People Pleasing: A Trauma Response

Overcoming People Pleasing as a Trauma Response 


They’re mad I couldn’t watch their kids. They were relying on me and I let them down. I need to find a way to make it up to them. 


Do you put others’ disappointment at the top of your to-do list? Are you trying to fix any possible negative reactions? Do you find it easy to stand up for others, but hard to stand up for yourself? 

Many people think of themselves as people pleasers. They don’t consider it’s possible this is a trauma response that is not doing them any favors. This is when people pleasing is used as a means to avoid conflict and trauma. Some people have been doing this their whole life and have never realized it.

The Causes of People Pleasing

People pleasing can be a response learned in childhood when love from a care giver felt transactional during child. Love, affection or attention was only shown when meeting certain expectations or complying with certain tasks. They learn that their value is determined by what they can do for other, damaging the sense of self.


Now, self-worth comes from how they are perceived by others. They use the positive responses they get from other people as their way to feel valued and loved. People pleasing is a fear based response stemming for childhood experiences. 


They become so focused on taking care of others and making them happy that they no longer recognize their own needs. If this sounds like you, you may feel empty and exhausted, and just haven’t figured out why. Maybe you feel like you must be a caretaker to others to prove that you have value. 


Signs That You are People Pleasing as a Trauma Response

Abandoning your own thoughts and needs is not living true to yourself. Other people pick up on people pleasers. You may attract people who need someone who can abandon themselves in order to gain control over them. You may even find yourself in an abusive relationship. Let’s look at some signs of a people pleasing trauma response.


You don’t feel like people know you.


You may feel hurt or frustrated that nobody seems to see who you are. In reality, you are the one hiding from others.


Saying “no” to someone stresses you out. 


Is it a rare occasion when you say no to someone? After you say no do you think about it for days and what it meant to the other person? A person with healthy boundaries is comfortable saying no, and expressing what they need. 


Unloading emotions onto strangers.


Do you find it easier to talk about your feelings with the stranger you met on a park bench? This may be because you are not invested in this person yet so you aren’t looking to please them. 


You need to release your thoughts somewhere. If it doesn’t feel safe to talk about them with the people close to you, you will find a “safe” person to talk to. Someone with whom it is almost impossible for a conflict to start with. 


You feel guilty when you have negative feelings towards someone. 


When you are feeling angry towards someone you start making a lot of excuses for them and as a result you blame yourself. This is an example of you pushing your own feelings down in order to please someone else. 


You convince yourself you did something wrong when someone reacts poorly to you. 


Sometimes it’s not even a reaction directed to you and you still take on the responsibility. Have you ever told someone to buy something and then they didn’t love it? Now you feel bad about yourself. This is another example of you putting someone else’s feelings so high above your own. 

How to Overcome People Pleasing as a Trauma Response

Now that you are nodding your head and think I am telling the story of your life, what can you do about it? You need to unlearn this response. 


This can be difficult because people pleasing is your means to stay safe. Overcoming this response will require a lot of self-reflection and patience. 


Find a Safe Connection


Sometimes healing starts with just one relationship. Start with one person and open up to them about your thoughts and needs. You need a safe, in-person connection to support you as you overcome the trauma that led to your people pleasing response. 


Prioritize Yourself Over the Disappointment of Others

If someone else is angry or disappointed in you, take the time to honor your own feelings about the situation. Maybe it wasn’t something that you did wrong, but something that they wrongfully projected onto you. You are not so powerful to control other people’s emotions. You need to recognize your place and not put excessive blame on yourself. 


Talk to the person who has a problem and don’t rush to please them. Ask questions to understand before you start apologizing. Help them to understand your side, show them who you are. 


They may stay mad at you. Part of overcoming the people pleasing response is to be okay with that. You are not in charge of what other people feel. Everything that someone says about you isn’t true. You don’t need to adopt these feelings about yourself. They aren’t yours and they don’t determine your worth. 


Find Value Within Yourself

If you’re no longer feeling valued based on other people’s reactions to you, you will have to find it within yourself. One way to honor yourself is to act consistently with your values. When you are feeling bad about something that happened, you can feel good about yourself if you stayed true to your values. 


Determine your favorite parts of yourself and celebrate those parts. You don’t need someone else to love those parts in order for you to value them. If you know how you want to show up in the world based on your values, then someone else’s thoughts will stop being so important to you. 


Give Yourself Permission to Be Yourself

You are allowed to put a name to your feelings. When you are constantly reacting to please other people, you may find yourself feeling emotionally numb. You may even find yourself zoning out in social situations because you’re just too exhausted from providing people pleasing responses. 


Part of overcoming the people pleasing response is to allow yourself to awaken the emotions that you have spent so much time trying to bury. People pleasing takes yourself out of the situation and puts all of the focus on helping the other person. You need to give yourself space to be yourself and value that. 


A therapist can help you navigate this healing time. This response is something that you have relied on for possibly your entire life. It will take time and work to retrain your brain as you stop being a people pleaser. 


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