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  • Michael Philp

How people-pleasing might be a sign of low self-worth

People-pleasing has been a hot topic in my office lately. I've seen many clients who have identified with this trait, but brush it off as being "nice" or "kind". However, when we dig deeper, what we typically find is a desperate desire for validation and acceptance. Digging deeper further, what we've discovered is low self-worth.

What is Self-Worth

Self-worth can be defined as one's own evaluation of themselves as valuable and capable (APA dictionary), and worthy of love and respect. Self-worth is different from self-esteem, and it is not tied to achievement. Self-esteem is more linked to thinking about things we are good at. Self-worth is knowing that even if we are not good at something, we are still worthy as a person, still worthy of love and respect, from ourselves and others.

How does people-pleasing and self-worth go together?

Someone with low self-worth - deep seated beliefs of not being good enough, not worthwhile, not worthy of being loved - look for validation from others to avoid the anxiety that comes from these beliefs. So long as someone is providing the attention that they crave, the uncomfortable feelings go away. But it's like trying to hold onto sand. One moment of being included, or love shown their way, doesn't disconfirm these deep beliefs. So the person with low self-worth has to continually seek validation and acceptance from others. Which forms people-pleasing behaviours and thoughts such as - "If I do things for others, they will like me and keep me around". "I can't say no because people won't like me and then I will be alone". At it's extreme form, it is putting your own needs and wants second in order to please someone else, in the vain hope that you too will be accepted and liked. It often leads to imbalanced relationships (see my blog on imbalanced relationships here) and feelings of resentment. Resentment often comes out later, when our needs are not being met, or feeling obliged to do something.

Self-worth is not selfish

Having high self-worth is not being selfish or "stuck-up". In fact, you can help others, and be kind and considerate. But it is also knowing and being comfortable to be able to put boundaries up. It's being able to call someone out if they are not treating you with respect (or realise that it is not a respectful relationship). It's perfectly acceptable to say to yourself "I like me" without being 'stuck up'. In fact, it's important.

It's hard work developing high self-worth. When you first start addressing it, it won't feel right. It feel clunky or easily dismissed. Keep at it - bringing your attention to why you feel the need to please others; why you keep apologising for things that are not your fault; why you have beliefs of not being good enough. And over time, showing yourself kindness and compassion and that you are deserving of being loved.


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