The 4 Most Common Types of People-Pleasing (and How to Stop)

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Add textThis post on the 4 most common types of people-pleasing is adapted from Section 2 of Be Your Own Hero, the course that provides the tools to connect to your courage, live your values, be true to yourself, act with integrity, and do good deeds on your own terms.

Be Your Own Hero is available now. Find out more about this self-guided course here. 

The number one obstacle that gets in the way of us being our own hero is prioritising who we think we should be over who we actually are.

When we do this, we end up living according to other people’s values and beliefs rather than our own (also called “people-pleasing”). This is a bit like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole; it creates friction, discord and a whole ton of internal conflict. We’ve usually had excellent reasons to prioritise other people’s beliefs and values over our own in the past but doing this doesn’t serve us as adults.

The different “types” of people-pleasing

People-pleasing comes in a variety of flavours. This is why it can feel so intangible and hard to identify at times. Here are the five main types of people-pleasing that we might encounter, as explained by Dr Jay Earley in his Self-Therapy Journey

  • Conflict Avoidant: When you go out of your way to avoid conflicts.
  • Care-taking: When you take care of and make sure the other person doesn’t feel uncomfortable.
  • Compliance: When you go along with what other people think, feel, and want.
  • Active pleasing: When you anticipate what makes other people happy and give it to them.
  • Merging: When you try to be the same as a partner or a special person, assuming their interests, lifestyle, and life path even when it doesn’t fit with your own.

What’s the alternative?

Conflict Accepting: Acknowledging and accepting that conflicts are a part of life. The closer the relationship, the more likely it is that you’ll have conflicts from time to time. When two people with different histories, different needs and different preferences are in close relationship, it’s natural that those histories, needs, and preferences will bump up against each other at times. Annoyance, frustration, anger and hurt are healthy reactions to situations where we feel like we’ve been wronged, or to situations that run counter to our needs.

Part of being our own hero means acknowledging these feelings in ourselves while recognising that they don’t have to lead to an all-out fight. Note: conflict doesn’t necessarily mean fighting. If you currently associate conflict with fighting, think of it more like the stage between negotiation and argument.

Care-taking: It’s not your responsibility if someone else feels uncomfortable. If they do, it’s their job to figure out. Making assumptions for people isn’t fair on them, even if those assumptions are coming from a well-meaning place. Dropping the care-taking role means accepting that the other person (or people) is capable, resourceful, and has everything they need to create situations that work for them in life.

Compliance: We all know that everyone is different. Recognise that your own thoughts, feelings and desires are part of what makes you you and that individuating (i.e. learning to separate our needs and preferences from those of other people) is a natural part of becoming an adult.

Sometimes, other people might expect you to be compliant. Just as it’s not our job to make sure other people feel comfortable, it’s also not our job to conform to other people’s expectations. The right people will honour your individuality and accept this.

Active pleasing: On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with active pleasing. In fact, anticipating what makes other people happy and giving it to them is a beautiful addition to a relationship. The line between altruism and people-pleasing lies in whether we’re sacrificing our own needs to do so. Many of us are raised to believe that sacrifice is the ultimate virtue. In reality, it’s the ultimate path to frustration and burnout (N.B. In Be Your Own Hero, we dive into the art of win-win negotiation, a skill that allows us to create situations that please other people and please ourselves).

Merging: When we’re used to merging with other people, it can be hard to know what not merging looks like. Therefore the first step is to recover our sense of our own needs and preferences, accept that these needs are just as important and valid as other people’s, and to recognise that no one else is going to come along and live our lives for us; that’s our responsibility and ours alone.

Do any of these types of people-pleasing resonate for you? Based on what you've read here, what could you do differently in the future?

If the descriptions above resonate with you and you want to learn more about shifting from people-pleasing to a healthier alternative, I invite you to find out more about Be Your Own Hero

Further reading: overcoming people-pleasing and creating healthy boundaries & 5 foundations of self-kindness

Image: Ian Schneider