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  • Michael Philp

You can't please everyone

Grove Psychology blog
Trying to please everyone can lead to despondency

In a recent vlog I discussed the need for parents to provide validation of child's internal emotional experience. But today, I'm talking more about adults, who don't need ongoing validation as much as children, and in fact, constantly looking for validation from others can be detrimental to your mental health. I was thinking this way after a conversation with a friend, who had reached out to someone to pay a compliment, only to have their message left on the dreaded 'unread'. My friend was very upset about this. In his mind, his goodwill gesture hadn't been acknowledged.

If you try to please everyone you please no one

I often ask people who I suspect tend to subjugate their needs - "do you find yourself going out of your way to please others, even if it is detrimental or puts you out?". To which I often receive a resounding yes and then typically disappointment that the gesture is not reciprocated when needed. What also tends to happen at the extreme end of this behaviour is that person is so busy pleasing everyone they are constantly late or miss important events or have to leave early to go to another engagement, that they end up upsetting more people. So why do we do this?

Our brains are wired to look for negatives

We have evolved from small tribes of early humans who needed to be very wary of dangers in the world - wild animals, wild weather and little protection, attacks from other tribes, and so on. But in the modern world, for most of us, we don't have the same concerns. Yet our brain still looks for things to be worried about. So it settles on what others think of us. To maintain safety, early humans needed to stay in the group, to be accepted. That manifests now as being liked. We react with the same fear-based response when we feel we are rejected by others. Recently a client told me of the internal conflict of wanting to be an individual in terms of personal style and accepted at the same time.

You need to validate yourself

The solution to this is to recognise within yourself what you did right. To acknowledge your own integrity and values. We see this all the time, especially at work. Good work tends to go un-noticed, while errors are brought to attention. A good idea in a team meeting gets taken by senior executives who take the applause. Many times I have heard clients say "I'm not looking for a pay rise, I would just like some recognition of what I do". We want people to notice us - that's a common feature in humans. We like to be recognised and accepted by others. We like receiving compliments, it makes us feel good. But when we don't receive that positive feedback that we think we deserve, it can lead to us feeling despondent. So validating yourself involves examining what your values are - am I living the life that I would like to live? Am I treating people in the way that I would want to treat others and fits with my values? Am I working in a way that I feel lives up to my personal values of work ethic? If the answers are yes, then you can proceed with self-validation. I am happy that I gave another person a compliment, even if they did not respond. It is nice to receive compliments and validation from others, but in adult life, the reality is that this does not happen as often as we would like. But that doesn't mean that the efforts you have done are not valid.

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