PEOPLE PLEASING – A Trauma Response

People pleasers are often aware of the tendency in themselves but unable to resist the compulsion. Why? Because it’s a trauma response. Does this sound far-fetched? Let me explain.

Judith Richards (Founder and Creator of The Richards Trauma Process ™ ) describes it as “fight, flight, freeze, appease”, often referred to as ‘fawning’. A people pleaser has learned to appease/fawn in order to be safe. At some point (usually before we’re 8 or so years old) we learn we’re safe if we please those authority figures around us and that we’re unsafe if we don’t. We learn that if everyone around us is happy, then we’re safe. It’s as simple as that. It’s an extremely difficult tendency to break consciously because it’s a survival mechanism.

A recent survey of 1,000 adult U.S. American citizens indicated that 49% self-identify as people-pleasers. 14% said they “definitely would”. Women (56%) are more likely than men (42%) to describe themselves this way.

Here are some signs that you may have learned you’re only safe if you’re keeping everyone happy, ie. you’re a ‘people pleaser’:    

· You constantly apologise for everything. “Sorry… oh, sorry… sorry…”

· You can’t set or uphold personal boundaries.

· Self-care is a huge challenge.

· You find yourself the go-to person for everyone’s problems.

· You feel uncomfortable in your life and misaligned with who you are.

· You need external validation; your ‘happiness’ is dependent on others’.

· You can’t do confrontation and you fear conflict.

· You feel resentful and unappreciated.

People-pleasers often attract narcissists. Why? Because a narcissist is a people pleaser’s ultimate project – they will get that person to love and appreciate them! It sounds screwed up, doesn’t it? It is! They’re also often victims of bullying because their unconscious belief is that they don’t matter as much as everyone else. So, then they’re drawn into relationships and situations where they’re treated badly, as though they don’t matter.

If any of this is ringing bells for you, please take heart and know – compulsive people-pleasing tendencies can be resolved. You’re not stuck feeling this way, living your life catering to others’ needs, not your own. Some people believe that not being this way is selfish. Please consider this – peacekeepers can never be peacemakers. Peacekeepers can’t address injustice, because they do everything they possibly can, not to be rejected. People treat them the way they allow them to.

Perhaps it’s time to heal and allow for the possibility of becoming a peacemaker. Perhaps it’s time to truly live your life.

This article is the result of a rich conversation with colleagues, including Judith Richards, Richard Faye, Dr. Helen Mursell, Chris Pye and Dr. Petrina Barson, among others. As Petrina so succinctly put it: compassion is not collusion.

Food for thought. Reach out if you want help.

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About Sally

As a former international opera singer, Sally Wilson knows a thing or two about being at the top of your field. And she’s discovered first-hand what it feels like to step away from the spotlight and lose your identity.

Through coaching, Sally helps her clients let go of their self-sabotaging beliefs and discover freedom, joy and fulfillment. As an accredited TRTP™ practitioner, Sally uses evidence-based practices to create changes that are quick, safe and lasting.

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