In psychology, the term “people-pleasing” refers to the tendency to go out of one’s way to make others happy, even at the expense of one’s own needs and desires. This behaviour is often learned in childhood through the relationship with one’s mother.
One type of mother-child relationship that can lead to people-pleasing behaviour is an overbearing or controlling one. In this dynamic, the mother may have high expectations for her child and may use guilt or manipulation to try to get the child to do what she wants. The child, in turn, may learn to prioritise their mother’s needs and wants over their own in order to avoid conflict or punishment.
Another type of mother-child relationship that can foster people-pleasing behaviour is an emotionally distant or neglectful one. In this dynamic, the mother may be emotionally unavailable or uninvolved in the child’s life, leading the child to feel a lack of validation and worth. The child may then seek approval and attention from others, and may go to great lengths to please them in order to feel loved and accepted.
Both of these mother-child dynamics can lead to a lack of healthy boundaries and a tendency to put others’ needs before one’s own. This can be detrimental to the child’s mental health and self-esteem, as they may end up sacrificing their own happiness and well-being in the pursuit of pleasing others.
Furthermore, people-pleasing behaviour often stems from a fear of rejection or abandonment. Children who grow up in the aforementioned types of mother-child relationships may learn to associate standing up for themselves or expressing their own needs with potential rejection or abandonment. This fear can then drive them to constantly seek approval and acceptance from others, leading to a cycle of people-pleasing behaviour.
The good news is that people-pleasing behaviour can be unlearned and replaced with healthier, more assertive ways of interacting with others. Therapy can be a valuable tool in helping individuals overcome the negative effects of their upbringing and learn to set boundaries, communicate their needs, and prioritise their own well-being.
It’s important for parents to be aware of the potential impact their relationship with their child can have on their child’s psychological development. By creating a supportive, nurturing, and healthy dynamic with their child, parents can help prevent the development of people-pleasing behaviour and foster self-confidence, self-worth, and healthy boundaries in their child.