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  • Writer's pictureAmy Salgado

From People Pleaser to Self Nurturer: A Path to Understanding and Healing

Man holding a piece of glass in front of his face showing his reflection

When looking at human behavior, there are threads woven from our past experiences that shape the way we interact with the world. One such thread is the tendency to people please, often born from a trauma response. While not everyone who engages in people pleasing has experienced trauma, there are significant connections between the two. In this post, we’ll delve into the profound connection between people-pleasing and trauma, exploring its roots, manifestations, and steps toward healing this behavior.

How people-pleasing can be a trauma response

Trauma can cast a long shadow, impacting how we perceive ourselves and engage with others. It can often arise as a coping mechanism to navigate the aftermath of trauma. It becomes a way to maintain a sense of safety, approval, and connection in a world that often feels uncertain. Below are a few examples of how people-pleasing can be a trauma response.

  1. Coping Strategy: Individuals who have experienced trauma, especially in their formative years, might develop people-pleasing tendencies as a way to cope with the unpredictable or unsafe environment they were exposed to. By seeking approval and avoiding conflict, they may have found that they could reduce the risk of harm or gain a semblance of control over their surroundings.

  2. Fear of Abandonment: Trauma, especially when it involves relational harm or abandonment, can create a deep fear of rejection and isolation. People pleasers often prioritize avoiding conflict and keeping others happy to prevent being abandoned or rejected, as they might have felt in their past traumatic experiences.

  3. Need for Control: Trauma can make individuals feel powerless and out of control. People pleasing allows them to regain a sense of control by trying to manage others' perceptions and reactions. By doing so, they believe they can prevent negative outcomes.

  4. Conditional Love and Acceptance: For those who've experienced trauma, love and acceptance may have felt conditional or inconsistent. People pleasers seek validation from others, hoping that by fulfilling others' needs, they'll earn love and acceptance, even if it's temporary.

  5. Hypervigilance: Trauma can lead to hypervigilance – a heightened state of awareness and anxiety. People pleasers may constantly monitor others' emotions and reactions, ready to adjust their behavior to avoid potential triggers or negative outcomes.

  6. Disconnection from Self: Trauma can cause individuals to disconnect from their own needs and emotions as a survival mechanism. People pleasers often prioritize others' needs over their own, suppressing their authentic selves to maintain a sense of safety and belonging.

  7. Reenacting Past Dynamics: Some people might unconsciously recreate dynamics from their traumatic experiences. If they were in a caregiving role to protect themselves or loved ones, they might carry that pattern into their adult lives by people pleasing.

  8. Avoidance of Re-triggering: Certain actions or behaviors might serve as triggers for trauma-related emotions. People pleasers might engage in people-pleasing behaviors to avoid triggering their own trauma responses or to prevent others from experiencing distress.

Common Signs and Behaviors Associated with People Pleasing:

Recognizing these signs in yourself or others can be a crucial step in addressing people-pleasing tendencies and working toward healthier patterns of interaction and self-care. It's important to note that while helping and accommodating others is generally positive, it becomes problematic when it comes at the expense of one's own well-being and authenticity. Below are a few ways that people-pleasing manifests.

  1. Difficulty Saying No: People pleasers often struggle to decline requests or say no, even when they're overwhelmed or have their own commitments.

  2. Overextending: They go above and beyond to meet others' needs, often sacrificing their own well-being in the process.

  3. Constant Apologizing: People pleasers apologize excessively, even for things that aren't their fault, as a way to avoid conflict or criticism.

  4. Fear of Disappointing Others: The fear of disappointing others drives their actions, and they might prioritize others' preferences over their own.

  5. Avoiding Conflict: People pleasers will go to great lengths to avoid conflict, even if it means suppressing their true opinions or feelings.

  6. Suppressing Emotions: They might hide their true emotions, concerns, or frustrations to maintain harmony and avoid upsetting others.

  7. Seeking External Validation: Their self-worth is heavily dependent on external approval and validation. They may feel anxious if they believe others are displeased with them.

  8. Neglecting Self-Care: People pleasers often put others' needs before their own, neglecting self-care, rest, and personal interests.

  9. Ignoring Boundaries: They might disregard their own boundaries to accommodate others' wishes or expectations.

  10. Feeling Obligated: Even when not explicitly asked, they may feel obligated to help or accommodate others.

  11. Prioritizing Others' Happiness: People pleasers might believe that their worth is tied to making others happy, leading them to prioritize others' needs at the expense of their own.

  12. Difficulty Expressing Preferences: They struggle to voice their preferences or make decisions, fearing disagreement or rejection.

  13. Resentment and Burnout: Over time, people-pleasing can lead to feelings of resentment, burnout, and a sense of being taken advantage of.

  14. Masking Authenticity: To fit in or gain approval, people pleasers might present a version of themselves that isn't entirely authentic.

  15. Emotional Exhaustion: Constantly catering to others' needs can lead to emotional exhaustion and a lack of time and energy for self-care.

  16. Fearing Criticism: People pleasers are often highly sensitive to criticism and might go to great lengths to avoid it.

  17. Codependency: In more extreme cases, people-pleasing can develop into codependent relationships where their self-worth is entirely tied to meeting others' needs.

  18. Neglecting Personal Goals: They might put their own aspirations and goals on hold in order to accommodate others.

  19. Difficulty Receiving: People pleasers may find it uncomfortable to receive compliments or help, feeling unworthy of such attention.

Steps Toward Healing

Breaking free from the pattern of people-pleasing requires conscious effort and self-awareness. Here are some practical tips to help you avoid people-pleasing and cultivate healthier relationships with yourself and others:

  1. Understand Your Triggers: Identify the situations, people, or emotions that trigger your people-pleasing tendencies. Recognizing these triggers will help you become more aware of when you're slipping into old patterns.

  2. Practice Self-Awareness: Regularly check in with yourself to assess the motives behind your actions. Ask yourself whether you're making decisions to genuinely help or because you fear disappointing others.

  3. Set Clear Boundaries: Learn to say no when you need to. Prioritize your own needs and well-being. Setting boundaries doesn't mean you're being selfish; it's an essential aspect of self-care.

  4. Delay Your Response: When asked to do something or make a commitment, give yourself time before responding. This prevents impulsive people-pleasing and allows you to assess whether the request aligns with your own priorities.

  5. Practice Self-Validation: Seek validation from within rather than relying solely on external approval. Recognize your own worth and acknowledge your achievements, even if they aren't acknowledged by others.

  6. Learn to Tolerate Discomfort: Accept that saying no or asserting your needs might feel uncomfortable, especially if you're used to pleasing others. Embrace the discomfort as part of your growth process.

  7. Prioritize Self-Care: Make self-care a non-negotiable part of your routine. When you prioritize your well-being, you're better equipped to show up authentically in your interactions.

  8. Practice Assertive Communication: Learn to express your thoughts, feelings, and needs clearly and assertively. Communicate your boundaries with confidence while still being respectful.

  9. Embrace Imperfection: Release the need to be perfect in others' eyes. Understand that it's okay to make mistakes or disappoint people sometimes; that's a natural part of being human.

  10. Reflect on Your Values: Regularly reflect on your values and priorities. Make decisions that align with what truly matters to you, rather than trying to meet everyone else's expectations.

  11. Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness can help you stay present and connected with your own needs. It also provides space to choose your responses thoughtfully, rather than reacting impulsively.

  12. Seek Support: Share your journey with trusted friends, family, or a therapist. Having a support system can provide encouragement and accountability as you work to overcome people-pleasing tendencies.

  13. Celebrate Progress: Acknowledge and celebrate the times when you successfully prioritize your needs and assert your boundaries. Each step is a step toward healthier relationships and self-esteem.

Closing Thoughts

Unraveling the connection between people-pleasing and trauma requires self-awareness, compassion, and a commitment to healing. Recognize that the behavior may have emerged as a survival strategy, but it is possible to rewrite your narrative. By cultivating self-compassion, prioritizing your needs, and celebrating progress, you can gradually break free from the cycle of people-pleasing and step into a more authentic, empowered, and trauma-informed way of living. Remember, healing is a journey, and every step you take toward self-discovery and growth is a testament to your strength and resilience.


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