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Is “Pleaser Syndrome” Preventing You From Being Healthier?

Published date: March 19, 2024 | Modified date:
by Dr Stephen Wangen


Over the years I’ve met many people who struggle to get healthier. Not because they don’t know what to do, but because they think that it will offend others, or prevent others from feeling good about themselves.

Are you a pleaser?  Are you always trying to find ways to help others, even when it means that you aren’t doing what is right for you?

Being a pleaser isn’t necessarily always a bad thing. There are many highly respected qualities of being a pleaser.  Looking out for others needs and interests and helping them reach their goals is admirable. But it can come at a cost, and the stronger your pleaser instinct, the more likely you are doing it at a significant cost to your own health.

Many people who are pleasers don’t realize it. I recently did an exercise with a group of colleagues to shed light on some of our personality characteristics, and a friend of mine friend scored very high as a pleaser. His immediate response was “I’m not a pleaser.”  Everyone else in that group said “Yes you are. That’s pretty much all you do is work hard to make sure the rest of us are happy.”

After some thoughtful discussion I think that his eyes were opened, and he realized that he is very much a pleaser. It’s a great character trait of his. But it also opened my eyes, because I realized that I see a lot of patients who struggle to get better because they are pleasers.

I’ll give you an example.  If you go to someone’s house or out to a party or a gathering, will you eat whatever is provided, even if it will make you sick or is bad for your health? If so, it may be because you are a pleaser.

Now I don’t do that, but many people do that all the time. And they tell me about it.  They say something along the lines of, “I had to eat it. I was at my friend’s house.”  But you actually don’t have to eat it. You have a choice. So why do you do it?

Pleaser SyndromeMany people do it because they feel that it will be rude to not eat their friend’s food, or they don’t feel comfortable putting their own needs first. They think that it will be too much trouble, and they don’t want to be a burden. So they play the silent martyr, and assume that everyone else will be happier not knowing.

But is everyone else really happier?  Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Would it make you happy to know that your friend came over to your house, ate something that they shouldn’t eat, and then got sick or suffered some kind of health consequence because of it?

I certainly wouldn’t feel good about that. How can I be a true friend if I don’t care about my friend’s health?

There is a lot to unpack here, and this is only an introduction to this important subject. I hope that this video has given you some food for thought, and made you pause to consider not only whether or not you are a pleaser, but whether or not there are pleasers in your life who are making sacrifices at significant cost to their own lives.

If you’d like to take a closer look at some of your own personality characteristics, I encourage you to take the assessment by clicking the link here.

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