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I wake up early and make coffee for my husband. Then I sort out breakfast for the kids, help them get dressed for school and prepare their lunches. After dropping them at the school gates, I head to the office. When I’m there, I do my paperwork but also find myself helping poor Morag with her workload. Although I want to go to the gym during my lunch-hour, my friend Julia calls me in floods of tears so I meet up with her to discuss the problems she is having with her partner. I get back to work ten minutes early and the boss asks me to take some paperwork home with me to do over the weekend. I don’t really want to but I agree anyhow. By the time I get home, I am exhausted but someone has to get dinner ready, clean up after the kids have eaten and then supervise them doing their homework. My husband comes home at half past six and is so tired from his day at work that I don’t want to ask him to help put the kids to bed. By nine o’clock, I’m all done in. 

Do you find yourself spending a significant part of your day rushing about doing things for other people? Do you find other people come to you because they know you will always help them out when they ask?  Do you feel that you do more than your fair share of work at the office, at home, and in your personal relationships?

Maybe you are a pleaser.

Don’t get me wrong, doing things for other people is not a bad thing. The desire to support others and help them can be a very positive thing. After all, it feels good to lend a helping hand and people can appreciate you for it. However, a pleaser is someone who is stuck in a negative pattern of helping behaviour, consistently putting the needs of others before their own. Such behaviour is not sustainable over a long period of time and it is not a healthy way to live.

Pleasers tend to behave this way because of a deep-seated fear of rejection. Their desire to be liked and accepted by people mean that they believe they will be rejected by others should they not comply with their wishes. For example, the woman in the example above wants to spend her lunch-break doing something for herself but cannot say no to a request from a friend. The needs of others are put before her own and this can lead to exhaustion, frustration and unhappiness. If you feel that all your efforts to do things for yourself are thwarted by the demands put upon you by others, perhaps you need to consider how easily you accede to their demands. Saying “NO” can be a liberating experience.

Your own needs are just as important as the needs of others. Pleasers tend to lose sight of this fact. They believe that it is “selfish” or wrong to behave in this way. As mentioned earlier, this is not a healthy way to live. Pleasers tend to ignore the importance of self-care - putting time aside in their busy days to attend to their own needs. Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s sensible. If you are so worn out and emotionally flattened through not attending to your own needs, then you aren’t going to be much help to other people. People who engage in acts of self-care find that they are happier, healthier and more in touch with themselves.

A quick Google search will bring up dozens upon dozens of websites offering self-care tips for better emotional well-being. Self-care is a big topic so I will be returning to this subject again in a few weeks when we examine “S is for Selfish”.

Taigh Sàmhchair: professional counselling and psychotherapy
Hereward Proops MBACP, registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
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