Trying to Please Everyone

Tired of Trying to Please Everyone?

People-pleasing is frustrating and exhausting. And it’s impossible! So, learn how to stop indiscriminately people-pleasing and put your effort into relationships that matter.

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Trying to please everyone is tiring. It’s also a waste of time!

When you try to be all things to all people, no one is happy.

You suffer because you give and give but don’t receive in return. Your health and wellbeing are depleted and you eventually grow tired and resentful.

And despite your best efforts, other people aren’t happy with you either. You may be able to please some people some of the time. But we all know some people who just can’t be pleased; they find fault no matter what you do. It truly is a no-win situation.

You can’t please everyone

In Aesop’s fable The Miller, His Son, and the Ass, a man and his son walk alongside their donkey as they take it to market to sell. They encounter a group of travelers who laugh at them for walking when they could be riding. So, the son climbs onto the donkey.

Next, they meet some men who scoff at the son for not respecting his elder father and allowing him to ride. Although the older man didn’t mind walking, he trades places with his son.

A little further, they encounter a woman who criticizes the man for making his son walk while he rides. And so, the boy climbs up and both of them ride until they meet more passersby who say the poor donkey is overloaded.  The man and his son certainly don’t want to upset these strangers, so they carry the donkey to market!

Two men carrying a donkey attract a lot of attention which upsets the donkey. The donkey breaks free of the ropes and falls into the river. The moral of the story is that when you try to please everyone you end up pleasing no one (and you lose your ass).

People-pleasing is exhausting and frustrating

The problem with trying to please everyone

Have you ever felt like this man – like a puppet on a string bowing to everyone else’s demands? At first, you’re just being polite and good-natured. You want to help and do good in the world. Plus it feels nice to be needed and make people happy.

What’s wrong with that, you ask.  Well, what’s wrong is that the requests get more time-consuming, more demanding, and more out of line with your values and goals.  You may become so busy pleasing others that you neglect yourself. Your health may suffer. Perhaps you stay up too late working, you get sick and run down, or you become anxious and short-tempered due to the stress you’re under.

Just like the man and his son, over time you’re doing things that are further and further from what you want and believe in. You end up being a people-pleaser out of fear of disappointing people or fear of conflict. Eventually, you’re carrying a donkey just because someone criticized what you wanted to do!  

It might sound ridiculous, but what are you doing to please others? Are you over-committed, but still taking on more? Do you do things that go against your values? Do you spend time on things that don’t move you toward your goals in order to make others happy? Do you deny your own feelings?  Do you feel taken for granted? Do you worry that people won’t like you?

Some people don’t like you—and that’s okay

It may hurt to hear this, but some people don’t like you. They don’t like your shoes or your religion. They don’t like the jokes you tell or your views on climate change. This isn’t because there’s anything wrong with you. It’s simply a fact of life. We all prefer, get along with, and are drawn to some people more than others.

And when we accept that some people don’t like us or agree with us, we can stop trying to please them – because we realize it’s futile.

In reality, you don’t need everyone to like you; you just need some people to love and accept you exactly as you are. When you try to be someone that you’re not, you may be accepted and liked, but the price is steep. People-pleasing is like diluting yourself. If you keep doing it, you water yourself down to nothing and the façade that everyone likes isn’t even you!

Be selective about who you try to please

It makes sense to try to please the people you’re closest to. Even so, you can’t please your parents or your partner all of the time. A strong relationship can withstand some disagreements and boundaries.

You deserve to be in relationships with people who want to know the real you, including your differing opinions and telling them “no” from time to time. You can do this by being more authentic, tolerating disagreement and disapproval, and remembering that your worth as a person isn’t based on anyone else’s opinion.

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©2020 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
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Sharon Martin

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Do you hold yourself—and perhaps others—to extremely high standards? Do you have a nagging inner-critic that tells you you’re inadequate no matter how much you achieve? Do you procrastinate certain tasks because you’re afraid you won’t carry them out perfectly? If you’ve answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, chances are you’re a perfectionist. And while there’s nothing wrong with hard work and high standards, perfectionism can take over your life if you let it.

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Sharon Martin, DSW, LCSW is a psychotherapist and author specializing in codependency recovery. For the past 25 years, she’s been helping people-pleasers, perfectionists, and adult children overcome self-doubt and shame, embrace their imperfections, and set boundaries. Dr. Martin writes the popular blog Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today and is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism and The Better Boundaries Workbook.

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