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People-pleasing tendencies can become debilitating if left unchecked. Here are some people-pleasing archetypes and ways you can break out of them.

People-pleasing tendencies manifest in many different ways, such as saying “yes” when you really want to say “no,” or by putting other people’s happiness above your needs. While this tendency is often rooted in good intentions, people pleasing can often be a hindrance to our growth.

As a Nepalese, queer woman, I’ve grappled with these ingrained tendencies in both my personal and professional life. In many South-Asian communities, there’s an emphasis on self-sacrifice and putting the needs of others first, especially for women. Being queer adds another layer of complexity, as people pleasing can also stem from a need for acceptance and belonging in spaces that may not always be welcoming. For me, the first step was understanding my tendencies, establishing healthy boundaries, and continually finding ways to overcome them.

Understanding our tendencies

People pleasing manifests in various ways, often shaped by individual experiences and cultural norms. Below are the four common people-pleasing archetypes – you don’t necessarily have to align with just one, some find themselves identifying with several.

1. The validation seeker

Driven by the need for external approval, validation seekers tend to often agree with others to an excessive degree, even when it contradicts their own beliefs. They may seek constant reassurance. They are quick to apologize for any perceived mistakes and tend to modify their behavior and viewpoints based on the reactions of those around them. In their quest for acceptance, they might resort to flattery or excessive praise, yet they find it challenging to deal with criticism or negative feedback, which they often take personally.

To support your own growth and well-being as a validation seeker, consider these approaches:

Building inner confidence

  • Focus on recognizing and celebrating your strengths and accomplishments. Keep a journal of positive affirmations and acknowledge every win, no matter its size – it can be an effective tool for bolstering your self-esteem.
  • Embrace failures as opportunities for growth, allowing yourself to learn from every experience. 

Developing healthy self-acceptance

  • Emphasize authentic expression of your desires and opinions to reinforce your individuality and lessen the need for others’ approval by understanding your own desires, interests, and opinions. This can be achieved through journaling, or starting small in less intimidating settings with trusted friends.
  • A simple but powerful practice is mindfulness meditation, focusing on being present and reducing self-judgment, to enhance self-acceptance.

Seeking genuine connections

  • Aim to connect with people who appreciate you for who you are, not for what you agree with or do for them. Focus on building relationships grounded in mutual respect.
  • Seek feedback from individuals you trust, understanding that their insights matter, not the approval of everyone around you.
  • When you receive praise, make it a point to share it forward. This fosters a positive environment and helps recognize the value in others, creating a cycle of genuine appreciation and support.

As a validation seeker, integrating these practices into your life can help you navigate away from seeking validation from others and toward a more self-reliant, confident, and authentic existence.

2. The invisible martyr 

Characterized by their selflessness and dedication, the invisible martyr often finds themselves overextending to help others at the expense of their own needs and well-being. They frequently take on more tasks without being asked and exceed expectations, all while rarely seeking recognition for their efforts. This tendency leads them to struggle with saying no, feeling guilty when they do, and potentially harboring resentment for the lack of acknowledgment of their sacrifices.

To navigate your challenges as an invisible martyr, you can adopt several strategies:

Embracing assertiveness

  • Practice assertive communication by clearly expressing your thoughts and feelings without sacrificing your needs or overcommitting. This includes saying no when necessary, which can be difficult sometimes. Start small and find comfortable ways to say no, for example, “Unfortunately I don’t have bandwidth to take that on right now” or, “This opportunity doesn’t align with my goals right now.” You could also employ delay tactics, such as, “Can I think about that and get back to you?” which can help give you space to decide without pressure.
  • Set clear boundaries, identify your limits, and communicate them to others. This might involve delegating your availability for additional tasks or specifying other ways you can help.

Seeking visibility and recognition

  • Instead of waiting for recognition to come your way, proactively ask for feedback on your contributions. This can help in making your efforts more visible and appreciated.
  • Make a habit of sharing your successes and contributions in meetings or through communication channels. This not only highlights your work but also encourages a culture of recognition among peers.
  • Take the initiative to lead projects or tasks that align with your strengths and interests. This visibility can lead to greater acknowledgment of your contributions.

Cultivating personal fulfillment

  • Dedicate time to hobbies or interests outside of your obligations to others. This can help in maintaining a sense of individuality and personal fulfillment.
  • Surround yourself with people who recognize your worth and encourage your well-being. This network can provide the emotional support necessary to sustain your efforts without feeling unseen.
  • Regularly take time to reflect on what you've achieved, not just in terms of work or helping others, but also in personal growth and happiness. This practice can reinforce the value of your contributions to yourself and others.

By adopting these strategies, the invisible martyr can work towards a healthier balance between assisting others and maintaining their own well-being, ensuring their efforts are both recognized and fulfilling.

3. The peacemaker 

The peacemaker, known for their pursuit of harmony, tends to avoid confrontation and conflict, even when addressing issues directly might be necessary. They prioritize keeping everyone happy, sometimes at the expense of their own needs and often mediate disagreements, suppressing their own opinions to maintain peace. This avoidance of conflict can lead to struggles with decision-making, leave important things undiscussed, and cause internalization of issues instead of effective resolution.

To engage effectively with conflict, peacemakers can adopt the following strategies:

Practicing healthy conflict resolution

  • Embrace the role of a facilitator who encourages open communication and active listening, rather than forcing everyone to agree. This involves navigating disagreements with respect and assertiveness, ensuring all parties feel heard.
  • Learn to distinguish between healthy debate and unhealthy conflict. For example, are folks using respectful communication with a focus on resolution or is the conflict marked by personal attacks or a win-lose mentality. Recognizing this difference can help in addressing issues constructively or escalating them when necessary.
  • Engage in role-playing scenarios. For example, if you have to give hard feedback to someone or share disappointing news with a teammate; play it out with a trusted friend to feel prepared for different ways in which the receiver might respond and find proactive ways to de-escalate such a situation if it arises. 

Setting boundaries around conflict

  • Know when to step back and empower others to communicate directly with each other to find a resolution while you provide the tools or framework for effective communication. This approach respects your peacekeeping values while protecting your time and emotional energy from being directly involved in intervening in these situations.
  • Embrace asynchronous communication methods, such as emails or messages, which can provide time to think and respond thoughtfully, reducing the pressure of immediate conflict resolution.

Prioritizing your own needs

  • Remembering not to sacrifice your well-being for the sake of harmony is vital. A healthy peacemaker looks after themselves first, ensuring they are in a strong position to help others.
  • Strive to facilitate healthy communication. This does not necessarily mean achieving unanimous agreement, but it ensures all voices are heard and considered.

By implementing these strategies, the peacemaker can navigate their desire for harmony without neglecting their own needs or well-being, leading to more balanced and effective conflict resolution.

4. The load bearer

Load bearers embody strength and reliability, often shouldering a heavy burden of responsibility. They set high standards for themselves and others, tending toward perfectionism in their quest for flawless results. This drive can lead to micromanaging tasks, as they may find it difficult to delegate due to trust issues. The immense pressure they put on themselves can result in stress and burnout, and they may find it challenging to celebrate their own achievements due to their high expectations.

To manage their responsibilities sustainably, load bearers can utilize a few key approaches:

Embracing excellence, not perfection

  • Understand that striving for unrealistic standards can be counterproductive. It’s important to celebrate progress and accept that ”good enough“ can lead to success. This mindset shift helps alleviate the pressure of perfectionism.
  • Learn to accept imperfection and embrace the collaborative nature of success. Recognizing that excellence is achieved through collective effort can reduce the stress of solo achievement.

Trusting and delegating

  • Empower others by sharing tasks and trusting in their capabilities. This not only lightens your load but also fosters a supportive and collaborative environment.
  • Focus on mentoring and guiding rather than micromanaging. Clarify roles, responsibilities, and expectations upfront, which can help build confidence in delegation.
  • Leverage productivity tools to manage your time more effectively. These tools can help in tracking progress and ensuring tasks are completed without the need for constant oversight.

Recognizing and celebrating achievements

  • Make a conscious effort to acknowledge your own accomplishments and celebrate the successes of your team. Remember, shared victories are particularly powerful in building morale and motivation.
  • Set aside time to reflect on and celebrate completed projects or milestones. This can help in recognizing the value of your efforts and the contributions of your team.
  • Encourage feedback and celebrate small wins along the way. This practice helps in maintaining motivation and acknowledging the progress made toward larger goals.

By implementing these strategies, the load bearer can find a more sustainable and fulfilling way to manage their responsibilities, reducing the risk of burnout while fostering a culture of trust and collaboration.

How to set healthy boundaries as a people pleaser

No conversation about people pleasing is complete without talking about boundaries. Boundaries are rules or limits identified and created for yourself that help keep a good balance between your own needs and the needs of others. They act as shields, protecting you from emotional overwhelm, burnout, and unhealthy dynamics.

The first step to identifying what your boundaries at work look like is to foster self-awareness and understanding. Here are some questions you should ask yourself to dig deeper:

Emotional boundaries: ​​People pleasers often find themselves absorbing the stress or conflicts of others. Setting emotional boundaries is crucial for managing this inclination. Ask yourself:

  • When faced with project challenges or team conflicts, how can I acknowledge my feelings without absorbing the stress of others? For example, if a project is falling behind schedule, how do I address my stress without taking on everyone else's worries?
  • What specific situations have led me to overextend my emotional support, and how can I define clear limits to maintain a professional leadership stance while still being supportive? Consider a scenario where a team member frequently shares personal issues; how do I offer support without it impacting my own emotional well-being?

Questions like these aim to help you navigate your instinct to please by ensuring you're not sacrificing your emotional well-being for the sake of others.

Time boundaries: A common trait of people pleasers is overcommitting, which can lead to a blurred work-life balance. Ask yourself:

  • Reflecting on my weekly schedule, how much time am I dedicating to hands-on technical work versus leadership and administrative tasks? Identify instances where these lines blur, such as being pulled into unplanned meetings, and strategize ways to clearly delineate time for each area.
  • What concrete steps can I take to better manage my work hours during critical project phases without overcommitting? For instance, if a project deadline is approaching, how do I ensure I'm not working late every night? Consider setting specific “cut-off” times for work each day.

Intellectual boundaries: People pleasers may struggle with asserting their own ideas or navigating disagreements to avoid conflict, which can hinder intellectual growth and collaboration. Ask yourself:

  • In what ways can I assert my ideas or navigate disagreements in technical meetings and strategy sessions more effectively? Think about a recent meeting where your idea may have been overlooked; how could you have presented it differently, or how can you ensure your ideas are heard in the future?
  • How do I establish boundaries around sharing my expertise and delegating decision-making responsibilities? For example, when a complex problem arises, how do I decide whether to solve it myself or delegate it to a team member?

Energy boundaries: A tendency among people pleasers is to deplete their energy by continuously accommodating others’ needs, potentially neglecting their own priorities. To manage your energy effectively ask yourself: 

  • How can I monitor and manage my energy levels throughout the day to ensure I remain focused and effective in both technical and leadership roles? Identify energy-draining tasks or times of day and consider strategies like scheduled breaks or task rotation.
  • What specific delegation strategies can I employ to prevent burnout and allow me to focus on projects that motivate me? Reflect on a recent situation where delegating a task could have freed up your energy for more strategic work.

Remember that boundaries shift all the time and the right boundaries look different for everyone depending on your priorities and motivations at the time. Come back to these questions over time to reflect on the past, and plan for the future. 

Final thoughts

Navigating through the complexities of people-pleasing tendencies and establishing healthy boundaries is a journey marked by continual learning and growth. Treat yourself with compassion, acknowledge your achievements, and keep in mind that sometimes, the most empowering “yes” to yourself is a well-considered “no” to others.