“I’m done living for other people. I’m done being a people pleaser. I’m done thinking about what people think about me” – Shailene Woodley
Going through a toxic relationship with a narcissist often leads to a very unhealthy habit: people-pleasing. How often have you not followed your heart because you were worried about what other people might think? How often have you avoided doing something you truly wanted to do because you couldn’t stand the idea that other people would judge you?
What is people-pleasing?
To put it really simply, “people pleasing” is what we call it when you find yourself putting the needs of others ahead of your own, to the point where it becomes detrimental to your mental health. For example, I spent so much energy worrying about what other people thought of me in my own toxic relationships that I completely lost sight of my own needs.
This caused me to shut down and lose all passion for life in general. Of course, being a people pleaser is a prevalent behavior for survivors of narcissistic abuse — so common that it’s actually seen as a personality trait (and, in some cases, a symptom of C-PTSD).
Why do survivors of narcissistic abuse tend to be people-pleasers?
It’s totally normal to be concerned about what other people think of you on some level. We all want to be accepted and loved. So it’s not surprising that most of us want to please the people who we care about.
But for survivors of abuse, people pleasing is more of a survival tactic, and it’s all about avoiding negative attention. When you’re a people pleaser, you place everyone else’s needs over your own because that gets you the one thing that matters (and the one thing most survivors of narcissistic abuse are seriously lacking): validation.
See, if you grew up with a narcissistic parent or in a toxic family, chances are that you learned very quickly that the only way you could get the love (that every kid needs) was to make the toxic parent(s) in your life happy.
From infancy, we learn that when we do what someone else wants us to do, they’re happy with us–and that feels good. However, as we get older and learn to make the occasional unpopular decision, we are sometimes shocked that some people actually seem to stop being nice to us when we don’t follow their “advice” for living.
But ultimately, we care what people think because we are taught to base our identities on the messages they give us. When our parents tell us we’re good at following their rules, we begin to feel that we need to follow the rules to be good. When our teachers scold us for coloring outside the lines, we begin to feel that unless we “stay inside the lines,” we’re wrong.
We take the messages that we hear from others about ourselves every day of our lives, and we internalize them – to such an extent that we find ourselves dependent on the approval of others for our own self-worth.
What most people pleasers don’t realize, though, is that their desire to please comes from deep insecurity and is often at the expense of their own happiness. The truth is, no matter how hard you try, there will always be people who won’t like you and some who will even hate you. There will also be times when following your heart won’t make sense to other people. The only person whose opinion matters is you!