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The Burnout of People-Pleasing

A blog to understand the burnout of People-pleasing.

I’m putting this out there – you can absolutely burn out from being too nice!
Ever heard that phrase “you can’t pour from an empty cup”? This is the curse of being a people-pleaser – doing everything for everyone with no limits will mean you’ll eventually have nothing left for yourself.

Contrary to what is assumed, people pleasing isn’t usually driven by being a super nice person. Actually, a lot of people pleasers describe feeling resentful at times of all the things the do for everyone considering how little they get back in return. Instead, people-pleasing is driven by guilt or fear or worry -emotions that are uncomfortable to tolerate.

Toxic Kindness messages

In recent years we’ve heard a lot of messages about being kind. Social media is full of them. But there’s a few of them that are particularly toxic to people-pleasers that I want to point out:
1. Kindness is free, sprinkle it everywhere
2. You never know what someone is going through, always be kind
3. If you can be anything, always be kind
4. We rise by lifting others up

These messages all have a nice objective – which is to make those who don’t consider others enough to do so a little more. But there’s a few caveats that need adding to these, some revisions I’d like to make.
1. Some kindness is free, but other kindness has a cost of time, energy or money. We can give lots of compliments and it’s not going to really have a cost. But offering to help others, saying yes to everything, these things have definite costs.
2. Not everyone deserves or will appreciate our kindness. We can understand what someone is going through, and still put boundaries up to be kind to ourselves.
3. Always be kind is not good advice. As I said at the start of this blog, you can burn out from doing too much for too many. Always is not a realistic expectation for us.
4. Yes it can make us feel good to support people, to encourage other people, but not if that is to the detriment of ourselves. If by rising them up we are holding ourselves back for example. Or if our efforts to raise others up is getting us nowhere, it’s using up energy and time fruitlessly.

For all the reasons above, kindness needs to have boundaries and limits.

What would burnout feel like?

If you’ve burnt yourself out, you’ll feel emotional and physically exhausted. If we’ve been doing too much and not resting enough it’s also likely that our immune system struggles more, so feeling under the weather or getting ill can become more frequent. Headaches, IBS, disrupted sleep, skin rashes, hair loss, all these things can also be signs of burnout. Quite a rollcall hey?

The solution

Boundaries. The most important word for people-pleasers, so crucial for self-protection. Not just against burnout, but against being taken advantage of too. Most people pleasers will have stories of friends or partners that at one time they did so much for, but then walked out of their lives. Or can recall jobs that they gave their everything to and just got nothing back in return that made it worthwhile.

When we are working on boundaries in therapy, the aim is to close the gap between what we know we want/need, and what we say/do. The work that comes before this is helping to identify what actually makes you happy, what you actually like or don’t, what you actually want or need. I’ve often referred to the film Runaway Bride as my example for this. YouTube “Runaway Bride the eggs” to see what I mean it’s a great illustration. Julia Roberts’s character has run away from several weddings. Each of the grooms thought she liked her eggs a different way, the way that they liked them. She was so lost in each of their likes/dislikes, she didn’t even know how she liked eggs herself. This is a common story with lots of clients I’ve seen, they don’t know who the real them is, they’ve spent so much of their life being the person they think everyone else wants them to be.

The impact of burnout from people pleasing

There’s often a point a person gets to when it’s all just too much. A realisation point of how much they do for others, and how little they get back. The impact of this is feelings of anger, frustration, annoyance at all the people that don’t realise what they ask of you, that don’t show appreciation for all that you do, that aren’t there for you when you need it. As I said earlier in the blog, the people-pleasing is driven by fear or guilt, not by the desire to be the kindest person, so it’s understandable that this emotional response will kick in at some point.

I’ll come back in a future blog to talk more about the boundaries we need, and understanding the process to achieve this.

If you’re ready to make changes and begin your therapy journey, head to my appointments page now www.hannahpaskintherapy.co.uk/book-now/


Other relevant blogs

A recovering people-pleaser – A therapist’s story | Hannah Paskin (hannahpaskintherapy.co.uk)

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