We've all done it before — offering to do a favor we later regret, or overextending ourselves when really we just need me-time. But for some people (and I imagine women outnumber men here because of social conditioning), chronic niceness can verge on the pathological and actually be hazardous to the people-pleaser's overall health.
According to Les Barbanell, psychologist and author of Removing the Mask of Kindness, there are many reasons compulsive people-pleasers turn out that way. They could have had emotionally distant, controlling or depressed parents who were also possibly overcritical perfectionists. As a result, their children grew up believing that in order to win their love, they needed to do whatever it took to please them.
If gestures of generosity to other people are not measured against what a person can reasonably give, the result is often depression, anxiety, and (not surprisingly) repressed rage. In its connection to narcissistic personality disorder, so-called "caretaker personality disorder" shows its not-so-selfless and not-so-nice face: it can often cover for the do-gooder's secret ego trip. Like people with NPD, CPDers "require excessive admiration and envy . . .have an overt sense of entitlement, and . . . are incapable of forming equal and mature relationships."
When flight attendants tell parents to put their oxygen masks on before they put them on their children, it's a hint for all of us: don't take care of others before you take care of yourself — or you may pay for it psychologically and emotionally.