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Releasing the Need to Please

Is there a downside to people-pleasing?  

People-pleasing is an adaptive pattern.  It is usually unconscious, and while it may seem to have many benefits, it also has great disadvantages when we’re not choiceful.  This article shares how pleasing limits a woman’s voice and how you can transform pleasing in your life.

One of the biggest challenges I hear from my female coaching clients is how to be in all the places their lives require of them.  On the home front, they’re raising children, attending school events, carpooling, managing doctor and dentist appointments, and coordinating after-school activities.  In addition to their career responsibilities, they’re taking care of their home, being a good neighbor, and looking after the family pets. 

They’re running big projects at work, they may have people reporting to them, and they’re working through office politics.  They are trying to contribute to the world. High achieving women (at home and work) wrestle with succeeding in a world that rewards stereotypical male values.  And, they try to do this while also still maintaining their attractiveness, sexuality, and sense of themselves as a woman.

Women want to succeed, need to succeed, and don’t want to give up their cooperative natures in exchange for male competitiveness.  Women want to be competent and independent and want to be loved and nurtured by a partner.  And our emotions – which link to our ability for intimacy – are often pushed down in exchange for emotionless business rationality. 

And at the end of the day, many women are depleted and feeling like they’re failing at everything.  I get it!  I’ve been there.  I hit the proverbial wall three times before it occurred that the problem wasn’t me needing to work faster and harder, and maybe I need to look inward for a solution. 

Pleasing is a multi-prong phenomenon that affects our human growth and development.

We see pleasing in cultures, organizations, and individual behavior.  It is systemic – meaning that that pleasing is not even noticeable because so many people are behaving similarly.

We see pleasing being passed down through the generations.  You may have been raised in a culture or a period in history where women were taught to be submissive to men.  Or in a family where the girls were taught to be nice while the boy was encouraged to be aggressive.  

Pleasing is an adaptive pattern, and if we go back in generations through time, we see where pleasing was a survival strategy for women when speaking up had severe consequences.  And even today, we see where pleasing is a necessary survival strategy in some parts of the world.  For most women, though, pleasing has become an unconscious behavior.

Pleasing shows up on the power continuum.

At the opposite end of pleasing, we see controlling behavior and the need to be the one in charge.  The balance of pleasing is found in assertiveness by knowing what you want and need and balancing this with the wants and needs of others.

Pleasing can also manifest as niceness.

Nice is a label that parents, teachers, and other adults affix to a well-behaved child.  “What a nice girl you are.” or “There’s a nice boy” are frequently heard forms of praise. 

Nice is also used prescriptively by parents and other significant adults as in, you should be nice – because it connotes being well-bred, polite, well mannered, and ultimately, socially acceptable.  It is used proscriptively, especially with adolescent girls, to differentiate morally sound actions from those that are immoral or amoral, as in “Nice girls don’t …”. 

Assertiveness is key to transforming pleasing.

There are several steps we can take to transform our pleasing pattern.  

Assertiveness is one step that is a healthy capacity to transform People-Pleasing. In most cases, I can assert myself without putting myself in danger, and I have the right to choose to be with people who welcome my opinions, feelings, and desires. I can find people who will connect with me, even if I am strong and assert myself. My needs are just as important as other people’s, and they are more important to me.

  • Assertiveness involves knowing what you feel, think, and desire instead of being overly influenced by other people’s opinions, feelings, and needs.
  • Assertiveness is part of being an autonomous adult.
  • This capacity also involves exerting power to get what you want, standing up for yourself, protecting yourself, and speaking your mind while respecting the needs of others.
  • It can mean exerting power to take care of others or to achieve what you think is right or best in a given situation. But keep in mind: Assertiveness involves accomplishing these things without needing to be aggressive, controlling, or judgmental. Assertiveness naturally integrates with Cooperation, where you are open to other people’s needs and opinions without giving up your own. 

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