• Eric Bricker, LMHC

The High Cost of People Pleasing

Updated: Jun 5, 2019

Economy of Relationships

Every day we wake up in the morning with a finite amount of physical, mental and emotional energy. Imagine that this energy can be measured as a form of currency that pays for our transactions throughout the day. The amount of currency that we have is limited. If we overspend, we go into debt. Just as with an over-drafted bank account or an unpaid credit card, we begin to accrue penalties. These fees are eventually collected from our physical, mental and emotional well-being in the form of exhaustion, stress and dissatisfaction.

People pleasers create debt by compulsively pursuing approval from others. They often do so without careful discrimination of whose validation they are chasing and what is required to get it. The answer is always ‘yes’ even when they want to say ‘no.’ Their drug of choice is praise, and the thought of disappointing anyone is intolerable. In the economy of relationships, people pleasers are bad investors. They will often expend large sums of physical, mental and emotional currency without the hope of any meaningful return. As with other economies, relational trade deficits impede growth. One party benefits while the other party continues to spend their way into a hole that seemingly has no bottom.

Emotional Bankruptcy

Trade Relations

Revising Trade Policy

At some point, it becomes necessary to re-evaluate how we are doing business with the rest of the world. Our relational economies reflect our history, culture and value system. It’s hard to fault anyone who grew up to believe that generosity, altruism and benevolence are good. These are attributes we admire and celebrate in others.

However, indiscriminately overextending ourselves is something else entirely. It speaks to an unmet need and often reflects some history of being treated poorly, or that one is living with an internal sense of unworthiness. People pleasing behavior makes us vulnerable to exploitation.

Changing the way in which we engage the world requires self-exploration. This is the point where we need to carefully examine the internal narrative surrounding the behavior. What messaging did I receive that created this policy for interacting with others in such a one-sided way? Am I ready for something different? This is the process by which we learn to set boundaries in our relational economies. It’s also a good time to seek professional help with assertiveness and setting limits.


Once our relational economic policy has been established, it needs to be communicated with our trade partners. However, it must first be clear to us. There are two types of policies to consider, the negotiable and the non-negotiable. When we transition from a lax policy to one that is more strictly enforced, our trade partners will need time to get used to the new rules. Action is more convincing than words and people are more inclined to believe what they see over what they hear. If we don’t stand by our boundaries, they will not last. During this period of shifting relational policies, it is important to be clear, patient and firm. Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Remember that we have spent a lifetime teaching the world how to treat us. Change is a process.

Relational Economic Sanctions

If we have been clear about our position, and our trade partners refuse to accept our change in policy, it may be necessary to act. For the people pleaser, suspending trade relations may be the only way to convince someone to engage in diplomacy. If that’s the case, we have some serious questions to consider about that relationship. As people pleasers move toward a place of greater self-respect and establish new relational economies for themselves, they will ultimately learn to be more discriminating about their trade partners.

A smaller sphere of influence with a few trusted allies is more emotionally profitable than attempting to fulfill the unattainable ambition of being loved by all. In the end, freedom arises from the inescapable conclusion that some of the entities in our emotional world will need to be permanently embargoed.

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