The Goods

Don't be such a people-pleaser. A psychiatrist explains how being too nice can harm your well-being

According to Dr. Marcia Sirota, always saying yes is doing you no favours.

According to Dr. Marcia Sirota, always saying yes is doing you no favours.

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Believe it or not, it is entirely possible to be too nice, and feeling like you can't say no to the closest people in your life can get stressful fast. Psychiatrist Dr. Marcia Sirota, and author of Be Kind, Not Nice, stopped by The Goods to discuss the downside of people-pleasing and why always putting others first can be unfulfilling and even detrimental to your own well-being. If this pattern of behaviour sounds like something you are all too familiar with, Dr. Sirota shared her insights into how to better balance your needs with with those around you for more harmonious interactions.

People-pleasing is the habit of putting other people's needs ahead of your own. It's a compulsive pattern of behaviour in which a person helps, care-takes or rescues everyone around them, whether in their personal or professional life. The problem with compulsive people-pleasing is that those who engage in it are often looking for external solutions to internal problems, which are often emotional or psychological. It's exhausting and no matter how much they do for others, they won't get what they need and will likely remain unhappy and frustrated. Instead, Dr. Sirota recommends that you be kind, not nice.

According to Dr. Sirota, these are the four main attributes of a people pleaser:

Can't say no

The people-pleaser is excessively "nice," agreeable and accommodating. They'll go along with what other people want rather than assert their own needs or feelings in order to avoid rejection or receive positive feedback. No-one will know what the people-pleaser wants, because they'll never bring it up or ask. The pleaser will say "Yes," even when they feel "No," because it's more important to them not to upset or offend others than to get what they want or need in the moment. The pleaser wants approval more than anything else, so they'll sacrifice their wants of the moment for the possibility of receiving outside validation. But this is a difficult strategy, because the people-pleaser will never feel loved for just being themselves, so it will be harder to connect with others. For example, the people-pleaser who's started a new relationship might go along with everything their new partner wants, out of the fear of upsetting them and risking rejection.

Avoids conflict

The people-pleaser wants to make other people happy, so they shy away from any type of interaction that might make the other person uncomfortable. They'll avoid telling people that they're upset or angry about something the other person did, for fear of offending and they won't express their needs, for fear of imposing. For example, the people-pleaser is regularly hurt by things that their friends do or say, but never speaks up for fear that confrontation will result in rejection. They don't want to risk losing their friends, who are the source of their self-esteem.

Accepts being treated poorly

Despite their care-taking, people-pleasers are often viewed as trying too hard to be liked or to gain approval, maybe even making them appear desperate. Without the ability to put themselves first, others tend to disrespect them or take advantage of them. They often find that they aren't taken seriously in their personal and professional relationships. At work, colleagues will tend to hand off their excess tasks to the people-pleaser, and they are often overlooked for promotions.

Often unsatisfied by personal interactions

Never expressing their own needs and always going along with everyone else's needs can make the pleaser increasingly frustrated. Eventually, they'll see everyone else benefiting from their help but see that they're no further ahead in their own life, which can be upsetting. For example, a fear of causing conflict can keep a people-pleaser from speaking out over an unfair situation and can cause their stress levels to rise, or even resent those around them.

Dr. Sirota recommends that you be kind, not nice. Behaving kindly comes from an overflowing of self-love and self-confidence and means that you care about others but never neglect your own needs or feelings. It also means you have the ability to set boundaries with others, stand up for yourself and you walk away from hurtful people, whereas being nice means you're constantly trying to get others to give them love and approval in response to your "nice" actions. But this giving with expectation means you are giving with strings attached. This tends to deplete your resources and time, and leaves you feeling exhausted and frustrated. To avoid this sort of dependence on the approval of others, a people pleaser will find it beneficial to take responsibility for their own self-esteem and instead seek fulfilment elsewhere.

Being "nice" has an ulterior motive, being kind is its own motivation. If you're a kind person, you love yourself as much as you love others; you care for yourself as much as you care for other people, and you stand up for yourself as much as you stand up those around you. Being too nice is exhausting and frustrating — not to mention the added stress can take a toll on your life.

How to be kind at work

The people-pleaser may say "yes" to every request, but they're often the first one in and last to leave the workplace. If this sounds like you, Dr. Sirota encourages you to aim to set an example for the best quality work instead of the greatest quantity. And remember two things: your boss and colleagues aren't responsible for your self-worth, and your confidence is what's most appealing to others. Having self-respect and boundaries fosters respect, boosts morale and can lead to future success.

How to be kind at home

If you're a people-pleaser at home, you might do everything for everyone in the family, and put up with disrespect. Maybe you're surrounded by people who take advantage of your niceness. The solution is to set limits, assign responsibilities to everyone, give appropriate consequences for hurtful behaviour, and demand consideration. Be loving, but don't be afraid of giving a little tough love.

How to be kind at play

The people-pleaser avoids confronting their friend who always cheats at games because they're afraid of upsetting them and possibly losing the friendship. Every relationship needs to be tested to see if the other person is a true friend or a user. Be authentic, so you know that the other person sees and likes the real you. If they have a problem with you confronting them, they've shown you that they're not a true friend. In the end, true friends — and the people you actually want around — will appreciate your constructive feedback and be willing to work out problems with you.

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