While, of course, it is good to be a pleasing person, it always possible to carry a good trait too far. Kindness, servitude, helpfulness…these are qualities that are common to people who have an uncanny knack for inadvertently contributing to unbalanced relational patterns. Unhealthy people pleasing can be defined as the tendency to cater to others’ preferences to the detriment of personal well-being. It is a pattern of living that allows others to be manipulative or, at the very least, insensitive.

Let’s identify four self imposed “requirements” that these folks impose upon themselves, ultimately contributing to emotional and relational discord. Do any look familiar?

The Requirement to Be Responsible for What Is Not Yours.

A central feature in thriving relationships is the willingness of each participant to be responsible for personal issues. For instance, if a man has a problem with his temper it is job to recognize it and take the necessary steps to bring it under control. Or if a woman falls too easily into a mindset of insecurity, it is her job to adjust the thinking patterns that are bringing her down.

Somewhere along the way in life (usually in the early years) people pleasers have picked up the erroneous notion that they are responsible for others’ moods. Perhaps they will become too cautious as they dance around someone else’s improper behavior, hoping their calculated behavior will make that person have a better frame of mind. Or maybe they run interference for someone who is relationally off base as a means of keeping that person from having to pay the price for that inappropriate behavior. While it is good to be a harmonizer in relationships, people pleasers go too far in doing whatever has to be done to minimize what others are responsible for.

The Requirement of Enablement.

People can be unappreciative, lazy, unwilling to compromise, and manipulative. That is not a very upbeat thought, nonetheless, it is true. Unfortunately, when you act in pleasing ways, there is a possibility that someone will think, “This is an excellent opportunity for me to indulge my selfish desires.” Not everyone is that way, but enough are that it warrants caution when you choose to serve others.

In the midst of their selfishness, some people send the message,” I expect you to continue to treat me special, and don’t expect me to let go of my rude behavior.” Instead of standing up to this mind of deservedness, people pleasers will actually go along with the rude person’s demands as a means of avoiding conflict. They fail to factor in the long-term effect of such capitulation on the healthiness of the relationship. By “propping up” irresponsibility, they can actually help keep others’ bad habits and attitudes in motion.

The Requirement to Deny What Is Healthy.

People pleasers ultimately play into improper relationship patterns because they choose not to admit reality. As an example, a worker may take on another’s work stating that it is necessary for business, or a parent may overlook a child’s selfishness saying it would create more problems to try to confront the problem. Usually, they rationalize that they are merely trying to get along as best as they can with those persons.

The reality is that the people pleasers do not want to be bothered with the extra effort it would take to step out of someone else’s manipulative or insensitive ploys. Using denial, they will label their “helpfulness” as good and they will label confrontation as nonproductive.

The Requirement to Show Disrespect Toward Oneself.

Suppose you talk with me about something heavy on your heart, pouring out your emotions as you seek some friendly encouragement. Then imagine that I reply: ” Face it, your feelings and perspectives don’t matter.” What an insult!

As absurd as that scene might be, that is precisely what people pleasers do to themselves when they allow others to repeatedly act insensitively to them. All behavior communicates something. When someone acts rudely, it is their way of indicating low respect to that person. When the recipient allows such behavior to continue, that person is indicating agreement. Excessive people pleasers show through their placating ways that they ultimately have little respect for themselves.


Dr. Les Carter