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People Pleasing: The Dilemma and Function of Self-Abandonment

Woman sitting at windowsill

Being empathetic and deeply caring about the well-being of others may be something that is important to you. It may be a guiding value for you, or an important part of your identity. When our care for others exists alongside a deep respect for ourselves, being caring and generous feels like an authentic expression of who we are.

People pleasing or self-abandonment, on the other hand, involves habitually going against our authentic emotions, needs, or boundaries in order to serve others or to meet external expectations. In an attempt to meet the needs of others around us, we may dismiss our own needs and desires by attacking or shaming ourselves for having them.

The origins of people pleasing can be multifaceted and different for each person. We may have past experiences where we had to perform a role for others in order to receive love, support, security, and emotional safety. One way we can explore our own personal relationship with people pleasing is to ask ourselves "What was/is the function of self-abandonment?". Did it help to preserve the connection you shared with your often overwhelmed and overburdened parent? Did you sense that there was already enough conflict in the family, and felt it best to not add to it? Did you grow up in a home where discussions about emotions and needs were avoided?

People pleasing can leave you feeling disconnected from your true self, and cut off from feeling empowered, grounded, and at ease. It can also contribute to feelings of resentment and loneliness. We long to be known, and yet expressing ourselves genuinely may feel really daunting. For some, the fear stems from concern that others will leave us or withdraw should we make our needs known. Others may struggle with getting in touch with their inner selves, not yet having a strong sense for what their needs and wants are.

As a people pleaser, you may have been presented, in the past, with the choice to either be authentic or accepted. Therapy is a place where you can explore and discover your authentic self in the safety of a relationship where you feel accepted and understood. Therapy can also support you in learning to care deeply about yourself so that your care for others no longer needs to come at the cost of self-abandonment.


Hannah Peirce

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