“ I can’t tell you the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone”
— Ed Sheeran
Are you a people pleaser? This term often has a lot of negative connotations and so understandably, many of us don’t really like to associate ourselves with it.
And I really get it – i’m not a big fan of the label either!
That said, I cannot deny that there are many behaviours that sit under this label that resonate with me and have tripped me up more times than I care to admit!
So in today’s article, I want to share with you the four different types of people pleaser that Psychotherapist Emma Reed Turrell identifies in her book Please Yourself, to help you to answer the question ‘Are You A People Pleaser’ and identify if these behaviours may be tripping you up too.
People-pleasing is (in part) about avoiding uncomfortable emotions by trying to control how you are perceived by others.
It is a strategy, usually developed in childhood, to keep you safe. And we continue to use this strategy in our adult life until the s**t hits the fan in some way and we realise this isn’t working anymore (at least that’s my experience!).
Thankfully I’ve been on this personal development journey for nearly 10 years now so whilst those people-pleasing tendencies will still pop up, I can now spot the signs much quicker and course-correct before I spiral down the people-pleasing rabbit hole and lose myself being pleasing to others.
That’s not to say it’s always easy but I have a set of tools that I use to reconnect with my feelings so they can guide me towards my unexpressed wants and needs.
I have learned that having the hard conversations (that I’d much rather avoid) is necessary to stay true to myself, and in my experience, these conversations often build greater trust and intimacy.
I also get help, without hesitation. Because as a coach, I know how difficult it can be to see your own stuff and I like to practice what I preach. So I have my support team of family, trusted friends, coaches, and therapists that I turn to to keep me on track.
You see I’ve dived headfirst into the people-pleasing rabbit hole more times than I care to remember and it never ends well for anyone!
So my hope is that whether you identify as a people pleaser or know someone else who is, this article will give you more insight into the people-pleasing patterns and help you on your journey to becoming responsibly selfish…
The Classic People Pleaser
These people take pride in their ability to get things right, choosing the ideal birthday gift or hosting the perfect dinner party.
No doubt they’ll be really good at it and part of their reward system will come from the appreciation and accolades that they receive from the people they please.
This becomes their definition of themselves. It’s who they are and why they exist, to make life easier and more comfortable for other people.Ask them what they want though and they’ll draw a blank.
They crave the hit they get from skilfully inhabiting someone else’s world and basking in the warmth reflected back to them.
That moment of being special to someone else is more compelling than anything they could ever hope to give to themselves.
Their self-esteem has been replaced by ‘others esteem and they’re only good enough if you say so.
The Shadow People Pleaser
Shadows expect to live in service of other people who occupy the light, those who are seemingly more important and more worthy of the world’s attention.
Somewhere in the shadow’s early life, there was probably a narcissist, a person who lacked empathy and expected admiration from others.
Around this energy, the shadow pleaser worked out how to stay in favour by deflating themselves and inflating the other. They worked out how to be the best support act or the perfect wingman, somebody’s Number Two.
The way shadows see the world is that the other person’s need is greater than their own and they seek out opportunities to bolster the egos of others.
They gravitate towards status and success in others and make fantastic groupies. But they are only satisfied being your number one fan, which can result in some pretty competitive people-pleasing among groups of shadows and, considering how hard they try to win your affection, they can make for a difficult friend to have.
When one offers to give you their jacket, another has to volunteer a kidney. You are more of a prize than a person and you can feel more like their trophy than their friend.
The Pacifier People Pleaser
People pleasing can sometimes be more about a fear of getting it wrong than a desire to get it right.
The pacifier operates primarily from a ‘don’t displease’ position. They are the social glue that keeps situations amicable and they facilitate collaboration.
They are inclusive and amenable. Like the conductor of an orchestra, they task themselves with the job of bringing individuals together to a place of harmony, while taking up no space themselves.
If you were to cut a pacifier they would bleed breezy indifference. After apologising for bleeding everywhere, of course.
Growing up, the pacifier may not have felt it was safe to upset someone else or to be around discord.
These pleasers learned how to placate and pacify by soothing the strong feelings of others, or by burying their own feelings to avoid provoking a hostile reaction.
Pacifiers also develop in families where another child has reserved the role of chief boat-rocker. If one child is defiant and confronting, it’s not uncommon for their sibling to fall into a pacifier pattern to steady the ship.
The pacifier is the Goldilocks of the pleasing profiles, seeking out the bland acceptability of the middle of the road.
Neither too much of this nor too little of that, they occupy the common ground, never voicing a contentious opinion of a preference that might be unpopular.
The Resistor People Pleaser
These are the underground people-pleasers who wouldn’t identify themselves as pleasers at all.
This is someone who can’t tolerate people being displeased with them but, unlike the other pleasing profiles, the resistor’s defences result when they realise that they can’t (or won’t) do what it takes to elicit a favourable reaction.
Unable to behave in a way that would ever be pleasing enough to prevent criticism or rejection, the resistor’s only remaining defence is to exit the game. After all, if you don’t play then you can’t lose.
As adults, resistors will avoid intimacy in relationships and only engage at arm’s length, their soft underbelly protected by a persona that appears immune to criticism whilst simultaneously closed off to connection.
Their artificially thickened skin makes them impervious to the judgement of others both good and bad. They shut off their feelings in order to escape the pain of failure.
Self-sufficient, you might see them keep their distance in groups or take a role as a leader. Somewhere between confident and dismissive, they appear to have the courage of their convictions and are not easily influenced, nor are they easily praised or comforted in times of trouble.
They might not look like the more traditional people-pleasers, but they share a pathological reaction to the pressures to please.
They feel the same weight of judgement but, unable to tolerate it, learn to ignore it, resist or deny its existence. And they may not always be aware that this is even happening, which can make it harder to help them.
Often alerted by substance misuse, depression, burnout, or divorce, the resistor first has to acknowledge their well-masked relationship with the pressures to please, before they can move to a healthier place of pleasing themselves.
So I’m curious…
- Are you a people pleaser?
- Which profile resonated the most?
- Perhaps you use different strategies at different times or with different people?
- Or maybe these patterns don’t land with you but you can see them in others you know?