Let’s get real for a minute: we all feed off of the energy and mood of the people around us. It’s rare that you can feel happy go-lucky if others are constantly complaining; and it’s also true that a cheerful group of girlfriends can pull you out of a rut after a bad day of work. But what happens when you feel the need or pressure to constantly make sure that everyone around is you happy?
“People-pleasing” can sometimes walk a fine line of codependency. This extreme form of people pleasing may involve lacking assertiveness, anxiety over saying “no” or sharing feelings in fear it may upset someone close to you, or even an inappropriate reliance on another’s response that can affect your mood and self-esteem.
These traits often first form in our family of origin (or as I like to refer to it, the social experiment-lab of our childhood). Middle child stuck between to arguing siblings, ring a bell? How about coping with a chronically ill parent or family member? Or even a child of divorce feeling the need to support a struggling parent. Sometimes the lines in a relationship can get blurred, and the over-enmeshment of a social or family relationship can lead to us framing our identity around that relationship.
Now, people-pleasing can be displayed in a healthy way: selflessness is an amazing trait! Yet, for codependents it is less about selflessness and more about an unhealthy need to make sure all of those around us are taken care of and satisfied. Underneath everything is fear of rejection and a yearning for outside validation. It’s about wanting or even needing constant approval from others.
If you’re thinking, “this sounds like it could be me sometimes?!” here are a few warning signs to look out for in your own life to avoid getting stuck in a codependent rut:
Self-neglect. As the tendency to people-please works its way into our lives, one trademark sign is the tendency to neglect ourselves in order to care for others. By that I mean, We lose track of our own needs, own dreams, own happiness. We lose sight of the things that matter most to us, and set them aside to make sure everyone else is happy.
Saying “yes” every time. This stems from the need for validation. We all feel the urge to help others at times, but People-pleasers fear that if they say no they will be looked upon less favorably. Helping others feels great sometimes, but if we overcommit, give away too much of our time and energy, we open ourselves up to others to be taken advantage of potentially by stronger personalities we come across or simply feel drained.
Excessive stress about others. Empathy is a beautiful quality, but there is a line between between empathy and codependency. We all want our friends and family to be happy, and if those we love are in the midst of a struggle, we want to lend our support or a helping hand. However, concern becomes unhealthy when we move from genuine love and care to feeling overstressed and overanxious about the needs of others.
There is nothing unhealthy about being a loving and supportive family member or friend. But those of us who walk the line of codependency have to stay mindful that we cannot control the happiness of others. We do, however, have the power to be happy within ourselves, set boundaries when needed, and be attentive to our own personal, physical, and emotional needs. The saying, “you can’t help others, if you can’t help yourself” rings true; take care of yourself and fill up your tank and you’ll have more energy to help or support those around you, in a healthy way!