People Pleasing: the need for approval from others

Of Georgia Martin

People pleasing is the English expression that indicates the need, not at all rare especially among the younger and less structured personalities, to please others.

We all want to please. The problem arises when this desire becomes a need, so much so that one’s self-esteem and one’s personality is questioned, forging it according to who one is facing in order to have their consent.

The insecurity that leads to seeking approval from others is not related to objective factors, considering that even fairly successful people can suffer from it: just think of the Bolognese actress Matilda DeAngelis, beautiful and internationally famous. However, in the past, her self-perception did not go hand in hand with evidence of her worth. In fact, in a recent interview with Republic she confessed that she was exhausted in the continuous search for an ideal of perfection that would allow her to never disappoint others, claiming to suffer from “people pleasing”.

We broached the subject with the doctor Maria Luisa Gargiulopsychologist and psychotherapist in Rome.

People pleaser or just a generous person?

If people pleasing is related to pleasing others, what distinguishes it from a simple and admirable altruistic attitude? «Basically the feedback one wants to get from the other – replies Dr. Gargiulo – The people pleaser, i.e. the complacent individual at all costs, wants his/her action to be approved by the other, to get the esteem and affection. The generous person, on the other hand, is focused on the needs of others in a totally disinterested way”. Practically, the altruist is concerned that the other is wellwhile the people pleaser wants the other to recognize his benevolent actions.

In the light of this distinction, can we say that a people pleaser is, in his own way, a manipulative subject? «Let’s say that the people pleaser often has a totally personal purpose, that is to be recognized and esteemed by others, and this is a trait of the manipulators. However, unlike the typical manipulator, the people pleaser is not interested in controlling the actions of the other, but only in the opinion that the other has of him» specifies the expert.

The people pleaser and his past

You become a people pleaser for more than one reason, and obviously they are not all didactic: as our psychotherapist also says: «over-simplification in psychology never pays».

However, there are developmental trajectories which, from infancy, can lead a child to disbelieve in his own ability to manage on his own, to be able to choose, to be able to look after himself, to be able to make the right decisions. All of which can build a baggage of insecurity and self-esteem towards himself, which translate over time into an adult who always needs the confirmation of others before acting.

«Always wanting to generalize, there are at least two types of stories that a people pleaser could have experienced as a child – explains Dr. Gargiulo – In one case, she may have had very judgmental parents, inclined to question every action of the child, almost making him perceive that they are willing to love him only as long as he behaved in a way corresponding to their expectations; in a second case, instead, the parental attachment figure could have been anxious and overprotectivethus transmitting to your child that he is not able to manage on his own a world undermined by dangers and threats».

However, in life one does not remain eternal children, and one becomes an adult precisely when one learns to choose for oneself, on the basis of one’s own desires and personal criteria: continuing to look in others for that parent who is judgmental and lacking in trust in us can lead us only at a very high price to pay: the loss of our personality. «A people pleaser becomes dependent on the judgment of others, and therefore is not free. Furthermore, whenever others do not recognize the value of him as he would like, he comes into conflict with himself, giving up his needs and therefore fueling what in psychology is called a “false self”, i.e. an artificial character who, according to him, is more desirable in the eyes of others, without being able to distinguish what he really wants and what makes him really happy».

How to overcome the obstacle of not being able to say “no”

The action performed only on the basis of external confirmations it’s an addictionand should be treated as such. “Like all addictions, you need to get used to overcoming the “abstinence crisis” from the approval of others,” advises Dr. Gargiulo. How? Some practical examples: at least for once, let’s try to do what we want, even if we believe that our relatives can judge us; at least for once, we buy a dress because we like it and not because we asked all our friends for advice; at least once, let’s go see a movie that intrigues us but that our partner judges stupid. «Often addicted people suffer from anticipatory anxiety, i.e. they imagine that they absolutely cannot do without the approval of others. In reality it is like riding a bicycle: once you learn it, you understand that it could be done!».

And if you can’t do it on your own, it can be useful to contact a professional. “Psychotherapy is one of the most effective tools for start thinking for yourself – concludes Dr. Gargiulo – In fact, the psychotherapist never judges and never imposes his opinions, but helps the patient to develop his full potential independently».