If you’re a people-pleasing introvert, you may pretend to agree with others even when you don’t.
I grew up as a chronic people-pleaser. I can remember being asked for my opinion, so I said what I thought the group would like, even though it wasn’t what I really thought. I also remember the keen pain I felt when I had to disagree with someone, and how I’d soften it up with so many apologies and disclaimers, they’d sometimes be confused whether I agreed or not. I was always worried that I would let someone down, which is the epitome of people-pleasing.
I think many introverts experience this. Anyone can be a people-pleaser, but as introverts, we can already feel awkward in conversations and group settings. That means we have a strong incentive to “go along to get along,” essentially agreeing with whatever others want.
To Change Your People-Pleasing Ways, You Must Recognize That You Are One
But — people-pleasing tendencies can really hold us back. They can also cause us to be so overcommitted when it comes to others that we don’t get the alone time we need to be at our best.
Today, I still have these people-pleasing tendencies sometimes, but I put a lot of work into eliminating them, and it has largely succeeded — and that has given me more confidence and made my life much happier. The first crucial step to that change was recognizing that I was a people-pleaser in the first place.
If you’re wondering if you are, too, here are five common signs that you may be a people-pleasing introvert, and what to do about it.
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5 Signs You’re a People-Pleasing Introvert
1. You have a hard time disagreeing with others and may even agree with them when you don’t mean it.
People-pleasing introverts struggle with conflict, so they may pretend to agree with others even when they don’t. For example, if someone expresses an opinion a people-pleaser disagrees with, they may try to contribute something to the conversation that matches what others are saying.
As a former people-pleaser, I remember sometimes even stating an opinion I thought the other person would agree with, even if it wasn’t my own. This would become particularly frustrating if it turned out they disagreed with it, too.
2. You can’t say no; you feel obligated to put their needs before your own.
This is the classic sign of a people-pleaser, the person who just can’t say no, and it’s also one of the most destructive.
People-pleasers feel that others will be upset if they say no to a request, commitment, or favor, and they also feel nervous and uncomfortable about how to actually say no. The result is that a people-pleaser may have absolutely no time for the things they care about, because they fill it up with obligations to others. Then, they may default to passive-aggressive behavior, like ghosting someone, saying yes and never following through, or agreeing (but then making up an “acceptable” excuse at the last minute).
The unfortunate irony is that these behaviors actually do let people down, whereas saying no in the first place would likely be fine.
The inability to say no also has a darker side. In extreme cases, a people-pleaser may consent to things that directly harm them — like working extreme hours or letting someone else take credit for an achievement. These situations are a key sign it’s time to work to overcome your people-pleasing behaviors.
3. You try to act like the people you’re with.
It’s normal to mirror other people to an extent, which means subtly or unconsciously imitating the posture, gestures, or tone of voice of another person. (Mirroring can even be helpful — it helps bond people together and can soften up difficult situations and promote empathy.)
However, people-pleasers often consciously try to be like others around them, and they worry they are making people uncomfortable if they don’t. At times, this can be self-destructive — for example, continuing to order more rounds of alcohol even though you don’t want to keep drinking, just to match what others are doing.
A people-pleaser may even feel bad if they don’t match others — you may have thoughts like, “I’ll be bringing down the vibe if I don’t take shots with them.” In reality, the only person in the group feeling self-conscious is the people-pleaser themselves. If you followed your own preference, it’s likely that no one would notice, or, at most, they might briefly tease you before moving on.
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4. You overthink your interactions, and it becomes an endless cycle of rumination.
One of my biggest struggles as a people-pleaser was the extreme amount of time and mental energy I would put into thinking about past conversations or interactions. Anytime I had an important or difficult conversation, or one that didn’t go the way I’d expected, I would reenact it over and over in my head. I’d imagine what would have happened if I’d said this instead or if I’d done such-and-such differently.
I’d try to memorize “better” responses to use in the future — ones less likely to ruffle feathers — and then I’d do it all again. Similarly, I’d anticipate conversations long before they happened and practically rehearse what I was going to say, agonizing over whether to start this way or that, and which details to include.
The overthinking was endless, and more than that, it drove me crazy. Many people-pleasers are locked into this cycle of constantly rehearsing and reenacting simple interactions. The truth is, no one else cares and thinks about these interactions as much as you do; whether a difficult conversation goes well or not is, to some extent, out of your control.
5. You feel uncomfortable if someone is upset with you.
For a people-pleaser, the very idea of someone being upset with you is a scary thought. People-pleasers often cannot just disengage from the annoyance or anger of others. They feel like they have no peace until the person is happy with them again, and that means they will go to uncomfortable lengths to try to make the person feel that way.
Aside from the fact that this isn’t always possible — some people are just difficult — it leads to unhealthy behavior, and can cause the people-pleaser to appear needy. It can also lead to abuse and exploitation, because the people who treat the people-pleaser the worst may be the ones the people-pleaser will try hardest to make happy.
It can be hard to remember this at times, but sometimes, someone’s anger does not necessarily mean you did something wrong. They may be angry because of a mood they’re in, because they’re a difficult person, because of past experiences you had nothing to do with, or because of their own assumptions and quirks.
So, what do you do if you’re an introvert with people-pleasing tendencies? There are three small steps that can make a big difference.
3 Ways to Curb Your People-Pleasing Tendencies
1. Start by saying no to something small.
According to psychologist Rina Bajaj, try saying no to something small, like the lowest-stakes thing you can think of. But take a moment to appreciate the power of what you just did. And then do it again. After the first few times, see if you can challenge yourself to say no to one small thing per day. You will then start to feel more comfortable doing it with bigger things, too.
2. Practice giving your opinion.
This is a recommendation from Amy Morin, a clinical social worker and expert on strengthening the mind. You can do this in a low-pressure way, such as by giving your unsolicited opinion to a coworker or restaurant server. You might say something like, “I don’t know, that cobbler sounds tasty, but I think dessert always needs chocolate. Do you have anything chocolatey?” It’s okay to choose random, trivial opinions, as long as they’re ones you sincerely believe and not just things you think others will approve of.
When you practice doing this, you’ll probably find that expressing your opinion harmed no one, and even felt good. As a result, it’ll encourage you to do it more and more often.
3. Take a look at the people you spend time with, those who “get” you (and don’t).
This point is easiest to overlook, but arguably the most essential. Ask yourself: Do you have a friend (or friends) that you deeply trust, those who “get” you? You know, they’re the kind of people who treat you with respect and are careful not to take advantage of you? Go to them. Tell them openly that people-pleasing is something you noticed you do, and you want to stop. Then, get their perspective and ask for their support in taking it on.
Your friend’s support could take many forms, depending on what you’re comfortable with. Perhaps you can ask them to point out when you start to do it around them, or have a code word they can say. Perhaps they can help and chime in when you say no to someone, by saying it seems like you’re not interested in x or y thing. Or perhaps you just want them as an accountability partner as you practice the first two steps.
No matter what form it takes, a friend’s support can supercharge your efforts and provide a sense of confidence as you finally start to say no to others — and yes to yourself.
You might like:
- How Introverts and Sensitive People Can Finally Stop People Pleasing
- How to Deal With Pushy People When You’re a People-Pleasing Introvert
- 27 ‘Strange’ Things You Do Because You’re a Highly Sensitive Person
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