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A need for external validation (pleasing people) is learned early in our lives, often when unrealistic expectations and a need to be “perfect” outweigh any authenticity or emotional connection.

Growing up in this type of environment conditions a child to become hyper-observant in learning micro-behaviours – in appreciating the slightest differences in expression or nuances in their parents’ approval or disapproval.

These micro-behaviors become the gauge of how well one learns to please people. Behind the scenes, what is being taught is a toxic combination of intermittent positive and negative reinforcement; the child learns that he receives praise for making others happy, so the bar is raised to keep pleasing others. On the other hand, if perceived as flawed and scolded or shown indifference, the child tries harder to please, which can negatively reinforce this type of traumatic bond of pleasing people.

As children, we look to our caregivers to validate our sense of direction and autonomy. This is how children learn to navigate the world and eventually build a strong self-identify. Yet when a child’s reality is denied or dismissed, it can cause that child to feel uncertain of who they are, unable to defend themselves, and completely dependent on others for a sense of validation.

The disabling or abusive environments of our childhood can be internalized as negative self-beliefs that end up limiting our ability to trust ourselves. The result is that we develop a mindset that in order to be “perfect,” we must look to others for their approval and validation.

Adults with a history of agreeable behavior are more likely to be manipulated into narcissistic relationships. Many have been wrongly taught that to feel valid and worthy they must be seen as perfect and must put others ahead of their own needs or they end up victimizing themselves. Instead of showing anger because they feel manipulated or taken advantage of, many people-pleasing people turn their anger and resentment on themselves.

Many who identify as being stuck in an external validation-seeking pattern also struggle with depression, fear of abandonment, and a “doing” response (Walker, 2014) which may include the use of flattery, being overly helpful or accommodating and having a lack of personal boundaries.

How Pleasant Behavior Can Affect a Person

Over time, consistent behavior that people like negatively affects many areas of a person’s life, including:

  • Deep feelings of guilt and shame
  • Negative impact on self-esteem and self-esteem
  • Wondering who they “are” apart from seeking others’ approval
  • Difficulty managing relationships, tasks, or duties due to excessive obligation
  • Inability to make decisions for themselves (development of a “frozen” trauma response)
  • Having their boundaries constantly exceeded or an inability to create healthy boundaries

Pattern stop

Stopping an external validation research model can be difficult, often because it is deeply ingrained and because those with people-satisfaction histories find it difficult to see their worth and worth outside of the opinions of others.

Suggestions include: increasing your sense of self-discovery and learning who you are apart from others. Recognize when you turn to others for advice, approval, or out of habit. Become more in tune with the motivations behind people-pleasing behavior whether it’s based on a low sense of self-esteem, fear of rejection, or inability to trust yourself to make healthy choices. Look for a therapist who can help you unpack your needs and who can facilitate your empowerment through self-discovery.