking care of others. In my practice, I work with many women who are people pleasers and come to therapy stating, “I don’t know who I am!”
Here are some common expressions people pleasers say:
- I find it hard to make decisions for myself
- I know what my friends and relatives want, but I can’t seem to figure out what I like
- I’m not passionate about anything
- I call my mother every day to check up on her
- I’m in this job because someone told me I’d be good at it, not because I chose this career
- I do all the banking for my parents, and I organized their appointments
- I feel guilty when I go on vacation and I don’t call my parents
- I’m always exhausted as I have so many commitments
- I’m a perfectionist
- Whenever my parents or friends ask me to help, I jump in even if I’m exhausted
- It’s hard to receive compliments, I usually deflect them
- I get asked to check in on my siblings and tell them mom and dad want to hear from them
- I had to move so far away so my mom would stop relying on me
- I’m always giving away my time, my gifts and my energy
The helping professionals like teaching, nursing, counselling and social worker attract people who have the people pleasing trait. You are good at reading people and anticipating their wants and needs. You are often a good problem solver, preferring to figure things out on your own. You are not used to asking for help, and you don’t trust many people.
The goal is to help the people pleaser to find their sense of Self. One way to do this is establishing your personal boundaries. I will be writing on boundaries in my next blog!