Why Psychologists are Wrong about People Pleasing

What is a pleasing personality?  I found an article that says a pleasing personality is encouraging, appreciative, non-judgmental, optimistic, sincere, dignified, generous, and so much more.  In my mind, that encapsulates what it means to be a people pleaser.

But being a people pleaser has a bad rap in the psychological curriculum—wrongly so, in my opinion.  I believe that the psychological curriculum contains many primitive models, from mental health therapy to marital therapy—to people pleasing.

For instance, the psychology courses I took were based on portraying people with mental health conditions as monstrosities, dehumanizing them, in my view.  I believe that mental health therapy should be formulated instead on the “sports performance psychology” or the “peak performance” models—and not the “deviance” models.  In other words, the resources should focus on bringing out top performance and wins, not fixing “issues.” As well, I think marital counseling should be based on selfless, unconditional love—and not self-focused love with conditions such as boundaries and expectations of the other.  Psychology’s models may work in certain contexts, but they don’t reach for the sky, in my view.

And I also believe that any issue can be modeled in infinitely unique ways.  My Anglican-Catholic Mom once had a conversation with my atheist brother about religion.  She then told me about how his anti-religious reasoning enlightened her.  I told her that any topic can be looked at in infinite ways—and to be careful which way she chooses.  For instance, many academic theories and movements are based on “victimization” and even “hatred toward an oppressor.” I believe that the best academic views—the best ideas in the world—generate a universal love, a love for all.  For instance, when I was in graduate studies, I longed to find a feminist approach that embraced women as unconditionally loving souls, and I found a theory that might’ve fit called “spiritual feminism,” if I have the name correct, but it had been discontinued.

So, with that said, what’s wrong with being a people pleaser?  The consequences of people-pleasing are “strong feelings of resentment, anxiety, stress, and emotional depletion when they come at your expense.” But this is just one model for people-pleasing.  What about the flip side?  What about people like me who are growing healthier, happier, and more successful due to a people-pleasing perspective?  The model I follow emphasizes selfless, unconditional love and service to others.  I’m on a quest to find spiritual enlightenment.  It’s surrendering to a universal love where we do all we can to please our loved ones—and, wherever possible, all others.  And it’s healing, not debilitating, when we please others with no expectation of validation.  People pleasing, in my mind, is freedom.

So, are people-pleasing and codependency the same?  Well, I think codependency is underrated, too.  The psychological community models all the positives about codependency in a negative light.  For instance, being self-sacrificial and unconditionally loving without expectations strikes me as ideal pursuits.  But in Western psychology, anxiety is attached to it.  Still, I watch near-death experience videos where temporarily deceased people report entering a heavenly realm.

One man reported that in heaven, he learned that one of the highest acts of service was laying down one’s life for another.  Another person said that service to others is one of the most essential means for realizing spiritual enlightenment.  And any Buddhist Monk will agree that service to others—prioritizing others over self—is vital to realizing enlightenment.

Western psychology is mostly void of spirituality and instead emphasizes the ego or the self.  And this is where the psychology curriculum is missing the point.  In my view, no higher act of mental health exists than the giving of selfless, unconditional love.  After all, I believe everyone in our lives, friend or foe, has given us infinite gifts, even if we don’t recognize those gifts yet.  And it’s our role—at least my role—to give back.

Love is a higher purpose, and striving to please is a divine form of unconditional love.  It all matters—every act of love.  No act of love is wasted.  The near-death experiencer, Mark Hodges, says, “When we love every soul in our heart, that’s when we’re free.” And, from my view, pleasing others is a freeing act.  Ask any spiritually enlightened person, and they’ll agree—pleasing others is a higher calling.  And that higher, enlightened state is what is missing in psychology’s model on people-pleasing.