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The Ties That Bind: Why We People Please and How Childhood Shape Our Choices

In the intricate dance of human connections, our inclination to please others often begins in the earliest chapters of our lives. What seems like a simple desire to make others happy often has roots entangled with our childhood attachment wounds. Let's explore this journey, unraveling the complexities of why we seek approval, fear rejection, and use people-pleasing as an often unconscious form of control.

The Innocence of Approval:

From the time we're little, the idea of gaining approval feels like a warm embrace. As kids, our caregivers become our first mirror for acceptance and love. If that mirror is cracked, if the messages are mixed, or if we've felt moments of neglect, the quest for approval can become a lifelong pursuit, ingrained in our early experiences. For example, a child who felt uncertain love from caregivers might grow into an adult constantly seeking external validation to fill that childhood void.

The Shadows of Rejection:

Attachment wounds, those tiny (or mighty) fractures in our early bonds, leave shadows that loom large in our adult lives. The fear of rejection becomes a silent specter, shaping our interactions and relationships. We learn to fear the loss of connection, and as adults, we carry this fear into our everyday interactions.

For instance, a person who experienced inconsistent caregiving may fear abandonment in their relationships, triggering a deep-seated need to please to avoid the perceived threat of isolation. Likewise, a person who was constantly criticized by a parent by learn that they need to be very agreeable and cater to the emotional needs of others in order to feel important and worthy. Another example of how people pleasing schemas are developed is a child having a parent that struggled with their own mental illness which led the child to take on a caretaker role and prioritize their parent's well being over their own.

The Illusion of Control:

People-pleasing, in its subtle complexity, offers an illusion of control. It's a coping mechanism learned in the school of survival. By carefully molding our actions to garner positive reactions, we believe we can steer the outcomes of our interactions. This need for control becomes a shield against the unpredictability we might have faced as children. If you grew up in an unpredictable environment you may have learned to feel safe by catering to others' needs first so they could be more present for you. As an adult, you resort to people-pleasing as a way to control how others perceive you, a strategy honed in childhood survival.

Fearing Disapproval as Loss of Control:

The fear of disapproval, for those with attachment wounds, isn't just about social discomfort. It's a profound loss of control. The prospect of failing to manage others' perceptions becomes a relentless cycle. Saying yes when they mean no, overcommitting, and suppressing authentic desires—all in an attempt to maintain control over how they are perceived. For example, someone who experienced a lack of acknowledgment in their formative years might find the idea of disapproval unbearable, leading to a continuous cycle of pleasing others.

Breaking Free:

Understanding people-pleasing in the context of childhood attachment wounds is the first step to breaking free. It involves acknowledging the fear of rejection rooted in those early experiences and embracing self-compassion. True control, we discover, lies in honoring our needs, desires, and boundaries—an essential shift in perspective for those shaped by attachment dynamics.

For example, acknowledging that saying no is not a threat but a healthy boundary is a significant step in reclaiming control over one's life.

Embracing Authenticity:

Untangling the web of people-pleasing and attachment wounds is a journey toward authenticity. It's about healing those childhood echoes, relinquishing the illusion of control over others' opinions, and bravely expressing our true selves. In doing so, we redefine control as a mastery of our own choices, reactions, and boundaries. For instance, a person who has navigated this journey might find the courage to express their opinions honestly, even if it risks disapproval, fostering connections built on genuine understanding and respect.

Reflection and Conclusion:

People-pleasing, intertwined with childhood attachment wounds, is a journey many can relate to. Unraveling this web involves acknowledging and healing these roots, embracing vulnerability, and reclaiming authentic agency. It's not about controlling others' perceptions; it's about mastering the art of being true to oneself—a journey that involves understanding, healing, and nurturing the inner child who still echoes in our choices today.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy has shown efficacy in helping individuals overcome people-pleasing tendencies. By addressing underlying traumatic experiences and negative beliefs through structured sessions, EMDR enables individuals to reprocess distressing memories and replace maladaptive thought patterns. This therapeutic approach facilitates the development of healthier coping mechanisms, enhances self-esteem, and empowers individuals to establish authentic boundaries. As a result, EMDR can contribute significantly to the healing process for those struggling with people-pleasing behaviors, fostering self-discovery, and promoting lasting positive change.


Erica Wilcox, LPC is a Certified EMDR Therapist and EMDRIA Approved Consultant in East Hampton, CT. She is the Founder and CEO of Wilcox Wellness Center for Personal Growth and speaks globally about mental health and wellness. She specializes in intensive EMDR therapy and works with clients across the nation who travel to Connecticut for a self-led therapy retreat focused on intensive EMDR and healing. Contact Erica at to connect and take your next step towards freedom.

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