Why are women susceptible to people-pleasing and perfectionism?
While people-pleasing and perfectionism aren’t exclusively women’s issues, women are socialized in many cultures to be care takers, put other people’s needs before their own, and be passive. They worry about what other people think of them; they don’t want to displease or be seen as “difficult” or “high maintenance”. So, they say “yes” and don’t make any waves.
American women continue to struggle with the pull between motherhood and working outside the home. The notion of “having it all” puts tremendous pressure on women to work tirelessly, be self-sacrificing, not ask for help, and do it all perfectly. Women with perfectionist tendencies equate their achievements (whether as a mother, employee, volunteer, or athlete, etc.) with their worth.
Your achievements don’t define you.
People-pleasing and perfectionism are efforts to prove your worth. Underlying both is fear — fear that you’re not good enough and that others will reject or abandon you. As a result, you believe you have to keep pleasing, achieving, and perfecting in order for people to like and want you. This is like a hamster wheel, you’re stuck doing and doing, but no matter what you do, it’s never enough. Perfection is impossible and pleasing everyone is also impossible, so there doesn’t seem to be anyway out of this.
Other people’s perceptions don’t define you.
When you focus on pleasing others, a disconnect forms between your true self and the self that you present to the world; you start living your life to please others or for the “gold stars” and accolades. The problem with this is not only is it tiring and impossible to please everyone, but their acceptance and love for you is for the outward persona you’re showing them. Their approval can’t quiet your self-doubt and anxiety because you still fear that people won’t love and accept your true self.
Strengthen your sense of self.
People pleasing and perfectionism are like shields that hide and protect your true self. The more pleasing and perfecting you do, the more out of touch with yourself you become; you no longer know what you like, what you believe, what’s important to you, or even who you are because so much of your time and effort is spent trying to be what others want you to be or an idealized version of yourself.
“Finding yourself” can feel like a big endeavor (and it may be), but you don’t have to do it all at once. Bit by bit begin to explore and experiment, constantly checking back in with yourself to see how it feels. Self-discovery truly is a life-long process because we are all constantly changing.
Learn to give yourself approval.
You can’t allow your self-worth to be completely dependent on other people’s approval. One of the biggest shifts that you can make is toward increasing your own positive self-talk and self-compassion. By beginning to give yourself more love and acceptance, you can become less dependent on other people for making you feel good and worthy.
Overcoming people-pleasing and perfectionism
I recently spoke to Dr. Lourdes Viado on the Women in Depth Podcast about how women can overcome people-pleasing and perfectionism. Women in Depth is a podcast about women’s struggles, hopes, fears and dreams, and aspects of their experiences which are hidden from view, unfamiliar, uncertain, and uncomfortable. In episode 22, I explain more about the connection between people-pleasing and perfectionism, the challenges they present to women, and how to start making changes.
If you’re interested in getting to the root of these struggles, you can find out more about counseling for women here. I currently offer therapy and counseling services in Campbell (close to San Jose, Willow Glen, Almaden Valley, Santa Clara). I look forward to hearing from you.