Are You A People-Pleaser? It Can Harm Your Brain.
Are you always nice, no matter the provocation? Do you bend over backwards to accommodate everybody’s inputs? Do you have an almost pathologic fear of conflict?
If the answer to all this is ‘yes’, you might be a people-pleaser. While this strategy may work in short-term in making you agreeable to people, the long-term dangers far outweigh the benefits. Conversely, people-pleasing behaviour in itself can be symptomatic of deeper emotional and psychological issues.
In this article, we discuss the dangers people-pleasing can pose to your brain and overall cognitive and mental health.
Roots of people-pleasing behaviour
People-pleasing is when you are agreeing to something or doing something to avoid stress and keep away confrontation, even if you do not feel that way. This comes from our need to avoid cognitive dissonance and the bad feeling we get after any discord.
Now, we all tend to behave this way to some degrees. The need to ‘fit-in’ and to forge peaceful coexistence is hardwired in our biology, because in the dawn of humanity our very survival depended on successfully banding together. But when this desire to fit in causes you to discard your own values, or represent yourself as something you are not, that’s where the problem starts.
There can be several reasons you might become a people-pleaser.
Lack of self-esteem: You are under-confident and seek validation from other people. You believe that if you keep people ‘happy’ or do as they say, they will like you and that will boost your confidence.
Past trauma: People who have grown up in abusive homes or have experience dealing with abusive behaviour, especially from a close one, tend to people-please more. This comes from an intense desire to avoid conflict or angering the other person, because your brain has learnt to associate disagreements with violent behaviours.
Self-image issues: Everybody likes to think of themselves as kind and good. Sometimes, our desire to appear kind to other people leads us to do things we otherwise won’t do. People struggle to say ‘no’ even if the what they are agreeing to is directly harmful to them, for fear of being called ‘selfish’.
How people-pleasing can put you in danger
People-pleasers find it extremely hard to say “no”, but that can lead to taking on more responsibility than you can handle. This affects your performance, brain and physical health, and can lead to early burnout.
You are always trying to please everyone, so you can’t do basically anything without fear or anxiety. Pleasing everyone at once is almost impossible in most situations, but your brain cannot let go. The constant stress of anxiety can lead to even bigger health problems.
People-pleasing behaviours are born out of a need to avoid stress, but they are far more likely to create more stress instead. Doing things that interfere with your values puts you in a constant state of internal guilt, fear, and resentment – that gives rise to cortisol levels in your bloodstream.
If you are focused on pleasing others, you suppress or hide your authentic self. In long term this suppression is bound to build feelings of resentment, exploitation, and rejection. Kept unchecked, they can lead to clinical depression very easily. Several studies, in fact, put people-pleasers at a higher risk of developing clinical depression.
Maintaining a public persona is hard, but it becomes harder if there is considerable distance between it and your authentic self. When you are doing things you’d rather not do just to please others, you require more willpower to get through it. This depletes your willpower reserve and affects your performance in things that you actually want to do.
People pleasing may help you avoid stress or make you likeable in short-term, but ultimately nobody wins when you deny your authentic self. It can be hard to shake off a habit like this, but its not impossible. Watch this space for more tips on how to avoid the pitfalls of people-pleasing.