The Dishonesty of People Pleasing

By Emily Gough

We think that we all love a people pleaser.

In fact, many of us aim to be considered a people pleaser ourselves, because it seems like they have so many positive qualities that we would want to emulate. They’re helpful, nice, always looking to lend a hand, and never say no. What’s not to like?

The part that is often overlooked is the dishonesty of people pleasing, because it comes at a high cost, and many people pleasers aren’t even fully conscious that what they’re doing isn’t true to themselves and their own wishes.

Think of a time when someone always seemed to go with the flow, be super “easygoing” and then you find out later they were either complaining to others about doing things they didn’t want to be doing, or ending up resentful about whatever they were saying yes to.

How would that feel? You would probably feel like you couldn’t trust that person’s word, and be far less likely to trust them in the future about anything. We instinctually want to surround ourselves with people we can trust, and most people also want to not only be trusted by others, but to truly feel like they can be their authentic selves unapologetically.

So why do we hide behind all the “yeses” and fall for the lie of being super mellow or easy going?

Having an Opinion is Healthy.

Everyone has an opinion, even if we try to convince ourselves (or others) that we don’t.

Being a people pleaser makes you unhappy. It makes those around you unhappy when they realize you’re not being true to yourself and being dishonest. So who is it really benefiting?

We’ve all been there, not wanting to piss people off, rock the boat, or, heaven forbid, be considered “disagreeable.” But you’re not for everyone and that’s a very positive thing, because it leaves more space for the people that you will resonate and connect with on a deep level. Being a people pleaser is exhausting. You’re constantly having to try and fit the mold of all the different people who want you to be all the different things, and the question you should be asking yourself is: when do you get to simply be you?

If you’re busy trying to please everyone else, you’re actually just hiding from the world. People are missing out on the most amazing version of you, because you’re too busy trying to be agreeable with everybody else that no one ever gets to know you. That’s a lonely place to be.

It’s All About Connection.

We all want connection with others, true connection. That’s impossible when we’re constantly lying about who we are and how we’re showing up in the world, and people pleasing also means never trusting anyone else enough to get to know the real you.

This can be rooted in fear of rejection and an intense desire of wanting to be liked, but we’re never going to be liked by everyone. On top of that in many instances, people pleasers in can often end up feeling left out or rejected anyway, or resentful about feeling as though they give far more than they receive in return. Because they try to be everything to everyone, it also comes across as incredibly wishy-washy and that’s an unattractive quality to most people, because then you feel like you never get to really know that person. You’re missing out on creating lasting bonds, deep relationships, and cultivating that true connection.

People pleasing is the equivalent of going through life with a full body suit of armour on, and in a constant battle with yourself and with those around you rather than taking the armour off, experiencing a few wounds, and allowing the wounds to heal and growing stronger as a result.

This can apply to all types of relationships, whether it be romantic partnerships or friendships, or in business relationships.

Whenever I think of people pleasing, the first thing that comes to mind is Julia Roberts in the Runaway Bride movie where she keeps changing her mind about how she likes her eggs depending on who she’s involved with at any given moment, and doesn’t seem to even know her own likes and dislikes.

Another way of people pleasing can come in the form of asking someone what they want to do and they say “whatever you want” no matter how often you press them for an actual answer. The reason why this can feel like such an annoyance is that we all know deep down what we want.

Our bodies don’t lie, and telling someone you don’t care where you eat for dinner but you feel a twinge of disappointment when they don’t choose the place you were craving more than you realized is a clear sign that you’re aiming to please, rather than going inward to check in with yourself and see what you really want.

Having an opinion doesn’t mean you can’t compromise with someone. It simply acknowledges that you have your own personal preferences, and taking responsibility for them is the healthiest choice you can make. Indecisiveness is not sexy in anyone, whether it’s a platonic or romantic relationship.

Trust is Earned.

How do you ever really know what a people pleaser wants? If you ask someone to come to your party and they say yes, but then you found out they told friends they were dreading it and how much they didn’t want to go, would you even invite them next time? Would you trust their word on much of anything?

Brene Brown has used the example of trust being like a jar of marbles. Every time someone does something small to earn trust, they get another marble in the jar. The marbles slowly add up over time, but it only takes one event, one lie, one situation for the entire jar of marbles to be tipped over and spilled out, leaving no or little trust remaining.

Trust is extremely delicate. Do you really want to lose trust in the interest of making a handful of people you don’t even necessarily care that much about happy? And if we’re talking about relationships that are particularly important to you, trust them enough to show you the true version of you, because there’s a good chance they might love that version of you even more than they already do.

We have to quit making the assumption that we have the other person entirely figured out and give them the benefit of the doubt to make their own decision and let the chips fall. If it doesn’t work out the way you want, perhaps it will open the door to a bigger conversation and deepen the connection you have with the other person. Or, maybe it wasn’t the right relationship for you anyway, and you both likely would have been miserable and exhausted in the long run.

Sometime there are situations that are more delicate. For example, someone might ask an opinion about whether you like their new outfit, their hairstyle, or a similar topic that could easily hurt feelings depending on your response.

My suggestion is to not be unkind, but don’t lie, either. Most people really do appreciate honest feelings, and if they don’t, then they didn’t actually want an honest answer to begin with, and maybe they aren’t the right kind of person to be in your life anyway. That’s something they may need to do inner work on for themselves to figure out why they’re seeking outside opinions.

Conclusion

People pleasing is a great way to be left feeling utterly helpless, as though life is happening to you rather than for you.

You get to make the rules for your own life. Stop giving away all of your power and start living the life you choose, with purpose, clarity and confidence in your choices. Most importantly, start getting clear on the choices that feel good to you and you’ll be better able to show up with integrity.

Owner at Emily Gough Coaching, host of the Room to Grow Podcast & teaching entrepreneurs to build impact-driven podcasts, businesses & relationships.