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Am I Too Agreeable? An Introduction to People-Pleasing

By Eric Dean JD MBA MA MA LPC CADC

Being agreeable is generally considered a positive trait. However, it can get to a point when agreeableness becomes people-pleasing and starts to have negative consequences on our lives. This post will define “people-pleasing” and identify common signs of this behavior.   

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a people-pleaser is defined as:

“A person who has an emotional need to please others often at the expense of his or her own needs or desires. 

Some common signs include:

Agreeing With Others When You Don’t

People-pleasing involves trying to appease others. People-pleasers will say that they agree with others even though on the inside they feel differently. This is because people-pleasers often have a strong fear of rejection: they think that if they express disagreement with others, they will not be liked or accepted (Raypole, 2019).

The problem with always agreeing with others is that we lose sight of our own values, beliefs, and opinions. We end up paying very little attention to our own thoughts, while we try to control the perceptions of others. By doing this repeatedly, we are reinforcing to ourselves and others that our thoughts and views don’t matter.

Being Unable to Say No

Setting boundaries is important to maintain balance in our lives. People-pleasers feel that saying no to others would put them at risk of being rejected or even ostracized. Consequently, they end up saying yes to everything, even when what they are agreeing to may not be their responsibility (Raypole, 2019).

By always saying yes and “biting off more than we can chew,” we are sacrificing our self-care and well-being and setting ourselves up for burnout in the long-term. We are also reinforcing to ourselves that the needs of others are more important than our own 

Over-Apologizing

Apologies, especially when coupled with corrective action, can go a long way toward mending relationships. While there is no shortage of people who don’t apologize enough, people-pleasers are the opposite: they say they are sorry even when they are not to blame. They believe that if they don’t say they are sorry that others will be mad at them (Raypole, 2019). 

By always saying, “I’m sorry,” we reinforce the belief that we are constantly making mistakes and those around us are not. By accepting blame for problems that we had no part in, we lose our ability to think objectively about the myriad nuances and drivers that contributed to our current issues.  

Challenges

People-pleasing is a behavior that can easily be rationalized which makes it hard to spot and change. Oftentimes, individuals will rationalize their people-pleasing by saying: “I am just selfless,” or “I am a giver,” or “I believe strongly in being of service to others.” Of course, selflessness and service to others are virtues, but people-pleasing is different because it involves avoiding uncomfortable emotions and self-neglect. 

Wrapping Up

Knowing that people-pleasing is very common, so you are not alone. Since it is driven by irrational thoughts and beliefs, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) are helpful to identify negative thought patterns and understand their impact on your feelings and behaviors.

If you would like support, explore our counseling services online to see how therapy can help, and contact Symmetry Counseling today to connect with a therapist.

References

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Golden handcuffs definition. Merriam-Webster.

Raypole, Crystal. “People-Pleaser: 22 Signs and Tips.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 5 Dec. 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health/people-pleaser#signs.

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