Imagine that prioritizing yourself is a spectrum where people-pleasing and selfishness are two opposite poles. Assertiveness lies in the middle, shining bright golden.
And yes, you’ve guessed right – the middle road is exactly where we’re going!
But before you embark on the journey of establishing boundaries, speaking up for yourself, and protecting your time – all of which are stellar signs of assertiveness – you first need to know where it is you are right now.
In other words, are you a people pleaser?
Here are 9 things people pleasers do that assertive people don’t.
1) They avoid conflict at all cost
As someone who used to be a pro at people pleasing, I speak from personal experience when I say conflict can feel like being shattered into a thousand pieces.
That’s because people pleasing revolves around seeking validation and approval, and arguing with someone gives you none of those.
On the contrary, arguments call for asserting yourself in the face of doubt or accusations, something that people pleasers are spectacularly bad at.
The result? You avoid conflict as if it could burn you any second, making sure you’re always a safe distance away.
Which brings us to…
2) They agree not to disagree
Want to reduce the chance of conflict to zero? An effective people-pleasing strategy is to never voice your own opinion – unless it’s in line with what the other person thinks, of course.
In that case, people pleasers have free rein!
Where assertive people confidently communicate their thoughts and are comfortable settling on a simple “let’s agree to disagree”, people pleasers always try to feel out the situation and adjust their opinions accordingly.
This might stem from a deep-seated need to be liked and accepted, no matter the cost.
If this sounds like you, remember that there are people out there who will love you for who you really are. There is no need to hide from those who truly see you.
3) They give and give and give some more
Speaking of people who accept you as you are, good friends will also understand you have limitations and boundaries – if you express them clearly, that is.
Unfortunately, this is what many people pleasers struggle with. They say yes even when they want to scream no because the thought of disappointing someone is simply too crushing.
This means they constantly spread themselves thin trying to help everyone around them.
Excited to have a bubble bath and finally read a book in peace? Too bad, John needs some more help with paperwork even though it’s 7 PM.
Feel so overwhelmed and busy you might explode any second? Laura says you simply need to go to her weekly book club, so let’s turn into Atlas and hold up the world for a day longer!
Or – hear me out – don’t.
Giving your energy to everyone except yourself can lead to a lot of stress, which might eventually impact your physical well-being.
Unlike people pleasers, assertive people understand where their limits lie and when they need to recharge. They know that saying “I can’t come today, but thank you” won’t set the world ablaze.
4) They let their wounds pester in silence
Avoiding conflict has a price to pay. Every time someone oversteps your boundaries or hurts you with their words, a great dilemma stands before you:
Do you speak up and face the chance of an argument?
Or do you let your anger simmer, pushing it so deep down it turns into burning resentment?
A common trait among people pleasers is that more often than not, they choose the second path. Better to silently move on than to destroy a relationship.
However, the key word here is “destroy”. Assertive people know all too well that expressing what troubles them does not have to lead to the destruction of anything.
On the contrary, it often gives rise to a deeper understanding of all parties involved and improved communication in the future.
5) They’re married to the word “sorry”
While we’re on the topic of communication, people pleasers say “sorry” way too often. So often, in fact, that others have to tell them to stop saying sorry, only to hear another “sorry” in response.
One of my friends apologizes for everything and anything – she’s sorry she arrived one minute late, she’s sorry it’s cold outside, she’s sorry I’ve bumped my toe, you name it.
There’s nothing inherently bad about apologies, of course. However, excellent assertiveness lies in knowing when it’s your place to apologize and when you shouldn’t blame yourself for things you can’t control.
6) They think they should hold up everyone’s emotional universe
Another thing you have no control over is how other people feel.
Of course, this doesn’t stop people pleasers from worrying everyone’s feelings are connected to their behavior, negative emotions especially.
Let’s say your friend’s in a low mood. The first thing that comes to mind is whether you’ve done something to upset them. Once they convince you it truly has nothing to do with you, you feel relieved and then you offer emotional support.
It’s time to open our assertiveness guidance book. All people pleasers, take notes!
You are not responsible for another person’s feelings. Even if your behavior does upset someone, it is up to you to gauge whether their reaction is within reasonable bounds and whether you should apologize.
7) They are fuelled by praise and shattered by critique
One of the biggest cons of being a people pleaser is how much you rely on external validation.
A vast number of people pleasers delight in praise, be it compliments, winning trophies in competitions, being appreciated by a superior, or getting As at school.
Sometimes, when things aren’t going particularly well, they might think back to their previous accomplishments or the praise they’ve received in the past and draw motivation from it in order to keep going.
Instead of looking for a source of self-worth and determination within themselves – as an assertive and confident person would do – they are wholly fuelled by others’ acknowledgment.
Of course, this all comes crashing down when people pleasers receive negative feedback. In one sentence, your whole identity is brought into question.
This is why it’s detrimental that you build a stable and safe base within yourself, independent of the world around you.
8) They aim to perform well and worry about outperforming others at the same time
As a people pleaser, you want your boss or teacher to appreciate you.
The easiest way to do that is to go above and beyond – you put extra effort into all you do, spend all your time at the office, you know the gist.
But here’s where things get a little bit more complicated. According to research, knowing that someone else is comparing themselves to you, trying to climb the same ladder, can cause mental distress.
Well, you find yourself battling conflicting forces. On the one hand, you want to please your superior. On the other, you don’t want interpersonal conflict with your colleague.
It’s a tough one.
There is a solution, though. Instead of aiming to please everyone around you, bring the attention back to yourself. What do you want?
If you know the answer, all you need to do is pursue it. Assertively.
9) They use a lot of exclamation marks or emojis in their emails
Let’s finish off on a lighter note, shall we?
Communication via email can be tricky, there’s no doubt about that. Sometimes, it’s challenging to gauge what tone the other person is using and how we should reply.
People pleasers have their priorities straight, though – as cheery as possible beats the game!
A lot of! Exclamation marks! Signals! Excitement! It means! You’re a nice! Person!
Emojis can come in handy, too. 😊
Look, I’m not saying we should banish all emojis and exclamation marks. They are an effective way to demonstrate emotions via text.
But don’t overdo it.
Instead, remember the principles of assertiveness: trust the power of your words, communicate clearly, and show respect for others and yourself. Above all, value your time and energy. Protect your space.
It’s time to follow the middle road. It’s time to be a little more assertive.