People pleasing is a learned behavior. Often, it is treated as a trauma response. In some families or cultures, where the traditional gender roles are favored, females may be expected to be socialized to please their family members and mainly their spouses.
This learned response is a result of receiving conditional love in childhood. Starting from a young age, a child learns that they are worthy of love and belonging, only if they behave good or only if they please their parents. They are more likely to be criticized as a “bad child” if they do something they should not have done. In these households, the parents’ expectations from their children are often age inappropriate. For instance, an upset mom expects her 5-year-old to cheer her up, and angry dad expects his 3-year-old to calm him down. When a child takes an inappropriate level of responsibility, such as being responsible of soothing their parents, they grow up into adulthood where they feel they are expected to please everyone around them. These individuals are more likely to experience a depressive or anxious mood in their relationships. When they could not meet the expectations of people around them, they are more likely to criticize themselves by saying “I failed”.
As opposed to conditional love, a parent is expected to offer unconditional love to their children for a healthier childhood development. Unconditional love is showing love and affection to a child regardless of what they do or don’t do. When a child grows up with unconditional love, they do not feel the need to seek approval or validation. They take ownership only for their own feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Most importantly, they know that their bad behaviors do not define who they are; their bad behaviors do not make them feel that they are bad children. For example, when a mom gets angry after her 4-year-old refuses to go to the bed, the child, who experiences unconditional love, knows that the mom is angry at their refusal to go to the bed, but not angry at the child. Similarly, when they see their dad is sad, they are not automatically assuming that their father is upset because of the child. They do not feel responsible for the adults’ feelings. They also know that, soothing their dad is not their responsibility. This ability to set emotional boundaries develops in early childhood. The idea that “I am only responsible of my own actions, feelings and thoughts” are crucial for your wellbeing in adulthood. Having a realistic expectation that, “You cannot make everyone feel happy” is an emotional relief.
All children seek unconditional love. They want to know their parents will love and accept them no matter what they do. When this happens, they will grow up without trying to prove themselves or without the fear of making mistakes. But when a child gets exposed to conditional love, they learn that the only way to get their parents acceptance and approval is to please them. They think, “I am responsible for why my mom feels angry. What I did made her angry, she won’t love me anymore.” In this case, children learn that they are worthy of love and belonging as long as they meet their parents’ needs. But a child shouldn’t meet the parent’s needs; a parent should meet the child’s needs.
Final Tip: Be aware of how people pleasing can manifest itself in romantic relationships
When a child grows up, this learned idea that “I need to please others to receive their love, attention, acceptance” shows itself in romantic relationships. A people pleaser spouse holds inappropriate amount of responsibility by blaming themselves for their partner’s feelings. People pleasers often couple with a partner with narcissistic tendencies in order to please them without realizing that they are in an emotionally abusive relationship.
If you are in an emotionally abusive relationship or have people pleasing tendencies, please contact with me and schedule an individual session. The good news is whatever is learned can be unlearned.