Drawing boundaries is difficult for people that have People Pleaser Syndrome because we were never taught how to draw our own boundaries. Personal boundaries were constantly crossed by one or both parents.
People from abusive backgrounds were brought up to keep our feelings and opinions to ourselves and to cater to the feelings of others. If you have people pleaser syndrome then you have some (not necessarily all) of the following characteristics.
1. Difficulty saying no, especially when the other person does not want to accept “no” for an answer.
2. Extreme anxiety during any confrontations.
3. Extreme anxiety when people are disappointed in you, or they are not happy with your actions.
4. DIfficulty standing your ground, when you do not agree with someone.
5. Get taken advantage of easily or often.
6. Other people get more time to make their case during arguments. You end up feeling intimidated to say what your side is.
7. The need for people to approve of you.
8. Seek validation about yourself from other people
9. Get talked into doing things that you do not want to do. (like working extra shifts at work)
10. Have trouble telling people when they are crossing a boundary with you.
Usually people with People Pleaser Syndrome grew up in some sort of abusive situation during childhood. Abuse does not necessarily have to involve physical abuse. If you were expected to take on a parent’s problems and feelings as your own, and be responsible for their feelings, then that is abusive.
If you felt you had to act in certain ways, in order to keep a parent from becoming angry, then your focus was on the parents feelings all the time. You were not able to act according to your own feelings, because in order to survive, you had to constantly monitor the moods of the parent.
As a child and as you grew into teenage years, you were supposed to be taught how to be an individual. You should have been allowed to draw boundaries that were reasonable and those boundaries should have been respected by your parents.
Boundaries that are often violated in abusive households
1. Personal space. Teenagers should have had the right to personal space, such as their bedroom drawers not being gone through. They should be allowed to have the door closed, and not have the parent just opening the door without knocking. The knocking on a closed bedroom door, is a basic courtesy that is often violated in abusive families. The right to personal letters, diaries and other items is important.
There are even narcissists that will violate this boundary with other adults.
( when I was first married my mother in law used to go through everything in my apt from bedroom drawers to my trash. This was such a violation to me. I asked her not to but narcissistic people do not respect boundaries and she just did it when I was not home…my kids used to tell me she was going through drawers when I left for work)
2. The Right to have feelings. Children should have a right to feel what they feel. In some abusive households, children are often scolded for crying or expressing feelings that they have about situations. They are taught to feel what they are told to feel. As adults we have trouble identifying what it is that we actually feel, because we are conditioned to feel what others want us to feel.
( I used to try to tell my mother when I was upset or sad, but it made her angry. I could not talk about my feelings when my parents were divorced or when she decided to stop letting me have visitation with my father. I could not ask her to spend some of her days off with me instead of all of her free nights going on dates. I never saw her. She was at work or on a date. She called me selfish if I mentioned it)
3. The Right to choices and opinions. In some abusive households the child or teenager is not given the right to make choices and have opinions. Parents are supposed to be reasonable with their children and teenagers, as they express their desires and opinions.
If you were not allowed to express an opinion that was different from your parent then you probably grew up feeling like you have to keep any opposing opinions to yourself. You will have a hard time speaking about your opinion and you may even have trouble accessing your opinion at all.
People with toxic personalities will prey on those that have People Pleaser Syndrome. They know how to recognize you. They know that they can take advantage of you, in a variety of ways.
My last boyfriend spent weeks just listening to me talk about my abusive past and how it left me with difficulty standing up for myself. He knew I was a perfect target.
Some things you can do to protect yourself. There are a few things that can help. I will talk about one of them here to start with. Then I will post some follow up posts with more ideas for you to work on.
Practice identifying what you are feeling and thinking. You may know that you are feeling anxiety or discomfort, but practice trying to take a minute and be able to identify your emotions more specifically. In your mind you want to be able to say
“You are making me feel like my feelings do not matter. You are making me feel like I do not matter.”
“I feel like my schedule does not matter to them and they do not think I have important things to do”
“I feel like I am being taken advantage and they are asking things that are not reasonable”
“I feel frustrated that they keep asking me to do something after I already said no”
“They are intentionally not listening to what I am saying, in order to get their way”
When you can identify exactly how you are feeling, then you can allow yourself to feel that way, rather than shoving your emotions down. It will give you some words to use during the communication or at least validate to yourself how the person is making you feel.
Some toxic personalities will counter your right to feel what you feel. They may use techniques to confuse you about what you are feeling. They will also try to put the fault on you that you are feeling that way.
They might say…
“You really should work on your anger issues”
“You get upset about everything”
“We have to work together” (are they working together with you, or using you?)
“Your mental illness is causing you to think or feel that way” (my ex used to do this. Any time I was upset with him, he would say that it was my mental illness )
“You are projecting another experience on me” (my ex used to say I was thinking of ex boyfriends when I thought he was being unkind to me. He said I was projecting their behavior onto him )
“I am not doing anything to make you feel bad”
“I would never do anything to make you feel low self esteem or feel bad” (my ex used to say this to me)
“You are responsible for your own feelings. There is nothing I can do to make you feel bad, unless you want to feel bad. (that was my ex husband)
One time I was trying to talk to my ex about the lack of time he was spending being intimate with me. We had not been intimate in over a month. He said “There are 12 step groups for sex addiction. Maybe you should go.”
I am sure you can add to the list, from your own experiences. Feel free to add one in the comments.
Just because someone says they are not doing something, does not mean they are not doing it. A toxic personality will tell you outright that they are not doing what they are doing.
I had a boss one time who was very narcissistic and always had to have her way. She would become enraged if anyone did anything that she felt crossed her in any way. She would rage at you behind the closed door of her office.
Out in the main areas she would brag about the fact that she was a very understanding manager. She said that she was a great manager because she respected and listened to the opinions and feelings of the people under her. She was all smile in the lobby and I could hardly recognize her as the same person who had become all red faced and screaming at me in her office.
The other tactic people will use on you is guilt. They will make you feel guilty for saying no. They might say. My family used these kinds of guilt manipulations all the time on me.
1. Well, I was hoping to have a daughter in law that would be part of our family. Being part of the family means going to all family functions, no matter what else you had planned. ( this is my ex mother in law)
2. A good daughter would...(my father has used this one to get me to go back into the line of fire with my abusive mother many times)
3. As the oldest sister you are responsible to...(my father has said this to me many times, in order to get me to forgive my sister for being abusive to me)
4. Didn’t I do you a favor last month? (The favor was something you did not ask for and probably was not helpful.) – this was my ex boyfriend. He would pay my $60 phone bill and then expect me to 20 hours of work for him every week.
5. We really need your help. Everyone else is busy. (your time is less important that the other people who said no / they have more of a right to say “no” than you do)
6. But I lent you money. ( so you are now an indentured servant until the debt is paid off, which will never happen because they keep adding interest on it) – my ex inlaws used to use our debt to them against us
7. I thought you cared about me (as if saying “no” to this one thing will prove you do not love them) – my ex mother in law still does this to me
8. I thought you cared about the family (as if saying “no” to this one thing is a severe violation of loyalty)
I am sure you can add to list, from your own experiences. Feel free to leave one in the comments.
More ideas in Part 2. I am working through this process of overcoming People Pleaser Syndrome myself. It can be done. It is a matter of retraining our brains, and getting the things that we missed developmentally during childhood.