If you’ve ever experienced anxiety, you know that it’s far more than just a list of clinical symptoms. Yes, anxiety involves restlessness and physical pain, frequent worry and difficulty concentrating. But somehow these symptoms alone don’t begin to capture the full experience of anxiety. They don’t begin to describe the sense in which anxiety touches every area of your life—your work, your relationships, your health, and your sense of self. They don’t begin to explain how anxiety hijacks your most core beliefs about who you are and attacks your basic sense of worth as a person.
Often, when anxiety takes over your life, you begin to experience intense feelings of inadequacy. When you interact with others, the voice of anxiety constantly tells you that you’re not good enough, attractive enough, funny enough, interesting enough, or smart enough. And anxiety tells you that, if you let your guard down, everyone around you will be able to see these deficiencies and that, inevitably, they’ll end up rejecting you.
The Role of People-Pleasing
When you live in near-constant fear that others might discover the inadequacy that you see in yourself, finding a way to hide this “truth” from others becomes nothing short of imperative. Without a way to manage this fear, chances are you’d struggle just to get through the day. Your work and your relationships wouldn’t only be a challenge; they’d be unbearable.
There’s no shortage of strategies that people develop to cope and live with anxiety, but people-pleasing may be one of the more common ways of coping. Of course, people-pleasing is not always a conscious choice. In fact, in most cases it’s a completely unconscious process. You may not have any awareness at all of your people-pleasing tendencies. Instead, it’s as though a part of you—your inner People-Pleaser—makes the choice to please others on your behalf and, subsequently, takes on a life of its own.
Even in situations where people irritate, mistreat or even take advantage of you, you have a hard time speaking up for yourself. In relationships, you struggle to maintain healthy boundaries, fearful of how friends or even a significant other will respond if you say “no” or communicate the way you really feel. Though a part of you would like to be more assertive, you can’t help but to force a smile and to keep striving at all costs to meet the expectations of others, even when those expectations are completely unreasonable.
How People-Pleasing Feeds Anxiety
Though people-pleasing provides a way for you to hide your anxiety and feelings of inadequacy from others, it may also be contributing to the worry, fear and panic in your life. Even when it’s an unconscious habit, constantly trying to please everyone is exhausting work. Always having to be the “likable person” leaves you feeling depleted. And you never get a break. Even when you’re completely spent with nothing left to give, people-pleasing leaves you with no choice but to continue putting others before yourself. You recognize the need to take time for yourself, to step away from the demands of pleasing others and always being perfect, but you just keep giving more of yourself to others—working longer hours, completing tasks for other people in your life, and going along with plans that aren’t your own.
But perhaps worse than the exhausting nature of people-pleasing, is how it prevents you from ever sharing your suffering with others. Despite feeling so alone in your experience of anxiety, the constant need to please others and to put forth the most perfect version of yourself precludes you from ever talking about your pain. The more you have to pretend that “everything’s fine,” the stronger that deep feeling of loneliness inside of you becomes.
How Therapy Can Help
As a therapist who specializes in treating anxiety, I believe it’s important to identify and name the people-pleasing tendencies that often accompany anxiety. In therapy, I help my clients to become more mindful of their inner People-Pleaser—not to judge this part of themselves, but to get curious about it. In therapy, we talk about how people-pleasing helps you to conceal your pain and suffering. We also talk about how the exhaustion involved in trying constantly to please everyone in your lives may be further exacerbating your anxiety. And we discuss the potential benefits of discontinuing the people-pleasing tendencies that have crept into your life.
Though an uncomfortable thought for many, giving yourself permission to talk openly about your anxiety—without doing so in a “pleasing” way—is an important step in the process of loosening anxiety’s grip on your life. People-pleasing not only hides your pain from others; it also prevents you from ever confronting that pain in a direct, meaningful way. Getting that people-pleasing part of you under control is an essential step in the process of creating a life without anxiety.
Are you ready to get to the bottom of your anxiety and develop a calmer way of being? Reach out to Modern Era Counseling to get started today!