The definition of a people pleaser is a person who has an emotional need to please others often at the expense of his or her own needs or desires.

To know what causes a narcissist to tick, it is helpful to understand narcissistic supply. Narcissists are needy people, although they would not describe themselves that way. And chief among their needs is another person’s admiration, submission, obedience, conformity, acquiescence, agreement, and affirmation. When others will not offer these qualities (narcissistic supply) they become aggrieved, to say the least. Narcissists yearn for those who are people pleasers.

That being the case, narcissists are on the prowl for more narcissistic supply.  They have their antenna out searching for those who can be manipulated into doing their bidding, giving them ego boosts.

And that’s where the people pleasing population comes in.  People pleasers are usually the nicest folks in the group. In the proper context, they have very healthy traits like friendliness, helpfulness, pleasantness, optimism, responsibility, willingness, a forgiving tendency, a servant’s heart, courtesy, and cooperation.  Matched with those who know how to reciprocate those traits, they can be excellent candidates for rewarding relationships.

Since people pleasers generally are not dominant types, and since narcissists must be in control, they find each other, much to the delight of the narcissist and the eventual chagrin of the pleaser.  Not being naturally jaded, pleasers can overlook (at least for a while) the narcissist’s moodiness, stubbornness, or insistence.  They want to find the good in others, and sometimes that can work against them. 

As part of the down side to people pleasing, some will:

  • Allow others to dominate unfairly
  • Back down in confrontations
  • Work too hard to make the other person not feel angry
  • Filter their initiatives through the more dominant person’s agenda
  • Remain loyal to a fault
  • Say yes even when they know they should say no.

So when a narcissist encounters the people pleaser, recognizing these tendencies, what might he/she be thinking?  How about these possibilities:

  • I just hit the jackpot!
  • Let’s see how far I can push my agenda.
  • I really like it when you are subordinate.  What else will you do for me?
  • You need a strong person to tell you what to do, and I’m just that person.
  • Knowing that you like harmony, I can use my anger to make you conform.  
  • Your gregarious, pleasant nature indicates weakness, and I’m fine with that.

People pleasers are at a disadvantage with narcissists due to one ongoing dynamic inside the relationship:  The narcissist thinks like an exploitive manipulator looking for narcissistic supply while the people pleaser thinks like a friendly companion.  Like I mentioned, in normal relationships, pleasers can find success, but narcissists are not normal, and they are not into relationship success.  They just want their supply.

There are four “requirements” narcissists have that the people pleaser will need to shed in order to preserve personal stability.  The shedding of these “requirements” will become the beginning of establishing the necessary boundaries with the would-be dominator:

  • The requirement to keep the narcissist satisfied.  You can have a goal of being a satisfying person, but it is not necessary to read the narcissist’s mind and conform to obligations that are not reasonable or healthy.
  • The requirement to suppress the real you.  Narcissists lack empathy, so it does not occur to them to ponder how they can know you more fully and respond to your feelings and needs in a gratifying manner.  That being the case, you will need to practice self-care, staying attentive to what makes you unique. And when the narcissist insists otherwise, you can act upon your initiatives despite the predictable protest.
  • The requirement to stay inside an unhealthy system.  By definition, narcissists are not psychologically healthy.  But because they must be dominant, they ignore what is best and good for you, demanding you have to agree with their unhealthy initiatives.  However, once you recognize how preposterous their unhealthy demands are, you can align with others who practice decency and consideration. You don’t have to remain inside the narcissist’s orbit.
  • The requirement to disrespect yourself.  The narcissist does not respect you.  To that person, you are a function, and as long as you maintain your function, you are useful, but as you show yourself to be unique, the narcissist illustrates a pervasive lack of regard for you.  By becoming independent and assertive, you can reclaim the self respect the narcissist has tried to squelch.

People pleasing is good inside the proper context.  But because narcissists are so predictably controlling and entitled while they seek out narcissistic supply, they can hardly be counted on to relate with you in a proper, mutually rewarding fashion.  That being the case, it becomes your job to be a pleasing person while at the same time being one who stands firmly for your rightful needs and for your core dignity.

Dr. Les Carter