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The People-Pleaser: A Trauma Survivor Mechanism

Some of us may be apt to help as much as possible. Some of us may know others who are consistently going out of their way to help others. In certain instances, this is a response to childhood trauma. When a person has grown up in an environment where their mental or physical well-being is threatened, people-pleasing may have been used as a survival skill in response to this threat. In childhood, this may have looked like not expressing yourself, your needs, or "talking back" to an authority figure to avoid conflict. This would be considered people-pleasing since the child is putting the needs of others ahead of their own. 


As we become adults this trait can easily morph into people-pleasing in our interpersonal and occupational relationships. This can look like trouble saying "no" to tasks we truly do not want to take on. In the work environment, your boss may consistently go to you with overwhelming projects, and in relationships, you may feel pressure to help the other person as much as possible, even at the cost of your own wellness. Subconsciously this is done to avoid potentially experiencing a negative reaction from the other person. If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable or anxious when saying "yes" to someone, this may indicate a trauma-related response pattern. You may notice your body becoming tense, and experience resentment and psychological distress. Becoming self-aware and implementing boundaries is a step into un-programming this cycle. Consulting with a therapist is a great way to channel into the root of our trauma-related responses, and learning how to set healthy boundaries.


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