Overcoming People-Pleasing arising from Trauma

People-Pleasing Trauma: Understanding the Impact and Ways To Get Over It

The effect of people-pleasing trauma was massive in her life for a pretty long time.

As a child, Margaret  grew up in a house where her parents often argued and said she wasn’t good enough. She felt really worried and scared. And to make them happy, Margaret  would do things for them even if it wasn’t good for her.

In other words, she began prioritizing her parents’ needs and wants over hers.

Learn from Her Story

As Margaret  got older, she had a hard time telling people no or taking care of herself because she was so used to making her parents happy. She didn’t feel good about herself and always wanted to win the approval and likeness of people.

But then Margaret  realized her people-pleasing behavior was rooted in the trauma she experienced as a child. But with the help of a therapist, Margaret  began to work on setting healthy boundaries and prioritizing her own needs and well-being. 

Also, she learned to say no to things that weren’t serving her and to focus on activities and relationships that brought her joy and fulfillment. And Eventually, Margaret  moved forward from her people-pleasing trauma and lived a happier, healthier life.

What is People-pleasing Trauma?

A real-life scenario of people-pleasing trauma in one’s life is the case of Margaret . 

That said before we look at trauma and its relationship with people-people tendencies, let’s briefly consider what people-pleasing behavior is. 

What is people-pleasing behavior? 

Without mincing words, people-people behavior is a behavioral pattern where an individual excessively seeks to please and gain the approval of others. 

And often, it involves prioritizing the needs, wants, and opinions of others over one’s own, even at the expense of one’s own well-being or values. 

That’s why people-pleasers often go to great lengths to avoid conflict, criticism, or rejection and may engage in activities they do not enjoy or agree with to gain the acceptance and approval of others. 

Causes Of People-Pleasing Behavior?

People-pleasing behavior can be driven by many factors, which include: 

  • A desire for love and acceptance
  • Fear of rejection or conflict
  • Low self-esteem, or 
  • A need to feel in control. 

People-pleasing predispositions can lead to negative consequences such as burnout, resentment, and a lack of self-esteem. In short, those are parts of the dangers of being a people-pleaser

Although many individuals see people-pleasing behavior as a negative trait, there are certain circumstances where it can be beneficial. Particularly, in service-oriented professions or when establishing and nurturing relationships.

When People-pleasing becomes really relevant

Let’s say you are a customer service representative for a large retail company. And as part of your job, you’re to interact with customers who may have complaints or concerns about their purchases. 

In this situation, having a people-pleasing attitude can be beneficial because you want to ensure that the customer has a positive experience and feels heard and understood. 

And you can achieve that by being attentive to the customer’s needs and going out of your way to satisfy them. And consequently, you can build a positive relationship with the customer and potentially retain future business with them.

In that case, being a people-pleaser can help you excel as a customer service representative and contribute to your company’s success.

People-pleasing Trauma: The Relationship between people-pleasing behavior and trauma

There’s a relationship between trauma and people-pleasing behavior. That’s somewhat true because individuals who have experienced traumatic events may develop a strong desire to avoid conflict, criticism, or rejection to feel safe and secure. 

In other words, trauma can cause individuals to feel powerless and out of control. And that can lead them to seek validation and acceptance from others and as a means to regain a sense of control and self-worth. 

Also, individuals who have experienced trauma may have learned to prioritize the needs of others over their own as a way to cope with past experiences or to maintain relationships.

Practical Example of explaining the relationship between Trauma and People-pleasing

Imagine a kid who grew up in a house where someone was mean to them. And in a conscious effort to avoid getting hurt, this kid might have tried really hard to make that mean person happy all the time. 

And unfortunately, when that kid grows up, he might still try to make everyone else happy, even if it’s not good for him. As a result, that can make him forget to take care of himself and, in the end, make him feel worse.

While trauma is part of the causative factor to people-pleasing behavior, it’s paramount to note that not all people-pleasers have experienced trauma. And also, not all individuals who have experienced trauma engage in people-pleasing behavior. 

Different Types Of Trauma May Lead To People-Pleasing Behavior

We’ve established that trauma can result in people-pleasing in a person. But then, you should know diverse experiences can add up together to cause profound trauma in a person’s life. 

These experiences can be physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect, or exposure to violence. And people who have experienced them may develop a strong desire to seek validation and acceptance from others to feel safe and secure.

For instance, a child like Margaret , who gets constantly criticized and belittled by his (her) parents may grow up feeling the need to always to avoid being judged or rejected. By simply pleasing others.

Similarly, someone who experienced a traumatic event such as a car accident or natural disaster may feel like they have no control over their lives and may seek validation and acceptance from others (as a way) to cope with their feelings of powerlessness.

Signs of People-Pleasing Trauma

There are several signs individuals with people-pleasing behavior arising from trauma exhibit. 

Interestingly, some of these people-pleasing symptoms are strong pointers to the danger of being a people-pleaser. These signs can include:

  1. Difficulty saying “no”: 
  2. Fear of rejection
  3. Over-apologizing (excessively apologizing, even when you haven’t done anything wrong)
  4. Prioritizing the needs of others
  5. Difficulty expressing their own opinions
  6. Avoiding conflict by suppressing one’s feelings or needs.


The Impact of People-Pleasing Trauma

People-pleasing behavior as a result of trauma can have a significant impact on an individual’s mental health and well-being. Here are some potential impacts of people-pleasing trauma:

  • Loss of self-identity
  • Difficulty forming healthy relationships
  • Inability to trust oneself or others
  • High levels of stress and anxiety

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How to Get Over People-Pleasing Trauma

Getting over people-pleasing trauma involves acknowledging the impact of trauma and taking steps toward healing and personal growth. Here are some practical steps to help you:

  • Seek therapy

Therapy can provide a safe space to process traumatic experiences and learn healthy coping strategies to manage the impact of trauma on one’s life.

So just like Margaret, you can book an appointment with a professional therapist with experience in helping people-pleasers. Through effective cognitive behavioral strategies.

  • Practice self-care

Prioritizing self-care activities such as exercise, hobbies, and spending time with loved ones can help you build a sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

  • Set boundaries

Learning to set and enforce healthy boundaries with others is a critical step towards prioritizing one’s needs and well-being.

  • Practice assertiveness

Assertiveness involves communicating one’s needs and wants clearly and respectfully. Without being aggressive or passive. And this skill can help to avoid people-pleasing behaviors.

  • Challenge negative self-talk

People-pleasers may struggle with negative self-talk that reinforces beliefs of low self-worth. Practicing positive affirmations and challenging negative self-talk can help to build a more positive self-image or self-confidence.

With that said, remember, healing from people-pleasing trauma is a process. So it’s essential you’re patient and kind to yourself throughout the journey.

Get my short book on People-pleasing and Anxiety. 

Final Thought on People-Pleasing Trauma

Again, it’s important to note that not all trauma survivors exhibit people-pleasing behavior. And not all people who exhibit these behaviors have experienced trauma.

But, for those experiencing people-pleasing behavior due to trauma, seeking support and healing can be a crucial step toward learning healthier ways to cope with difficult experiences. 

That said, while you can’t undo trauma experiences, you can choose to healthily respond to them. Without them adversely affecting the quality of your life. 


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