How Chronic People Pleasing is Driving Your Teacher Burnout

How Chronic People Pleasing is Driving Your Teacher Burnout

podcast Dec 11, 2023

Is Your Teacher Burn Out Due to Your Natural Desire to Please?

Educators tend to be natural people pleasers. We see teaching as a vocation, and we want to help. The very essence of the job involves being constantly focused on students' diverse needs and being flexible and accommodating in meeting them.

However, being "flexible" and "going with the flow" is on a spectrum. When we use these terms as excuses to overextend ourselves to avoid conflict, people-pleasing can become unhealthy.

In this post, I explore the dark side of people-pleasing for educators and the key steps to overcome it.

What Causes Educators to People-Please?

Teachers people please for several reasons:

Childhood Coping Mechanisms
For some, people-pleasing stems from childhood trauma. It can stem from childhood coping mechanisms designed to placate volatile figures and avoid harm through likeability. It's part of what psychologists call the "fawn response".

The key aspects of a fawn response are:

🔸 Appeasing behavior - Excessively apologizing, agreeing, or trying to "make things better" even if it means suppressing your own needs or preferences. Trying to win someone over rather than setting limits.

🔸 Seeking external approval/safety - Acting in ways designed to elicit external validation, praise, or deescalate a perceived threat. Making yourself appear very compliant or helpful in hopes of gaining safety or approval from others.

🔸 People orientation - An excessive focus on anticipating and catering to what might please others or avoid displeasing them.

Does any of this sound familiar? 

Societal Conditioning

In many countries, teaching is dominated by women. Traditionally women have been culturally conditioned to be self-sacrificing and to value harmony and helpfulness. No one has taught us how to set boundaries and attend to our self-care. 

Occupational Hazard

The hyper-focus on pleasing students, parents, and administrators conditions the people-pleasing tendency among teachers. 

The High Costs of People Pleasing for Educator Wellbeing

In the short term, people-pleasing helps avoid confrontation and brings validation. Often it seems easier just to say "yes" to something than to have that difficult or uncomfortable conversation. 

But constant self-sacrifice for others erodes mental and physical health. Effects include:

  • Heightened stress
  • Resentment
  • Imbalance
  • Physical illness
  • Emotional exhaustion

People pleasers also compromise their needs and standards, causing inner turmoil. By overexerting for others, they neglect essential self-care, too. This breeds burnout. It also makes for a miserable day in the classroom for teachers and students alike. 

Boundary Setting Strategies for Educators to Stop "Self-Sacrificing"

The first step is awareness of unhealthy people-pleasing patterns. Once you recognize that you have these tendencies, you can make choices about how to take back your power in this area. While there are no "quick fixes" to change years of habit and conditioning the following skills/focus are a great place to start.

  1. Release the need for validation from others
  2. Clarify personal responsibilities
  3. Catch limiting thought patterns
  4. Get comfortable with productive conflict

This involves learning skills like:

  • Setting boundaries
  • Better communication strategies, such as Marshal Rosenberg's framework for Non-Violent Communication
  • Reframing difficult conversations as opportunities to connect, learn, and resolve issues

Sitting with Discomfort: Observing Emotions Pass

Brain research shows we can choose to let emotions manifest physically and then dissipate, rather than repressing them. Jill Bolte Taylor, a standard psychologist, has fascinating research in this area, claiming that the physical effects of emotions pass through our body in only 90 seconds if we allow ourselves to feel the emotion, not avoid it or suppress it. This means when we feel discomfort at the thought of conflict, we can help by:

  • Getting curious not reactive (ask yourself: where do I feel this emotion in my body?)
  • Letting the feeling flow through your body
  • Understanding it will pass in under 90 seconds

This skill takes practice but allows teachers to reset, gather strength, and respond consciously. 

People Pleasing Prevention for Teachers: Core Takeaways

The core takeaway is that people pleasing gives short-term benefits but fuels long-term teacher burnout. Through self-awareness, mindset shifts, and skill building, teachers can minimize this tendency.

While born of admirable motivations, people pleasing ultimately erodes personal well-being - the foundation on which great teaching is built. Curbing the habit now prevents exhaustion and empowers teachers to spread positive energy for years to come.

Resources mentioned in this post:

Jill Bolte Taylor's TED Talk

The Center for Non-Violent Communication

Educator Friend, are you ready to take back control of your time and energy? Do you need a CRASH COURSE in:

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