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