Help! How do you stop people pleasing?
Let's talk it out.
When I think about the trope of the “good girl,” I immediately think of Taylor Swift. While Swift was once known for being clean-cut and only occasionally using swear words publicly (her first album that included the word f*ck was Folklore), she openly rejected the “good girl” trope in her Netflix documentary, Miss Americana. “I was so obsessed with not getting in trouble, that I was like, I’m just not going to do anything that anyone could say anything about,” she said. “The main thing that I always tried to be was a good girl... I became the person who everyone wanted me to be.”
The “good girl” trope, which Swift has since ditched, is closely tied with people-pleasing behaviour, a tendency that women are more likely to have than men. So what is “people pleasing” exactly? Relationship expert Natalie Lue describes people-pleasing as “when we suppress and repress our own needs, desires, expectations, feelings and opinions to put others ahead of ourselves so that we can gain attention, affection, validation, approval and love. Or we do it to avoid conflict, criticism, additional stress, disappointments, loss, rejection and … abandonment.”
While people pleasing is not entirely gendered, women as “people pleasers” or “good girls” are super common. Consequently, women with perfectionist tendencies equate their achievements (whether as a mother, employee, volunteer, etc) with their self-worth.
In a recent research study, 56% of women are more likely than 42% of men to say they are people-pleasers. If you’re a woman reading this, I’m sure those numbers aren’t all that shocking. Americans specifically also say they feel responsible for how other people feel. While about one-third of men (35%) say they often experience this, close to half (46%) of women say they do. The need to please is actually closely associated with a need to belong. And in a world where many people feel they don’t belong, it’s not hard to see why underrepresented demographics might overly compensate or strive to be known as a “good girl.” Women have always been the caretakers of humanity, conditioned over many generations to put others’ needs (i.e. their partner’s needs, their children’s needs) before their own. Women who do not outwardly aim to please are often met with gendered labels like “difficult” or “high maintenance,” simply for expressing a need or sharing an opinion. The “good girl” trope enforces other dangerous perceptions, like the notion that women are “better”, which we’ve explored before.
A quick look at the history of linguistics has highlighted time and time again that women are trained to be more passive in how they present themselves or their opinions in public, mixed-gender settings (like offices). Linguist Robin Lakoff’s research goes as far as proving that, historically, girls are socialized to use a "non-forceful style" of language that generally conforms women to the social norms of femininity. The use of "gender-appropriate language," in turn, has denied women access to power and reinforced social inequality.
People -pleasing even extends to beauty and relationship standards, meaning women edit themselves to meet unrealistic expectations. It extends to things like faking orgasms and complying when strangers tell you to “smile” on the street. All of these behaviours exist to please others, even if the stranger’s request makes you uncomfortable. I think people-pleasing behaviour is really just a form of internalized objectification—we, as women, often say that we’re “being objectified” by heterosexual men but we don’t acknowledge our own behaviour that enables this objectification, like molding yourself into a “good girl” or a “cool girl” or a “sexy girl.”
People-pleasing is literally everywhere. So how do you stop…doing it? How do you recognize you’re people-pleasing in the first place? Share your tips, stories and advice, here.
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From last week’s Diem Doc on How To Figure Out Your Worth…
Annual Price Raise, but for yourself
In the same way a business will incrementally increase their prices, so do I. Every year I work really hard, gain experience and new insights, and therefore become more valuable and ergo more expensive. I always know that I’m going to put 200% into any role I take on, so I make sure I don’t shortchange myself.
— 28, New York City
You can read the rest (or contribute), here.
See you next week,