People Pleasing Attachment Issues
People pleasing in its mildest form is fairly common in social and relationship interactions, as people naturally want to be liked by others. However, deep people-pleasing behaviours stem from insecure attachment styles formed by negative early childhood experiences. So they are actually damaging to relationships – the exact opposite of what people-pleasers are trying to achieve. In today’s article, therapist Teyhou Smyth takes a look at how this behaviour is related to attachment issues, and how to address it in order to heal and grow. If you or someone you love struggles with people-pleasing tendencies, you may want to explore our other articles on people-pleasing as well.
What do you know about People Pleasing? Attachment is a big deal. Each of us has an attachment style based on a range of experiences and genetic information. Attachment matters because of how influential it is in our lives. It affects all our relationships, impacts the way we perceive others’ intentions toward us, and even influences our views of self.
Now envision a person who always puts everyone else first (aka, people pleasers). They strive to make everyone around them happy; they long to be liked by everyone and spend a lot of time second guessing themselves and wondering if they are on the right track when it comes to relationships.
People pleasers are often the most caring, devoted people you can meet, but it comes with a price tag that can torment them endlessly and leave them feeling dissatisfied or riddled with guilt, fear, or stress.
Exploring attachment style and the ways it influences our functioning is good for anyone in their journey toward better emotional health. For those with people-pleasing tendencies, it can provide valuable information about how attachment style feeds into these types of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.
When we learn about the underlying factors that influence our inner world, it becomes easier to observe areas of our behaviour that can be adjusted, or new perspectives on the way we feel and think.
People Pleasers and Attachment
While there is no hard and fast rule about the type of attachment style of people pleasers we can make some logical conclusions about common overlaps between certain types of attachment and people-pleasing tendencies.
Of the three types of attachment (secure, anxious, and avoidant), people pleasers, who try to earn love through self-sacrifice often tend to have an anxious or avoidant (insecure) attachment style.
It may seem counterintuitive that people who are living their lives in a way to please others and gain love would be considered avoidant or anxious, but if we look a little closer it becomes more evident how they are connected.
When we think about attachment, it is rooted in an individual’s core personal understanding of the nature of other humans and what we can expect from them.
Someone with an innate sense of people being unreliable for love, connection, and security (people with avoidant or anxious attachment styles) would understandably learn to work around that barrier to gain access to love and connection.
Each of us need (and even crave) love, validation, and a sense of belonging with one another. People with anxious or avoidant attachment styles are no different; the need for connection is deeply ingrained in human beings.
The ways in which someone with an insecure attachment style goes about accessing connection may differ in that the expectation from others is rejection, disdain, or apathy. With this expectation as a subconscious benchmark of human behaviour, avoidant or anxiously attached folks may find themselves going above and beyond to deem themselves “worthy” of connection.
This can manifest in people-pleasing behaviours, such as not setting healthy boundaries or saying no when it would be best to do so. For people who are prone to this type of behaviour, it can seem more important to have a secure connection with another person than to honour one’s own needs.
How People Pleasers Can Break the Habit
Attachment style is sort of baked-in, since it starts to develop before we are born, based on our mothers’ experiences in pregnancy and other biological factors.
Even though we have no say in how we are biologically wired for attachment, we can find ways to work around an anxious or avoidant attachment style and people-pleasing tendencies. As with most things related to mental health, it starts with awareness.
Check in with your thoughts around relationships
When you reflect on your relationships, are you fearful of losing love, affection, or connection? If so, how does that influence your behaviours? An important factor in working around people pleasing and insecure attachment is challenging your assumptions.
It may be worth reconsidering your preconceived notions about others’ limitations. Perhaps the people you care about will have greater tolerance for your limit setting than you think, for example.
Build your self-love
Increasing your self-love quotient will help you build tolerance as you navigate your relationships. Having sufficient levels of love and attachment within yourself can reduce the devastation that can happen when people do let you down or when you begin to doubt others’ care for you for one reason or another.
Sometimes people truly do disappoint or mistreat us; sometimes people let us down without even realising it, or inadvertently reinforce a hidden rejection bias we may have. For people pleasers and those with anxious or avoidant coping styles, this can result in self-doubt and taking undue ownership of others’ behaviours.
Stepping back from the emotions of the situation and looking with objectivity can help reframe these challenges. Ask yourself, “am I taking on feelings that don’t belong to me?” Giving yourself permission to release feelings that do not serve you is powerful and can be a springboard for other self-affirming decisions.
Whether you have a secure, avoidant, or anxious attachment style, and regardless of your status as a people-pleaser (active or recovering), you can make thoughtful decisions about what is best for you and challenge automatic thoughts about your worth and lovability.
[This blog post originally appeared on Teyhou’s website www.livingwithfinesse.com ~ some content may have been modified for the UK & Irish context.]