The Cost of Constant Approval: Understanding the Downsides of People-Pleasing

Often, our desire to feel accepted and loved leads us to sacrifice our own needs in order to care for others. In some ways, this is a beautiful impulse. We have a natural human impulse to connect with others and bring them joy—but how often have you done just that only to feel neglected or taken for granted? On its own, people-pleasing may seem harmless, but in fact it comes at a significant cost.

Let’s delve into the downsides of constantly seeking approval from others, and engaging at people-pleasing even at the expense of your own needs.

Understanding People-Pleasing

In order to understand people-pleasing as a psychological trait, it’s important to recognize that it is a self-defense mechanism. As children, we learn from the relationships in our lives. Our connection to our parents and our siblings is particularly important, but the relationship could be with any caretaker or important figure.

People-pleasers learn early on that pleasing others is a way to avoid conflict, gain acceptance, and generate praise or love. While this behavior may be necessary to navigate childhood, as adults, it can become quite problematic—sabotaging not only our physical and emotional health but also our relationships.

The Toll of Self-Sacrifice

At its heart, the need to seek approval from others and to gain their favor even at the expense of your own happiness is rooted in a fear of rejection and deep-seated insecurity. In people-pleasers, the need for connection is greater than the need for self-preservation. As a result, it contributes to a wide range of negative outcomes. Your physical health as well as your emotional state may suffer.

Choosing others over yourself means neglecting your need for healthy exercise, rest, and relaxation. You push yourself that extra mile, but over time, that extra mile takes a serious toll.

asian woman resting head on hands who looks sadConstant Vigilance

Another critical aspect of people-pleasing is being attuned to the needs of others. Accordingly, people pleasers live in constant hypervigilance. They’re always looking for the first sign of trouble: a sigh of irritation or the sound of someone stomping around the house in a mood.

This constant state of hypervigilance takes a toll. It is linked to profound anxiety, insecurity, and a fear of rejection or abandonment.

Low Self-Esteem

When we put others’ needs over our own at every turn, we reinforce a dangerous lesson: that we are not worthy of love. This lesson is reinforced, especially in abusive or neglectful relationships, where our efforts may be rewarded with indifference or even cruelty.

Relationship Issues

People-pleasers are rarely comfortable advocating for their own needs. In relationships, because they put their partner before themselves, this often creates conditions for abuse and dysfunction. It’s quite common for people-pleasers to feel as if they’re being taken for granted. They may resent their partner for not appreciating their sacrifices—and that resentment may explode into conflict abruptly and without warning.

At the same time, their partners may be frustrated and angry at the lack of clarity. The people-pleaser may be making sacrifices that haven’t been asked for. When the explosion finally happens, partners of people-pleasers are often taken aback. They can’t meet their partner’s needs, because they don’t know what they need. Their people-pleaser has already made the choice for them.

Schedule a Consultation

It is important to recognize that you are worthy of the same love you give others. While people-pleasing may have served you as a self-defense mechanism, there comes a time when you must put it aside. Pleasing others will not make you happy if you fail to acknowledge and communicate your needs.

Schedule an appointment if you’re interested in learning more about how to break free from the need to please others with anxiety counseling.