Please Stop Pleasing

Alex Lickerman, M.D., wrote an interesting article called “The Good Guy Contract.” He had a habit of being a pleaser and couldn’t stop, even when he wanted to stop. He writes, “The Good Guy Contract was simple; I would agree to be nice to you, to advise you, to sacrifice for you–and in return you would agree to believe that I was wise, compassionate, and excellent as a human being in every way. And, most importantly, you would like me.” When he finally saw what he was doing, he stopped doing it. He’s one of the lucky few who was able to stop immediately. We should all be that fortunate.

But, what’s wrong about people pleasing, you say? It’s nice to be nice. And we all enjoy being liked and loved. Here’s the thing: people pleasers contribute to family dysfunction. They are the ones who come to therapy, confused about their teen’s irresponsible behavior, depressed about their spouse’s alcoholism, and anxious to fix somebody else. Their focus is always on someone else because that’s the nature of their problem.

Take This Easy Test

1.  Do you consider your own needs, wants, and desires in a relationship or are you more likely to put others’ needs, wants, and desires first?

2.  Does your self esteem suffer when you’re criticized, even if the criticism is not true?

3.  Do you have a habit of sacrificing your plans, desires, or needs in a caring relationship?

4. Do you often confuse pity with love?

5.  Are you generally a conflict avoider?

6.  When things go wrong, do you usually blame yourself?

7.  Do you stay attached when most everyone else tells you that you need to detach?

8. When a relationship is dragging you down, do you still put the other person’s needs or opinions first?

9. Do you have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility to the point that you think it’s your job to fix others?

10. Early in your life did you learn to set your own feelings aside to care for others?

If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, you’re probably a pleaser. And that’s not good. You may have been the unwitting contributor to relationship dysfunction. You may be prone to depression and/or anxiety because of your pleasing pattern. Rather than set limits and follow through with consequences, you may have decided to plead, nag, cajole, beg, threaten, or send guilt trips. And how is that working for you?

Tear Up Your “Good Guy Contract”

If you’re a chronic people pleaser who can’t stand to disappoint others when disappointing them is appropriate, then you have a great opportunity to become happier. As an added bonus,  loved ones often get better when you stop your pleasing pattern. Boundaries and limits are more effective teaching tools. You’ll learn to value yourself more as you make important changes. Dr. Alex Lickerman recommends the following:

  • Assess your people-pleasing tendencies. Take the test and answer honestly. Ask a friend to give you feedback on the test.
  • Practice disappointing people. Say no. Set limits. Write a script of how you’re going to refuse a favor, and read it to someone else first. Try it out.
  • Keep the payoff in mind. You’re going to be happier in the long run. People will respect you more as you stop your pleasing pattern. And you’ll be a lot more authentic.

Most pleasers do not give up their pleasing patterns easily. It often takes years to learn a new way of relating. Go to therapy and stay there until you make significant changes in your life. Good luck, and let me know how it goes.

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