Are You a People Pleaser Seeking Approval?

People pleasing was a way of life for me. Pleasing others convinced me that I was a kind and giving person. Then one evening, I was brainstorming with my daughter topics for a school paper. I loved helping and enjoyed brainstorming, but as quickly as my ideas popped out of my mouth, she shot them down for one reason or another. After a few minutes of feeling rejected, I said to her, “If every idea I suggest meets with rejection, what’s the point of me giving ideas?” Her reply: “Do you only give ideas to get approval?”

Ouch! This little interchange impacted me deeply. My daughter’s poignant response pierced the façade of my pleaser mentality and opened me to a whole new perspective. In that moment, she pinpointed the lifelong pattern that had often caused me to censor my ideas, kept me from contributing, and perpetuated reactions to when other people boldly voiced their opinions. Her laser-like question gave me a new ideal to live by: to make contributions free of the need to be rewarded by approval.

Mother helping her teen daughter with a school paperEffort Is Its Own Reward: Intrinsic Motivation

Think about it for a moment. We are trained to expect something in return for what we contribute, even if it's only approval. Parents give gold stars for good behavior; teachers give A’s and praise for a job well done; companies offer bonuses and perks. Then what happens?

Children do chores and want an allowance. People volunteer at a soup kitchen and want appreciation, or they give donations for a tax exemption. A neighbor shovels your sidewalk and, at the very least, expects a thank-you. (Ever have a person thank you for a thank you card?) Employees give exceptional service to their company and want an award, a bonus, or a raise.

As Seth Godin once said,  "The thing about effort is that effort is its own reward if you allow it to be." 

Is it possible to apply ourselves for effort’s own reward, as Godin implies? Or have we lost the ability to do for the sake of doing—a natural inclination of our humanity?

The effort we put into something creates within us self-satisfaction, growth, and personal pride. Choosing our inner truth cultivates a lasting sense of self that is independent of other people’s responses. Intrinsic motivation is an experience creating internal gratification independent of external perks.

Women peeling away old ways of beingMy daughter’s question required me to look at what motivates me and to ask myself if being unrewarded by the recipient made me less motivated. Thanks to my daughter’s frankness, I also saw that my desire for a reward—even if only approval—was limiting me from giving fully and freely.

Explore the possibility that effort can be its own reward and see how your experience in relationships and in life shifts. It is an incredible journey of self-examination and discovery—one that I have thoroughly enjoyed and an adventure I’m still engaged in.

Peel away old ways of seeing and being. Stretch toward your full potential. You'll be glad you did!

And if you'd like some encouragement along the way of breaking the habit of being a people pleaser, try our popular e-book, "Advice from an Ex-People Pleaser." Learn to put what's important to you first and begin to feel greater inner peace. 

Teach me the art of saying no!

Related reading: "Why You Should Stop Being a People Pleaser"

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Jennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence CoachJennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence Coach
Jennifer’s passion is to help people create thriving relationships first with themselves, and then with each other. She teaches emotional intelligence skills and a step-by-step process that removes the obstacles to growth, loving connection, and communication. Her popular One Year Makeover and Return to Serenity programs provide a personalized approach to transformation. Her understanding of brain science strategically reshapes a person’s pain into power while restoring inner peace and well-being through a fun and remarkable learning experience. Jennifer is happily married to her beloved husband of 39 years and is the mother of three grown children.

Posted in Brain Fitness, Mindfulness and Perspective