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Are You A People Pleaser?

In this episode of The GenTwenty Podcast, Nicole and Marina discuss what it means to be a people pleaser, how that plays out in our relationships, and what we can do to overcome our people pleasing tendencies.

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This post has been gently edited for clarity.

Nicole Booz: Welcome back to the GenTwenty Podcast I’m Nicole…

Marina Crouse: And I’m Marina! Today we’re talking about people pleasing. So I am a big people pleaser or I was… well I’m in the process of becoming a recovering people pleaser. It’s complicated but whatever. 

Nicole Booz: Oh yeah, for sure I think that in my earlier twenties I was definitely a bigger people pleaser and I was more afraid to say no and I would say honestly this is deviating a little bit from our script here, but I think that I am more of a people pleaser to people I am close to than people I just encounter in everyday life. But that’s something we can dig into in a minute.

Marina Crouse: Oh, interesting. I’m an equal opportunity people pleaser.

Nicole Booz: Something that I read recently… I think I might have sent it to you… was that when people are people pleasers they often begin as being a parent pleaser.

Marina Crouse: Oh yeah, you did send that to me.

Nicole Booz: So our actions are motivated by our parents’ approval and that starts in early childhood, and we kind of continue into this people pleasing pattern throughout our lives.

Marina Crouse: Yeah, well I mean it makes sense. Unfortunately, little kids become parent pleasers because like millions of years ago, or however long humans have been on the planet, we’ve were pack animals and so the worst case scenario is that you get rejected from your pack. So you want acceptance right? And so little kids, and even babies, are really good at getting their needs met. They cry when they’re hungry. They cry when they’re wet. They cry when they need something and if a little kid is having trouble getting those needs met they start kind of going into survival mode.

Disclaimer: I’m not a psychologist… but they go into survival mode and adapt to get those needs met and that becomes parent pleasing, at least from my interpretation, and I think especially in sit like societally or socially women are raised to be really acquiescent and agreeable and we’re told “don’t be hard to work with” and so  the the cards are against us. Women especially are trained to be people pleasers.

I want to talk about what it means to be people pleasing, like what are some signs about that. So one for me, I know I’m people pleasing when my schedule gets really, really full because I’ve said yes to everything. What are some other signs. Nicole?

Nicole Booz: I think one of the big ones is where you don’t set boundaries, or you find yourself making excuses to break your boundary.

We don’t see it internally as looking for someone else’s approval but in a primitive way it is motivated by that. You’re kind of letting someone else’s desires overwhelm your needs and that’s something that can be a chronic people pleasing trait. Which really leads to one of our favorite topics ever burnout and exhaustion.

Marina Crouse: We love talking about burnout. I have two factors that have really helped me become less of a people pleaser. 

Age, I’m 30 and by the time I hit 30 I got to a point where I can no longer care about what other people think of me or need for me if I’m not surviving myself so that helped. Also I’ve been in therapy for a few years and literally I have a post-it note on my wall to help me remember that if there’s something I’m immediately saying yes to I ask myself “do I really want to do this or am I people pleasing?” because for a while I got a little bit lost on what I wanted and what I needed.

That’s just a helpful reminder to take a step back. I think the immediacy of communication has also hindered us because someone will ask “hey can you do this for me” and you just immediately text back rather than thinking about “okay do I have time for this? Do I have space in my schedule? Do I want to do this?” We were just talking about this in another episode but taking a step back from our phones and social media is really beneficial to re-grounding ourselves for what our needs are.

Nicole Booz: Yeah, for sure I think really making sure that you’re being a self-pleaser you know, honoring yourself is more important than anything else. I think it’s also important that when you say you’re going to do something that you do do it. I don’t know, I’ve always felt that is like a really important trait, would never think less of someone who told me “no” that they couldn’t do something, but I do find myself being a little more harsh about things when someone is like “oh yeah I can do that” and then they just don’t do it. I would never say “oh I can’t rely on you” but internally I’m like okay well I’m not going to come to this person because I need reliability in my life.

Marina Crouse: I’m making a face at Nicole because one of my toxic traits is that I say yes to everything and then burn out and have to cancel. 

Nicole Booz: No I’m not judging you, I’m not digging at you.

Marina Crouse: I say yes to so much because I want to help and I love helping. But also I want to be accepted and I feel like my brain is split in 2 sometimes where I look at my calendar and I think yeah, technically I can fit that into the space on Tuesday, and then and realistically when I’m doing the thing it takes a lot longer and I get overwhelmed and can’t do it.

Nicole Booz: I mean you don’t need a reason to say no, you can just say “no” or “no I can’t do it.”

Marina Crouse: That’s true, “no” is a full sentence and I think another thing is that when you say “no” you don’t have to give a reason. You can put a boundary. The people who need the boundaries most in your life are the ones who are going to push back and that’s fine. Let them push back. Let them be unhappy. Other people’s opinions of you are none of your business. So let them feel how they’re going to feel because you’re not in charge of that. And just do what you need to do. This comes back to self prioritizing.

Nicole Booz: Yeah, and you’re not in charge of other people’s reactions. If someone is upset that you’re saying no then they probably need to rethink their own priorities. It’s not your fault that they get upset. I think this is something that a lot of us can see from childhood. At least for myself for sure where a lot of things I say yes to, things even now that my mom asks me to do, I know she’s not listening to this, sorry Mom. I don’t really want to do them but I’m scared of her reaction about things.

Marina Crouse: Yeah, because sometimes we say yes to things because we weigh the pros and cons and sometimes we just don’t have energy to deal with the the con… I want to say consequence but that’s not the right word.

People pleasing can also come from trying to take the path of least resistance, because you are so exhausted. Maybe you’re burnt out or not setting boundaries and I feel like there’s different levels of people pleasing too.

Back in my early career when I was working at a startup, the advice I had always been given from my college career center, and other people who were in the career  was to “say yes to everything you, never know what the opportunity would take to take you to.” So my first year working at my first full-time job, I said yes to everything and on paper people looked at me and said “oh she’s a real team player” but in reality it just meant I got walked over because everyone knew I’d say yes. It never served my career. It just helped me get burnt out faster and I ended up quitting the job before I had another one lined up because I was so far burnt out I couldn’t do it anymore. That is people pleasing because you want to be liked you, want to be you want to be a team player, you want to be all these things but I completely disregarded my needs and my boundaries.

Nicole Booz: Yeah, and that’s not healthy. I think it’s terrible advice to tell people to say yes to everything and that’s something that obviously is stuck with you for a long time.

Marina Crouse: Yeah I still say yes to everything. I’m working real hard on saying no to things. Okay I’m gonna write this down on a post-it note, you know I love post-it notes… my God I hate saying no. Saying no to you was the worst thing ever.

Nicole Booz: Yeah, say no to at least 3 things this week Marina. Even if it’s me. If you have to say no to me, it’s okay, it’s really okay. I don’t know I just it’s not that I’m judging people. It’s just that when someone says they’ll do something and then they consistently are like “never mind or sorry I’m not going to be able to do this” that person no longer comes to my front of mind when I’m recommending people. I would rather someone just tell me no straight upfront than to say yes and then fall back on it.

I respect you for respecting your boundaries. And I need reliable people. Does that make sense? That’s also something I try to do for myself too. I don’t say yes to things.. like I’ve turned down partnerships that I knew I was going to regret taking because they didn’t meet my needs, whether that was like financially or we just couldn’t come to terms or whatever. I think saying no serves everyone better.

Marina Crouse: Yeah, absolutely and in reality when you work on focusing on positive expectations. So if I work on knowing that if I say no to you, you won’t stop being my friend, that kind of thing. If we remind ourselves that we’re allowed to say no to things and it won’t end in disaster, it’s easier to say no. I always wish I have more time in the day because I’m very curious person I love collaborating.

I want to do all these things… I have great energy. Especially right now because I just finished a copper cow coffee (shout out, we love copper cow coffee!) I think working on positive expectations for the outcome is helpful in practicing setting these boundaries and saying no to things because if someone says no to me I’m never upset but somehow the rules turned on their head when I need to say no to something.

I’m working on it but we wanted to talk about this because we know we’re not alone in feeling this way. We’re all working on these things and it’s okay to be a work in progress. It’s okay to be able to say no really easily to certain people and have trouble with other things.  The takeaway here is that if you’re going to be people pleasing, please yourself first. Make sure your needs are met, make sure you’re safe and fed and rested and healthy before you say yes to anyone else, because you can’t pour from an empty cup. You can’t light a candle with a burnt out candle, you need a little flame, so take care of yourself first and worry about other people second.

Nicole Booz: Amen and I think that’s a great place to wrap up this episode. So. Thank you so much for listening. We would love if you leave us a rating and a review on DM us, email us – whatever we’d love to hear from you and we will chat again soon. Bye!

About the Author

Nicole Booz

Nicole Booz is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of GenTwenty, GenThirty, and The Capsule Collab. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and is the author of The Kidult Handbook (Simon & Schuster May 2018). She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two sons. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s probably hiking, eating brunch, or planning her next great adventure.