top of page
  • Writer's pictureCaren Gillespie

Navigating the Approval-Seeker Matrix: Overcoming People-Pleasing

woman contemplating

Meet Emily, a loving mother of two energetic children. She was known among her friends and family as the go-to person for babysitting help whenever someone needed a hand with their kids.

One sunny Saturday morning, Emily's close friend Lisa called her in a bit of a bind. Lisa's regular babysitter had canceled, and she had an important work meeting she couldn't miss. She asked Emily if she could watch her two kids for just a couple of hours.

Despite already having her hands full with her own children, Emily agreed to help. She thought to herself, "What's a few more kids for a few hours?" Little did she know that this "quick favor" would turn into a full day of playdates, snacks, fun, arguments and messes.

mom with kids holding sign

As the day wore on, Emily found herself managing a house full of busy children. She loved spending time with the kids, but by the time Lisa returned, she was completely worn out.

Lisa thanked Emily profusely and apologized for the extended babysitting session. With a tired but understanding smile, Emily assured her it was no trouble at all.

Sound familiar? Do you know Emily? Are you Emily?

A recent client came to me in tears, feeling frustrated and confused about her life. Despite her efforts to be kind and generous to others, she felt completely isolated and was unable to pinpoint what was causing her sadness.

As we explored her motivations and beliefs, she realized that she had spent much of her life focused on meeting the needs of others, while ignoring her own. This pattern had led to feelings of emptiness and lack of direction and left her feeling overwhelmed and disconnected from her true self.

She’s a chronic people pleaser believing she is a nice person.

But here is the difference:

A people-pleaser tends to prioritize others' approval over their own needs, often saying 'yes' when they'd rather say 'no.'

On the other hand, a nice person genuinely cares about others but knows when to balance their own needs and boundaries while being considerate.

  • Do you ever feel like your people-pleasing tendencies are putting you on a path to self-neglect?

  • Do you find yourself constantly seeking external validation and putting others' needs before your own?

  • Do you feel overwhelmed and exhausted as a result?

Welcome to the world of Sociotropy, meaning someone obtains their happiness and sense of self-worth from helping and being valuable to others. People pleasers. That's right, people pleasers are known for their desire to please and appease others, even at the expense of their own well-being. It's a common problem that can cause burnout, exhaustion, and feelings of emptiness.

kids with thumbs up

Here are some common attributes of people pleasers:

  • Tendency to avoid conflict and take on more than their fair share of responsibilities.

  • Difficulty setting boundaries and saying no.

  • High levels of empathy and sensitivity to other people's feelings

  • Fear of rejection and abandonment

  • Difficulty making decisions, as they are unable to prioritize their own needs.

  • Difficulty finding their own sense of identity, as they are more concerned about what others think.

  • Tendency to take on more responsibility than they can handle.

  • Difficulty asking for help, preferring to give help instead.

  • Susceptibility to being taken advantage of

Can you relate to these?

Example 1: The Never-Ending Party

Have you ever been to a party you didn't really want to attend, all because you couldn't bring yourself to say 'no' to your friend's invitation? You end up there, trying to enjoy yourself, but secretly counting down the minutes until you can politely make your exit.

People-pleasers often find themselves in these situations, sacrificing their own comfort for the sake of not disappointing others.

Example 2: The Overloaded Plate

Picture this: you're juggling work, family commitments, social events, and your personal hobbies. Then, a colleague asks for your help on a project that you really don't have time for, but you say 'yes' because you don't want to let them down. Suddenly, your plate is so full it's practically overflowing.

People-pleasers tend to pile on responsibilities until they're buried under a mountain of 'yeses,' often at the expense of their own well-being.

But why?

People pleasers may have developed this tendency for a variety of reasons, such as experiences in childhood or other important relationships that may have set the pattern. Here are some common contributing factors:

  • Low self-confidence, leading to a belief that they need approval from others to feel secure and valued.

  • Feelings of being abandoned as a child, leading to a fear of rejection and a strong desire to please.

  • Fear of conflict, leading to a tendency to prioritize others' needs over their own

  • Poor boundary setting skills, leading to difficulty asserting themselves and protecting their own needs and wants.

In essence, people pleasers often experience a sense of fulfillment, appreciation, and validation when they please others. This can lead to a feeling that they are valuable and acceptable in the eyes of others. This can be particularly true when they grow up without acceptance and support.

However, this constant reliance on external validation can eventually lead to feelings of lack of self-worth and burnout, as they are unable to receive the same satisfaction from their own actions and behaviors. This can lead to feelings of helplessness, frustration, and isolation.

But there's a solution to overcoming people pleasing: setting healthy boundaries. By practicing the occasional 'no' and prioritizing your own needs, you can stop the cycle of people-pleasing and find more freedom in your personal and professional life.

woman with hands no

So, don't allow people-pleasing to be your label—embrace boundaries and enjoy your own peace of mind!

With the right support and guidance, people-pleasers can overcome and learn to prioritize their own needs and desires without constantly worrying about the consequences.

My client and I still work together every week. She reports her progress in looking out for herself and putting herself first in most situations.

She's actively working on ditching the outdated lessons she picked up from her mom and society, which made her believe that her worth hinged on self-sacrifice and always putting herself last.

She is setting boundaries more and more everyday to protect herself and finding herself in the process.

woman in field

bottom of page