Understanding the Connection Between People-Pleasing and Trauma
Reading people pleasing is a trauma response can be quite confronting, especially if you are just setting out to understand what it is. Trauma is a polarising word at the best of times. We may not have been aware that our constant need to say yes, go above and beyond to help others, or do everything for our relationships was actually driven by a subconscious desire for validation. We may have unknowingly believed that by doing everything for others, we would prove our worthiness of love. As someone who has explored trauma responses in my professional career, I have learned to approach this topic with increased sensitivity due to the resistance I often encounter from those new to the idea. I can personally relate, as I used to take great pride in being kind and giving. I firmly believed that my desire to be there for others and provide support was an integral part of who I was.
Acknowledging trauma can be complex. Each individual has their own definition of what trauma means to them. I grew up thinking that I had a good childhood, especially when compared to those who lived in violent or broken homes or had parents struggling with addiction. However, this thought process demonstrates the common distraction technique employed by people pleasers in their narrative.
People-pleasing behaviour is often an adaptive coping mechanism that stems from past trauma. In this blog post, we will delve into the connection between people-pleasing and trauma, explore the coping mechanisms adopted, understand the root causes behind this behaviour, and provide guidance on initiating positive change in your life.
The Connection Between People-Pleasing and Trauma
Trauma, whether experienced in childhood or adulthood, can have long-lasting effects on individuals, impacting their emotional, psychological, and even physical well-being. People-pleasing behaviour often arises from a deep need for validation and a fear of rejection. When traumatic experiences leave us feeling unsafe or unworthy, we seek external validation to fill the void within ourselves. By conforming to others’ expectations and desires, we hope to secure acceptance and a sense of belonging.
Coping Mechanisms Adopted by People-Pleasers
People-pleasers adopt various coping mechanisms to navigate their relationships and environments. The following are common behaviours observed in people-pleasers:
- Need for validation and fear of rejection: People-pleasers constantly seek validation from others as a way to validate their own self-worth. They often fear rejection and go to great lengths to avoid disappointing or upsetting others.
- Overcommitment and difficulty saying “no”: People-pleasers struggle to set boundaries and find it challenging to say “no.” They frequently take on more responsibilities and obligations than they can handle, leading to burnout and neglect of their own needs.
- Self-sacrifice and neglect of personal needs: People-pleasers prioritize the needs of others above their own, often at the expense of their physical and emotional well-being. They may neglect self-care, suppress their desires, and consistently put themselves last.
- Difficulty expressing emotions and desires: People-pleasers find it challenging to openly express their own emotions and desires. They often suppress their true feelings, fearing that asserting themselves will disappoint or upset others.
When you trace back the origins of these behaviours, you may realize that chaos ensued in the past when you tried to prioritize yourself, set boundaries, or communicate your needs. Your internal narrative may reinforce the belief that if you speak up or have needs, everything turns into a disaster.
Root Causes of People-Pleasing Behaviour
Understanding the root causes of people-pleasing behaviour can shed light on why we adopt these patterns. Several factors contribute to the development of people-pleasing trauma response tendencies:
- Childhood experiences and attachment styles: Traumatic experiences during childhood, such as inconsistent love, neglect, or emotional abuse, can shape our attachment styles and lead to a constant need for approval and acceptance.
- Learned behaviour from caregivers or role models: Growing up in an environment where people-pleasing was modelled to gain love and avoid conflict can ingrained these patterns into our behaviour.
- Fear of abandonment and a desire for love and acceptance: People-pleasers often experience intense fear of abandonment and prioritize maintaining relationships, even at the expense of their own well-being, as they long for love, acceptance, and a sense of belonging.
- Low self-esteem and lack of self-worth: Trauma can deeply impact our self-esteem and sense of self-worth. People-pleasers may struggle with low self-esteem, seeking external validation to compensate for the lack of self-confidence.
Initiating Change and Overcoming People-Pleasing Patterns
While self-reflection, awareness, and intentional action are often suggested in mainstream self-help books and therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy, they may take a considerable amount of time to yield results. It is important to recognize that these coping mechanisms are deeply embedded in your nervous system, particularly within the vagus nerve. Trauma, regardless of its severity, is stored at a cellular level, dictating the terms of your coping mechanisms. Traditional methods may not address this deep-rooted storage adequately.
Energy therapy, such as Emotional Strength Training, is a powerful approach that can help clear the cellular trauma stored in your nervous system, bringing about significant and lasting change. In my professional experience, I have witnessed trauma trapped in clients’ bodies during energy healing sessions, and the common response is often, “I thought I had dealt with that.” Trauma finds ways to persist, building evidence to support its narrative until it unexpectedly resurfaces.
Consider how memories can be stored in your body. For instance, the smell and taste of tomato sandwiches from a certain period in your life can flood your mind when triggered by a photograph of a specific house. Trauma is not limited to tangible experiences; it can be deeply ingrained in your internal storylines from early stages of brain development, associating triggers with safety and survival. These traumas do not evolve or mature like your brain does; instead, they find evidence to support their existence, keeping you in a survival state.
In addition to energy therapy, cultivating self-compassion and building self-esteem are vital. Challenge negative self-beliefs, focus on developing self-esteem from within, and reduce reliance on external validation. Combining energy work with these practices will result in significant progress compared to traditional methods alone.
It is important to remember that every aspect of your journey and the insights you have gained about your people-pleasing behaviour is valid and valuable. However, if you seek long-term results, incorporating energy therapy will help clear the stored trauma at a cellular level, particularly within the vagus nerve, leading to profound transformation.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How does a trauma response and people-pleasing become a coping behaviour? Trauma can lead to a need for validation and a fear of rejection, driving individuals to adopt people-pleasing as a coping mechanism. It’s based in the notion of safety.
- Can people-pleasing be a result of childhood experiences? Yes, childhood experiences such as inconsistent love or neglect can contribute to people-pleasing behaviour in adulthood.
- What are some common coping mechanisms adopted by people-pleasers? People-pleasers often struggle with saying “no,” sacrifice their own needs, have difficulty expressing emotions, and constantly seek validation.
- Is it possible to change people-pleasing patterns? Yes, change is possible. While mainstream methods emphasize self-reflection, awareness, and intentional action, integrating energy therapy, such as Emotional Strength Training, can yield significant and lasting results.
By understanding the connection between people-pleasing and a trauma response, recognizing the coping mechanisms at play, and addressing the root causes behind this behaviour, you can take significant steps toward initiating positive change in your life. Breaking free from people-pleasing requires patience, self-compassion, and a commitment to prioritizing your own well-being. Embrace the journey of self-discovery and empowerment as you navigate a path towards healthier relationships and a more authentic self.
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