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Sandra always prided herself on being incredibly flexible. Having grown up in a family with an emotionally volatile and stubborn father, she promised herself she’d never be that way.

From a very young age, she became accustomed to walking on eggshells since she never knew when her dad’s temper would flare. And when it did, she would immediately seek to calm him down by giving in to his demands.

Over the years, she developed an uncanny ability to anticipate his needs and put out fires before they got out of control. Unlike her siblings who would often stand up to their father and yell back at him, she would go along with whatever he wanted, while remaining seemingly unfazed.

She was anointed peacekeeper in the family. Her especially easy-going and acquiescent nature worked for her. At least for a while.

Later in life, when Sandra became involved in romantic relationships, she struggled. She often felt insecure and was unable to get her needs met. Instead of speaking up for herself, she would automatically succumb to her partner’s wishes.

After much introspection, she discovered that her suffering was due, in part, to what she had previously viewed as her biggest personal asset: her extreme flexibility. She now understood it had become her biggest liability. She realized it was a masked disguise for a very unhealthy behavior: people-pleasing.

People-Pleasing Tends to Backfire

We all know that being exceedingly stubborn and set in our ways, like Sandra’s father, isn’t a prescription for thriving connections. In contrast, flexibility is good for us, and for our relationships.

However, it is important to note the difference between being flexible and being boundaryless, as Sandra had learned to become growing up.

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To keep the peace in our relationships, we may bend over backward for others, while ignoring our own needs. Further, we may not even consider—and perhaps even violate—our values. When repeated over time, this behavior can develop into an unhealthy habit and become detrimental to our well-being.

For example, we may directly sacrifice our desires to please our partner. Despite our good intentions, however, “sacrificing,” can have negative effects on our well-being, as well as on our relationship.

While some of us may actively give up personal preferences to please our partner, others of us may do this more passively by giving in to something we don’t want.

In other words, we “acquiesce.” We “accept, comply, or submit tacitly or passively” (Merriam-Webster). Essentially, as the Oxford English Dictionary defines the behavior, we “accept something reluctantly but without protest.”

Who of us hasn’t done that? Accepted something that we didn’t want maybe to please someone or avoid hurting their feelings?

At first glance, it doesn’t seem to be a big deal. And when done on occasion on little things it may be harmless.

“Giving In” May Be More Damaging Than “Giving Up”

However, if this behavior becomes our default way of being across all domains of life, it has the potential to spiral into an unhealthy, and even dangerous, habit. Especially when it comes to our closest relationships.

Matheus Bertelli / Pexels/
Source: Matheus Bertelli / Pexels/

For example, we may not unveil our true feelings to our partner. Instead, we may find ourselves going along with their wishes while neglecting our own, so as not to “rock the boat.”

In the process, we may even end up compromising our deepest-held convictions and values out of a misguided attempt to please our partner or protect the relationship.

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