A look at the psychology behind people pleasing and self-sacrificing behaviours.

Jason Brien.

Are you a people pleaser? Do you have a greater appreciation for the rights and needs of others than the rights and needs of yourself? Do you consider others to be exponentially more important than yourself? If you answered yes to any of these questions? you may very well be a people pleaser and you most likely self-sacrifice even when it’s not in your best interest to do so. Let us look at some reasons why people become people pleasers and self-sacrificers. 

Poor personal boundaries: If you have poor personal boundaries, saying no when you need to will probably be quite difficult. Personal boundaries prevent us from completely ignoring ourselves and our needs, wants and desires. The more we focus on others, the less we focus on ourselves.

Low self-esteem: If we think so poorly of ourselves then what does it matter if someone treats us like garbage? If we think so poorly of ourselves we might find ourselves going above and beyond just so that people like and ‘approve’ of us. When we have low self-esteem we are also more likely to devalue the amount of time and energy we should provide to ourselves and so hand it over to others unquestionably. 

Loneliness: When some people are lonely they may be willing to do practically anything just to keep others in their life even if their above and beyond efforts lead to severe burn out and exhaustion. Saying yes to anything and everything may make people think more highly of you but chances are unscrupulous people will take advantage of your pleasing and self-sacrificing ways.

Attention seeking: A great way to receive attention from others is to make yourself a constant presence in their life. People in general are somewhat greedy and if you constantly offer to do something for someone at no cost to them, they are likely to flatter and complement you in return. For some people this flattery and adoration is their life force and they will go to extreme lengths to secure a constant supply.

Trauma: If you were raised in a dysfunctional family or if you were abused as a child it made more sense to your survival to focus outwardly rather than inwardly. That is, you had to focus on the needs of others (parents maybe) because not doing so endangered your safety (getting beaten or abused). It is only natural then as an adult to want to people please and self-sacrifice out of fear of how others will react should you focus on yourself.

Learnt behaviour: You may have been raised in a perfectly healthy family but maybe your parents indirectly taught you that the best way to keep the peace and avoid conflict is to meeting the constant demands of other people. It is hard for people to get angry with you if you are doing them a favour. There is a significant difference between helping and self-sacrificing. 

Culture and/or religion: Some cultures and religions ‘teach’ or preach people pleasing and self-sacrificing. Some cultures demand that women sacrifice all of their needs and wants in favour of the men in their life. Religion can also sometimes disguise people pleasing and self-sacrificing as altruism and part of one’s religious duties or obligations. 

Evolution: Humans are hard wired for survival and survival often depends on safety within a group. If we don’t want to be targeted and be put in danger, it is best that we stick with the herd so to speak. Society tells us that if we want to continue to be a member (and so be provided with safety) we must look out for each other and behave in altruistic and pro-social ways.