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When Borderline Personality Disorder Makes You a Pathological 'People Pleaser'

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We all want to be loved and needed. I think that’s one of the core parts of being human. It is important to us. But when it becomes pathological, it can cause problems for us.

Many people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) become huge people pleasers because they want to be loved and needed by everyone they come into contact with. This kind of behavior ends up taking a terrible toll on a person. It erodes self-worth and self-esteem because it ties your self-worth to being validated by another person. So even though you may feel like it is helping with your self-esteem, the exact opposite is actually occurring.

So how do you evaluate whether or not you are a people pleaser? One of the ways is to determine if you are is asking yourself if you always want everyone who is around you to be happy, and going to any length to ensure that happens. If you put everyone else before yourself and do things for other people even when you don’t want to, then you are likely a people pleaser. When you say “yes” when you really want to say “no,” you are very likely a people pleaser.

Sometimes this kind of behavior becomes almost like an addiction because we often feel that if we don’t go out of our way to help, take care of or do things for others, they will no longer value us. And it’s true. When you decide to stop being a people pleaser, you may find some people drop out of your life. Sometimes people become people pleasers because it helps them feel important, as if they are contributing in a positive way to the other person’s life.

If you are people pleaser, it will be extremely important for you to get external validation from others. You will use that as a way to help yourself feel secure because you know that other people “like” you. This may be because you don’t have enough self-confidence in your own ability to be loved for who you are on your own merits. People pleasers are afraid telling another person “no” will make them exit from their life or that others will view them as lazy or self-indulgent. If they are in a role of “helper” in their family unit and attempt to redefine their role, sometimes the family will punish them harshly for that.

There are many risks associated with being a people pleaser. First of all, it often gives you a lot of stress because you are always trying to second-guess what others want and then working overtime to deliver it. This can generate a fair bit of anxiety because it forces you into a no-win situation. Sometimes people pleasers will end up becoming very depressed.

So how can you work at stopping this behavior? First and foremost, you have to realize you do have a choice. You can say no. You do have a choice when someone asks you to do something, go somewhere, help them with a project. It’s hard to learn how to say no and that’s where learning assertiveness training comes into play. I am all about the importance of assertiveness.

The second part of the puzzle is to learn how to set priorities. When you have a sense of what they are, you can make an informed decision when someone asks you to something that might not appeal to you. In essence, it will help you “apply the brakes.” You can also try to stall for time if someone asks you to do something you don’t really want to do. Do this without making excuses. Simply say, “I need some time to think about it. I’ll get back to you.” You can then ask them for more information about what it is they are asking you to do.

One tactic is to think about how much of a loss you are going to have to take emotionally in order to fulfill their wish. If it is going to be too much for you, then say no. Remember, you don’t have to give anyone an explanation when you deny their request. Be polite but firm. If you agree to their request, set a limit on how much time you will spend fulfilling it. This is an important method for dealing with people who I call “emotional black holes.” You may know who I’m talking about — the people who drain you whenever you spend too much time with them. They need and want so much from you. Setting a time limit and being very clear with them on how much time you will devote is a good way to protect yourself.

Remember that it is not selfish to take care of yourself. It is necessary and important to do that. You know the saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup”? People pleasers pour and pour and pour until their cup is completely empty.When you say no, don’t feel like you have to give a ton of excuses or explanations as to why you are saying no. A good sentence is, “I’m sorry but it’s just not convenient for me.” End of discussion. If you give an excuse, you are simply allowing the other person the opportunity to try to reframe their request and you will most likely end up caving to their request. Putting an end to people pleasing behavior is not easy but it’s an important step in BPD recovery.

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Unsplash photo via Chang Liu

Originally published: February 1, 2018
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