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It’s time for a confession; for some honest talk and real transparency: all of my life I’ve only ever been able to feel truly happy when all who surround me are happy as well. I am a bonafide people-pleaser. Some may even go as far as to just call it like it is: codependency. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, codependency is defined by Darlene Lancer, MFT, as, “underdeveloped self-esteem (dysfunctional boundaries) combined with an inappropriate caring for others (invading a boundary), and an inappropriate reliance on another’s response (having poor boundaries), in a negatively reinforcing loop.”

I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. My mother recalls my giving up just about anything to keep my little sister from throwing a fit. I’d do anything to keep the peace. That trait has followed me into adulthood and while I’ve really been working on it in recent years, I still feel it creeping back in whenever the harmony in my relationships is seemingly thrown off balance.

People-pleasers put everyone else’s needs before their own. Now, when displayed in a healthy way selflessness is an amazing trait! Yet, for codependents it is less about selflessness and more about an unhealthy need to make sure all of those around us are taken care of and satisfied. Underneath everything is fear of rejection and a yearning for outside validation. It’s about wanting constant approval from others and the overwhelming desire to be wanted and needed.

It’s about wanting constant approval from others and the overwhelming desire to be wanted and needed.

If you are reading and wondering if this describes you, here are a few warning signs to be looking for in your own life:

Self-neglect. As the tendency to people-please works its way back into our lives, one trademark sign is the tendency to neglect ourselves in order to care for others. By that I mean, We lose track of our own needs, own dreams, own happiness. We lose sight of the things that matter most to us, and set them aside to make sure everyone else is happy.

The need to say “yes” every time. This one stems from the need for constant validation. People-pleasers fear that if they say no they will be looked upon less favorably. We love feeling capable and needed, so we say yes to one more thing, one more favor. We overcommit, give away too much of our time and, to be honest, are often in serious risk of being manipulated and walked over by the stronger personalities among us.

Excessive stress about the well-being of others. Empathy is truly a beautiful thing, but there is a fine line between empathy and codependency, and the people-pleaser walks that line constantly. Of course, we want our friends and family to be happy. Of course, our hearts are saddened when they are going through a hard time. Of course, we want to love them well and help them get better. However, empathy and concern become unhealthy when we move from genuine love and care to finding ourselves overstressed and overanxious about the needs of others.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a loving, selfless and helpful friend or family member. But, for those of us who struggle with codependency we need to realize that we simply cannot control the happiness of those around us. We can, however, make the choice to be happy within ourselves. We can set boundaries, learn to say no and be attentive to our own needs and desires. When we are taking care of ourselves like this we have so much more energy and love to pour out to others in a healthy way.

Because, at the end of the day, isn’t that every (recovering) people-pleaser’s dream?

Do you have an unhealthy need to be needed by those around you? How are you coping with that?

Image via Erin Grimson

16 comments

  1. Never thought of myself as codependent. People-pleaser? Yes. Co-dependent? No. Until I read this blog. You have described me to a tee. Time to take a closer look at myself. Thanks for giving me the mirror.

  2. Yes, apparently you know me, even though we have never met. As you have described me to a tee. Thank you for putting it out there for me to stumble across. Devine intervention worked today. Again, thank you.

  3. I love this post. I suffer from the need to say yes all the time. One of the resolutions I made this year is to learn that sometimes saying no is okay. Great post. xx

    cocobellablog.com

  4. I love your post. It is hard to learn to say no to people. If we can start small, or maybe not even use the word if it makes us feel uncomfortable. Instead, tell the person to let you get back to them later is a great idea that works for me. I answer nothing without taking a moment to think about how to say no and still considering the person’s feeling, but standing my ground. ? saverrmarriage.com

  5. I love your post. It is hard to learn to say no to people. If we can start small, or maybe not even use the word if it makes us feel uncomfortable. Instead, tell the person to let you get back to them later is a great idea that works for me. I answer nothing without taking a moment to think about how to say no and still considering the person’s feeling, but standing my ground. 🙂 saverrmarriage.com

  6. One of the hardest things I am facing as a co-dependent, people pleaser desperately seeking recovery is the vicious response from those you have spent your life walking on eggshells to please! Standing firm in the belief that you are a worthy child of God takes constant prayer to with the onslaught of attacks that can come your way. It’s scary but I refuse to live one more day in the bondage of co dependence! The feeling of freedom and the weight that has been lifted off of my shoulder is overwhelming!

  7. I just recently discovered and admitted that I am a people pleaser. I can’t believe I’ve gone so long without realizing this fact about me. Suppose its time to start the switch.

  8. That’s really good — thank you for sharing that! I am a recovering people-pleaser and have found a lot of “help” through doing my own enjoyable activities, setting goals for myself, and designing my life so that I know what I choose to give to and what I say no to, knowing that I can serve best — and others can be best-served — by everyone serving only within the perimeters they are born with and called to. Oh yeah, and prayer. 🙂 Blessings to all in recovery!

  9. I also struggle with this. I’ve been a people-pleaser since I was a toddler, and it hasn’t gotten too much better. I want to be everything to everyone, and I also want to please my own toddler, which makes it hard to be a consistent parent! Good reminders here, thank you!

  10. This is a beneficial word for those who struggle with excessive empathy. I appreciate your balance and distinction between selflessness and self-neglect. Living life in such a way that blessing others is a top priority is a gift; however, it is a gift that, un-monitored, becomes a terrible curse.

    http://www.onebrassfox.com

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