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People Pleasing Is Not Toxic. But It Needs Killing NOW

Now, I’m not a psychologist, or expert in this field. I am, however, recovering from 40 years worth of people pleasing.

As with most things. There is a good and bad side to people pleasing.

What I’ve noticed. Is that a lot of talk about people pleasing online, saying it’s toxic. Toxic to you’re own wellbeing. I agree with this to a certain extent. But there are parts of it that are a good thing. That can be positive.

The problem is. You put these traits above all others and suppress other feelings.

What’s important is that you become aware of your people pleasing tendencies. To make sure you’re not hurting yourself for the sake of someone else.

Someone who might not be worth the sacrifice that you’re making.

People Pleasing Is Not Toxic. But It Needs Killing

We Don’t Even Know We Are Doing It.

Like I said. I can now say I’m a “recovering people pleaser”.

To say “I’m cured” would be wrong.

But now, I’m aware that I’m doing it. And how it can impact me in a negative way. I’ve only recently come to the realisation of how much of a people pleaser I was, and still am. And how it was affecting me and what I wanted from my life.

Looking back, it’s something I’ve done from a young age.

Because of that, it’s become ingrained, a habit that happens without me knowing it. I end up doing it on autopilot. Then, I can spend a day or two pissed off, thinking that someone has walked all over me.

Nice to the guy at the coffee shop? Who was rude instead of being nice back.

Polite to that person, holding the door for them? Who then acts as if you don’t exist.

Spend 20 minutes worrying or hoping you haven’t offended someone. Because of a throw-away remark you’ve made.

I could go on.

Becoming Aware You’re People Pleasing

The hardest thing with people pleasing is becoming aware that it’s a big part of you.

A while back I worked with a coach. It was a 12-week program and we spent 90 minutes a week together. The sessions were conducted online.

It was eye-opening.

The change in me afterwards was unreal.

It shocked me.

But, I needed to continue with my “recovery” on my own. So I carried on my “personal awakening” journey to see where it led me.

The coaching didn’t uncover my people pleasing, as such.

But it did uncover a lack of self-worth. That, in my coach’s words “viewed myself as a piece of shit”. Even though I was in my 40’s, I lacked self-confidence.

What happened next was even more eye-opening,

No More Mr Nice Guy

I stumbled upon a book called “No More Mr Nice Guy” by Dr Robert A. Glover.

I loved it.

Having listened to a podcast interview with Dr Glover. I fired up my Audible subscription again. And used the free credit to download the audiobook version.

I listened to it 4 times in the space of two months. It’s like he wrote it for me.

Ordering a paperback version to go even deeper. A quote from the book hit home, and it hit me hard.

“By trying to please everyone, Nice Guys often end up pleasing no one – including themselves”.

Dr Robert A. Glover, No More Mr Nice Guy

Holy shit, this quote blew my tiny little mind.

Taking Responsibility For You, Not Others.

Another book, which I love. And have read it many times. Is The Almanack of Naval Ravikant. It details life lessons from an amazing modern-day thinker, Naval Ravikant.

A quote which helped me realize I was people pleasing was:

“Other people’s feelings aren’t your responsibility”

Naval Ravikant

Also, that other people aren’t responsible for yours. You are!

It’s a great frame, it helps you see if you’re a people pleaser. To become aware of how and when you are doing it, and if it should be “suppressed” in this instance.

I hate to use the word suppress, but, that has to be the starting point.

Processing it hasn’t become second nature. So, for me, I need to deal with my people pleasing a different way to start with.

People Pleasing Is A Part of Your Personality

I’ve recently done a personality test online too.

It wasn’t a recommendation from a book, but from an online course, a course on writing no less.

Anyway. The course instructor recommended taking a personality test. It dictates your writing style. Because of how you view the world. After reading the results, It shocked me at how accurate it was.

Here are snippets from my results:

“People with this personality type tend to slow down and really evaluate how what they do might impact others before they take action. Consequently, it can frustrate them when other people don’t recognize their good intentions”

It listed this as a strength:

“Altruistic – People with this personality type aren’t happy to succeed at another person’s expense. They want to use their strengths for the greater good, and they rarely lose sight of how their words and actions might affect others. In their heart of hearts, they want to make the world a better place, starting with the people around them.”

It confirms it, I’m a people pleaser.

And that it can also piss me off.

What an insight!

A Case For People Pleasing: The Pros

While drafting this blog. Before reviewing the results for my personality type. I’ve listed out 3 positives of being a people pleaser.

I only spent a minute or two on the list.

Here’s what I came up with:

  • You don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings: Does this mean you care?
  • You see things from other people’s points of view: Does this mean you’re empathetic?
  • You want to keep the peace and make sure everyone is happy: Does this mean you’re considerate?

Now, each one of these you could flip on its head and deem a con too. A negative.

Unfortunately, they are all double-edged swords.

Respect The Feelings of Others

While it’s great on the surface. As I’ve said before, there is good and bad, light and dark, with almost anything.

I don’t set out to hurt anyone’s feelings and that’s a good thing. Being considerate of what you say and how it impacts others. In social settings is a superpower.

It’s getting harder to do though in today’s ever-changing social standings. Which makes this a tough balancing act.

The flip side of this is that you don’t let your feelings known. To come out. Let them rise to the surface. To make it visible in your mind, never mind outwards.

Other People’s View Point

Being compassionate and empathetic is another superpower.

Being able to put yourself in other people’s shoes can help in many ways. Supporting people in times of need. Helping others and society, those who aren’t as fortunate as you.

“With great power comes great responsibility” – Uncle Ben, Spiderman

Like I said, it’s a superpower. But sometimes you will need to apply “tough love”, which you can’t do if you have put yourself in their position.

Apply empathy, but only if it’s the right thing to do.

Also, it can leave you open to getting manipulated, even conned.

Keeping The Peace

Keeping the peace and making sure everyone is happy is very considerate of you.

I don’t like confrontation. I don’t like it when I’m in the middle of it. Or when I’m witnessing it first-hand.

So, trying to stop it and navigate through it can be a positive. Like if you’re on a night out with friends. A few of them have had too much to drink, and the “banter” goes too far. Stepping in and calming the situation down is sensible.

I’m going to stick my neck out and say it’s OK to do this. It’s the right thing to do.

But again, this isn’t always the case.

You may need to go through conflict.

For your own sanity, to get things off your chest and so that you are getting what YOU need or want.

Which is something we people pleasers are terrible at.

A ‘Heart of Gold’

After 5 years of marriage. I remember my wife saying this to me:

“Phil, you’ve got a heart of gold”

It hit my right in that heart. It made me emotional.

Now, is this the basis of my people pleasing? The fact that I identify as a nice guy? That I want others to be OK, to be happy? That it’s an ingrained part of my personality?

I started this post stating the fact I’m not a psychologist, so I have no idea.

Lock In A Vault

You can lock actual gold away in a vault.

Think Fort Knox.

So, is this something I need to do? Something us people pleasers, us nice guys need to do?

Lock our “Heart of Gold” away in a vault. Only spending time and effort unlocking the vault for those “special buyers”? Those “special occasions”?

Or does it need to be melted down and broken into many different pieces and used for other things?

Things that the total sum of is more valuable than the gold heart on its own?

Moving Forward: Dealing With People Pleasing

I’m going to start this section of the blog by being honest with you.

I don’t know what the answer is.

I don’t have the steps, a framework, or a technique that can fast-track the both of us.

All I can do is tell you what my experience has been so far. How I’m thinking about it, looking at it from the past, present and future perspectives.

Currently, I’m on a journey of self-reflection.

Understanding who I am, and what I want. Why I am the way I am. What do I need to focus on?

And then, to take 100%, complete responsibility for everything that has ever happened to me. Who I am currently am, and to make the changes I want. No. Need to make.

I’m going to share what I’m doing currently and how I’m thinking about it moving forward in my life.

Start With Awareness and Understanding

I want to state this again.

The reason I dedicated a whole section to becoming aware of people pleasing earlier in the post. Is because it’s the hardest part. To realise and understand what the hell is going on inside of you.

That’s why I named dropped and gave you the titles of the books I’ve read.

You may find these books useful. Or lead you to find other, similar books, that may be better for you to read and consume.

Be Kind To Yourself

Once you start a bit of self-reflection, you may find you start beating yourself up.

I did.

Don’t do it.

Stop this now.

You can’t change the past, your past actions and the way you’ve always dealt with things. Be kind to yourself.

The fact that you’ve identified something, even if it’s isn’t people pleasing. That you want to change or improve on. That’s amazing, that’s when you should pat yourself on the back.

Be excited for yourself, not nasty to yourself.

Again another quote I’ve heard a few times in the last few years is:

“Talk to yourself like you would talk to your best friend”

Try and keep this at the forefront of your mind. Ready, for when the internal “Nasty Self Talk Ogre” rears it’s ugly head and starts battering the shit out of you.

It Won’t Happen Overnight

This leads to being kind to yourself.

You won’t be able to change things overnight. And that’s OK, don’t beat yourself up over it.

You won’t get things right all the time, it will take time, and it’s a building process. Again, that’s OK, don’t beat yourself up over it.

Reflect On Action And Missed Opportunities

So if you find that you “suppress” your people pleasing. But still feel like you didn’t do the right thing for me.

Or, that you missed implementing things you’re trying to put in place.

Reflect on it.

But only reflect, don’t start calling yourself names. And don’t give up on yourself either.

It’s a case of saying

  • OK, I did well with that, but I still need to focus on X.
  • OK, I did nothing there, missed my chance. I need to put into practice Y.
  • OK, you did it, you worked through Z as intended. Great work, let’s keep going.

Think of it as a rebuilt process.

You may need to “demolish” the existing internal “construction”. The problem is, you can’t use a wrecking ball. You may need to do this, brick, by brick.

Then the same goes for the internal “rebuilt”, the “reconstruction”. It’s a slow process, digging the foundations, pouring the concrete, and laying each brick.

This takes time.

And it’s worth the effort.

Nice Guys Don’t Finish Last

There’s an old saying: “Nice guys finish last”

I’ve lied to myself. Said this to myself. Over and over. The problem?

It puts you in a victim mindset. It goes against what I was saying earlier. About taking full responsibility for everything.

And, knowing what I know now, it isn’t always true. Nice guys don’t always finish last.

Being a nice guy. Being a people pleaser. Yes, it has its problems, its downsides. But I look at it as the foundation for other things.

You need to work on yourself to improve. To get what you want, to achieve what you want.

The people pleasing side of you needs a complete rebuild. But becoming a better version of yourself, a better man. You’re only a sneeze away from doing this. From becoming a “great guy”, a “top lad”.

You already have the foundations there, in that sense. It could even be that the walls are already constructed too. All that’s left is to put the roof on.

Nice guys are the foundations of great men.

Great men are the foundations of astounding things.

Nice guys are the foundations of great men.

Great men are the foundations of astounding things.

Phillip Hughes

Nice guys, turn into great guys. And great guys get everything they want and need. Which then allows them to help others. Not to please others, but to help them in whatever way serves that person the best.

People pleasing doesn’t always do this.

Which is bad for all parties involved.

Conclusion: People Pleasing

I’m going to be bold and restate the title of this post. People pleasing isn’t bad, isn’t toxic, there are things that you can take away from it as positives.

I’m going to be even bolder and say that if you are a people pleaser, you need to kill it. To “put it down like a rabid dog”.

The takeaway about your people pleasing. Is that it comes from a good place, a good heart.

But the problem is, you put people pleasing as a priority over pleasing yourself, and that’s not a good thing. It can lead to a lot of self-loathing, I know, I’ve been there, I still go there sometimes.

What we need to do is serve ourselves first, and take responsibility for ourselves, not for others.

The downstream is that you will be able to help others at a higher level. Helping them in a way that isn’t about pleasing, it’s about doing what’s best, what is right for THEM.

But only after you have helped yourself.

And that’s a good thing. For you, and everyone around you.

Wait, want more tips & tricks? Yes, please!

Who Is Phil Hughes

I am a coder, content creator & software consultant for start-ups and FTSE 100 companies. I am obsessed with productivity, self-improvement, and building a lifestyle business.
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