How People Pleasing Prevents Positive Relationships

A fawn in the woods looking directly at the camera.
Autistic people-pleasing includes plenty of downsides, but have you thought of the positives that it prevents?
How People Pleasing Prevents Positive Relationships

Do you people please?

I’d like to talk for a moment about people-pleasing behaviors and fawning responses, and the autistic experience of that. So, in general (not just for Autistics, but for most people), people-pleasing behaviors or fawn responses are a kind of social trauma response. It’s “please be okay with me, so that I can be safe. I’m going to do whatever you want, make myself into whoever you want me to be, in order for me to feel safe.”

For Autistics, how that usually develops is basically when the people around you are either telling you explicitly or kind of subtly giving you the message over and over and over, that your natural autistic reactions to things aren’t acceptable. It’s not okay for you to react like that. It’s not okay for you to talk like that, to ask direct questions, to be sensitive to your environment in the way that you are.

Oh, “that’s not a big deal”, they’ll say. “That’s just a noise.” “You’ll get over it.” “Just live with it.” “It can’t bother you that much.” “It’s not that big of a deal.” “Don’t say things like that.” “Can’t you just be normal?”

You get those kinds of messages, and how some people respond is by learning to hide their reactions so they don’t get those reactions from other people. To try and please them, to meet their expectations, to be who they’re implicitly told to be. But this has a couple of significant disadvantages.

You don’t actually learn to get over it. You don’t actually learn to be normal.

It doesn’t really work. You don’t actually learn to get over it. You don’t actually learn to be normal. You just pretend enough, but that pretending takes an enormous amount of energy, and it’s energy that we don’t have then for all sorts of other things. For all the things that they’re telling us to do, usually, but it also denies us having permission to deal with whatever it is that’s bothering us.

If it’s sensory stuff, as I’m talking about at the moment (like if there is some loud noise), we don’t have permission to try and adjust our environment to make it better. So yeah, we do deal with it. We learn to live with it, not well, not pleasantly. It’s just that we take it all in, but we don’t actually learn how to respond to the situation, how to adjust the external thing when that’s possible. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.

We don’t learn how to deal with our own internal reactions to things in a more positive, useful way. All of the intensity just gets stored up and we brace ourselves against it. But we’re not learning how to move it through our body, or not learning how to use some of our other senses to help ourselves regulate, so that it’s not as intense.

We’re not learning how to integrate the experience. We’re not learning how to use it to our own advantage.

Allowing yourself to improve

There’s so much that we can do, but when the only message that we get is “just deal with it, get over it. Don’t bring it up. I’m tired of hearing about it. You’re always whining.” We don’t learn positive skills. We just learn how to please the people around us.

So after you’ve figured out, “oh, what’s going on is I’m autistic, and I have all of these sensory needs, and I approach social stuff in different ways than other people do, etc. etc.” You have all of these personal revelations of why things are happening – it opens doors to be able to learn better ways of approaching the same situations.

It gives you permission to try and improve things. It’s like, “Okay, so now that I know that this noise is bothering me, what can I do about it?” “Can I mask the noise? Can I put on headphones? Can I turn off the thing that’s making the noise? Can I engage another sensory system in my body to take some of the energy away from it?” There’s so much that’s possible. It doesn’t always make it perfect, but it can improve the situation.

There’s so much that’s possible. It doesn’t always make it perfect, but it can improve the situation.

So there are options. Once you have permission in yourself to try and make things better, to try and figure out what’s going on, and find ways of dealing with it.

And there are options, options that you’ve perhaps never been introduced to. Because the people around you didn’t know that they were available. Didn’t see the value. Didn’t understand what was happening in the first place. Because they’ve been taught so much throughout their lives that their own reactions are inappropriate, impossible to deal with.

Whatever it is, they’ve been conditioned so much and then they pass it on. That happens a lot with intergenerational autistic families, or people who are just so socialized to ‘here’s the ideal of what’s expected’ that they can’t see any other options.

But there are other options. There are many other options that work quite well.

Okay, that’s what I want to say for now. I’ll leave it there. I hope something in this sparked some useful ideas for you. And if you’d like any of my other videos, I talk about a range of topics all related to that later-identified autistic adults who’ve figured out that they’re autistic.

I’ll leave it there and wish you a neurowonderful day. Take care.

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Picture of Heather Cook

Heather Cook

Hi, I’m Heather. I’m an Autistic writer, advocate, and life coach, and I'm building a life I love. I help other Autistics to build their own autism-positive life. I love reading, jigsaw puzzles, just about every -ology, and Star Trek!

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