As a confirmed people-pleaser, I often find that it is difficult to draw the line between being compassionate and being neurotic. Some people care too much about what others think, falling into habits that may be unhealthy. Some, however, simply care about people in general. There’s obviously nothing wrong with that.
Knowing where you stand can be difficult. That said, there are some key differences between chronic people-pleasers and those of us who are simply nice. Such as. . .
1. Needing Validation
People-pleasers don’t want everyone to have a good time because they truly like seeing others enjoy themselves. People-pleasers want the validation that comes along with making sure others are happy.
Compassionate people, on the other hand, do not need this validation. Their attempts to treat others well are unselfish, and if they find that they are unable to please someone, it doesn’t bother them. They make the sincere attempt to satisfy others, but they can live comfortably in their own skin when they fail to do so.
2. Needing Feedback
Validation isn’t something that chronic people-pleasers can provide for themselves. They need someone to express to them, in clear terms, that they have made them happy. At work, they need their boss to comment on the good job they are doing. In relationships, they need their partner to constantly express excessive appreciation for their good deeds. In casual social settings, they need everyone involved to somehow tell them that they are happy to be around them.
Compassionate people do want to please others, but not to such a degree that they are unsatisfied if they don’t receive that sort of feedback. For them, the satisfaction comes from making someone happy. If they get positive feedback, great. If not, no problem.
3. Sense of Identity
People-pleasers are so accustomed to accommodating the desires of others that they struggle to make their own decisions. They don’t know what they truly want in certain situations, because they’ve never allowed themselves to consider the option of making themselves happy first.
If you’re naturally compassionate, you probably know exactly who you are, where you stand, and what your desires are. You’re simply able to let go of those considerations if it involves the opportunity to make someone else happy. You know what you want, you just don’t feel the need to have it.
4. Selfish Motives
People-pleasers, ironically, are quite selfish. They do want others to be happy, certainly, but that’s primarily because they can then associate that person’s satisfaction with their own self-worth.
True compassion involves setting aside what you want. When you strive to help others, you aren’t doing so in order to feel better about yourself, you’re doing so because it’s right.
5. Setting Boundaries
People-pleasers allow themselves to be used. They put themselves into situations that let others take advantage of their perceived kindness. They can’t say no, not if that would involve disappointing someone. As such, they struggle to set boundaries in their lives.
Compassionate people have much more control over the situations in their lives. They are willing to concede certain comforts if doing so would make someone else happy, but when it seems as though they are no longer being treated fairly, they step back. They take care of themselves just as much as they take care of others.
At the end of the day, people-pleasers and compassionate people see the world differently. People-pleasers see the world as a dangerous place, where they are constantly in danger of confrontation. They make endless efforts to avoid such situations, to make sure that everyone they encounter likes them.
People with compassion see the world as a community. They don’t give their love and support because they are protecting themselves; they give their love and support because they believe that treating others well is a valuable life principle.
None of this is to suggest that people-pleasers are incapable of true kindness, or incapable of getting over their insecurities. In my life, I’ve certainly made strides in this area. It’s important, though, to understand that there is a major difference between pleasing people out of an unhealthy need for validation, and doing so because you care.