A common barrier to going no contact is anxiety about how other people will feel about your change in behaviour. Especially for people pleasers.
Is it rude to cut contact with someone you used to support? Is it selfish to withdraw when they haven’t done anything wrong? We touched on this topic briefly in the post on closure, but Holly raised it in the comments recently, and I definitely think it’s worth a deeper dig. The people pleasing instinct is rich loam for limerence.
We should start with some definitions. What do I mean by a people pleaser? Well, it’s somebody that cares deeply about the feelings of others, and is very concerned about how their own behaviour affects them. A people pleaser is also concerned about others’ opinion of them: how are they perceived by their social group generally and particular individuals specifically? They are highly sensitive to the prospect of offending or upsetting other people, and care about their reputation as someone who is considerate, compassionate and thoughtful. Their reputation as someone dependable, helpful and caring is an important part of their identity.
Now a personality psychologist might look at such a person and say that they are high in “agreeableness” on the big 5 personality model, with a good dose of conscientiousness added in too. They may also speculate about previous relationships that have caused the people pleaser to learn the habit “must make others happy to protect myself”. If they were low on agreeableness themselves, they may also point out that many people pleasers derive pleasure from the praise and validation of others and so are mainly seeking gratification by saying yes to every request because they love to feel needed.
So, as with most of the things that make us who we are, it’s quite a jumble of positive and negative motivators, but it ultimately results in a simple reality when it comes to going no contact with an LO: distress that others may think badly of you.
What might others think?
Let’s confront this concern head on. Who may have Opinions after a limerent decides to withdraw from their LO? Well, I guess there are three potential classes of people: the LO, a SO (if relevant) and bystanders.
First, LO. It is pretty much inevitable that they will notice the change and may react in a variety of ways. They may be hurt by the apparent rejection, they may be confused, they may even be angry. How the LO reacts is not easily predicted, because it depends on the dynamic beforehand. Also, even if you do think you understand them, it’s quite likely that they won’t actually react as you expect.
The number one concern for people-pleaser limerents is: should I explain why I am withdrawing. There’s a sense that you owe LO some sort of explanation, an awareness that ghosting someone is disorienting and rude, or that it may be a total giveaway that you actually feel something for them romantically (or why else couldn’t you be friends?). These are reasonable concerns, and in fact it’s why I’m an advocate for a “staged withdrawal” process of gradually cooling off on the amount of contact you have with LO rather than going cold turkey. That requires far less in the way of explanation than an abrupt No Contact step, but it does also take discipline to stick with.
The second person to consider is a SO, if you have one. If you have disclosed your limerence problem to your SO, then they will likely want you to go No Contact as quickly and thoroughly as you can. Indeed, they may be pushing you to end things, and so your people-pleasing radar may kick in and make you want to please them by breaking it off with LO as soon as you can. If you resist, your SO may be upset by your apparent need for an explanation or closure – revealing as it does your high regard for LO and their feelings.
Finally, we have the issue of bystanders.
Some limerents are concerned by the gossip of mutual friends or co-workers or family, and are concerned that these others may judge them for “dumping” LO without explanation, or failing to attend events that LO is also at, or not showing LO the same level of social consideration that most friendly acquaintances can expect from a considerate and caring people-pleaser.
It’s demoralising to realise that trying to please all of these people is actually impossible. There are conflicting needs, and someone is going to be disappointed by your choices. And, of course, it also completely ignores the feelings of the one person that the people-pleaser tends to consider last: themselves.
What does it mean?
OK, so there are plenty of landmines for the people-pleasing limerent. Is there a way out of this mess? As usual, some self-awareness is a massive help.
Why are you a people pleaser? Are you just a highly agreeable person who gets genuine pleasure from helping others, or are you driven more by anxiety over social shame. Do you really enjoy helping people or do you really hate people thinking badly of you? Often it can be a bit of both, of course, but doing the deep work of properly understanding your drives and motives will help enormously.
One practical example: is this drive part of your limerence? Do you really feel connected to LO because they need you, and make you feel like you are helping them, and you get a thrill over being their source of support? Do they respond to your kindness with immense gratitude because they don’t have enough kind people in their lives? Do you have a rescue fantasy issue? Because if you do, the reason why it’s so hard to let go and “abandon” your LO becomes much more understandable.
The second obvious way that self-awareness can help is by spotting when your devious subconscious is exploiting your vulnerabilities to get what it wants. This anxiety could be your limerent brain bargaining for more contact. It’s not that you want to see them, you just need to clear the air. There are good reasons why you should spend time with them; you are just meeting your social obligations. Alternatively, is your subconscious finding your Achilles’s heel and using whatever attack it can to get you to give it some damn LO drug: “if you don’t seek them out and explain what you are doing, you’re a bad person.” It’s the familiar internal wrestle between what you know is right and what you crave.
What to do?
Being a people-pleaser is not the same thing as being kind. Kindness is good, but it has healthy boundaries. People pleasing is often a fear of saying no, of not being esteemed as highly, of being shunned by your social group. Helping others is not the same as subjugating yourself.
Often, at the heart of someone’s pleasing impulse is a misalignment between their perception of how others view them, and the reality. Most people won’t be judging you for not sending LO a birthday card, even though you did last year. In fact, most people won’t notice. If you have built a reputation for considerateness and care, you’re not going to lose it by failing to attend LO’s charity bakeoff. LO may well notice, but most bystanders will be heedless.
That brings us to the next purposeful point: you are not responsible for other people’s feelings. They have to manage them all by themselves. If your LO or friends or family are shaming you for not doing what they want, you are being manipulated. Just like narcissists sniff out glimmering limerents, takers sniff out people pleasers. You don’t have to do other people’s emotional work for them.
That brings us to a third point: you matter as much as them. Causing big emotional harm to yourself to spare an LO minor discomfort is not healthy. Your limerence crisis versus their irritation that you aren’t responding to their midnight texts anymore is not a sensible balance of concerns. Letting someone else set the terms on which you are allowed to protect yourself is the opposite to purposeful, it’s self-sabotage.
In contrast, purposeful living sets your sights correctly. Am I going to achieve my goals by pleasing other people? What do I need to do to look after myself best? Of the people in my life, who cares for me as much as I care for them? Who treats my thoughtfulness with appreciation and gratitude, and who takes it for granted? What sort of person do I want to bond with? How would the person I aspire to be behave in this situation?
Here’s the great thing about purposeful living – it helps resolve both your limerence and your people pleasing habit. It’s a two for one deal. In fact, it’s even better than that. It transforms your whole life.