Are You A People Pleaser? Here Is What You Can Do About It

Have you ever found yourself in a situation like this?

It’s 4:45 PM on a Friday.

You are really looking forward to going home and starting the weekend.

Actually, let’s make this more pandemic-esque: it’s 4:45 PM on a Friday and you can’t wait for this one last call to finish so you can put on the matching pajama top for the pajama bottoms you already have on. You know, to complete the ensemble.  

Your colleague mentions a deadline on Monday that they could really use some help with. They ask you to contribute, and your weekend plans flash before your eyes: researching which of the Indian Matchmaking couples actually stay together, trying out that new shawarma counter, and spending Sunday afternoon by Lakeshore, soaking in the remaining dregs of summer.

You REALLY want to say no. Nicely, but no.

Then you remember that everyone is listening on this call. What will they think of you? You want them to like you and see you as a reliable and helpful person. The colleague who is asking for your help has always been kind to you, the last thing you want to do is disappoint them.

So, you say: “Yes, sure I’ll make some time this weekend. Let’s connect after this call.”

I guess Nadia and Shekhar can wait :(

Sound Familiar?

If you are a people pleaser, this scenario may sound all too familiar. Maybe you've been called "too nice" in the past, or perhaps you have always struggled to be assertive.

Even if you don’t consider yourself to have people-pleasing tendencies, we have all agreed to do something we really didn’t want to do at some point.

So what exactly is it that sets people pleasers apart?

This post will address the following:

How to identify if you have people-pleasing tendencies

The cost of maintaining this pattern over time

What lies behind people-pleasing behaviours

How to disrupt people-pleasing behaviour

Let’s get into it, if you please (#sorrynotsorry)

Are You A People Pleaser?

Those with people-pleasing tendencies generally don't label themselves this way. The patterns are deeply ingrained and often start from a very young age. It can be difficult to identify patterns that have been a part of us and how we relate to the world for so long.

We have put together a list to help you identify whether you tend to put others' positive opinion and perception of you above your own needs!

Here are some common habits of people pleasers. While reading this, see how many you identify with.

  • Saying ‘no’ is a struggle
  • You tend to have weak boundaries and people have used you for their personal gain in the past
  • It is very difficult to tolerate when someone is disappointed or displeased with you
  • Being assertive and speaking up about your opinions is hard for you
  • You are afraid of conflict and tend to avoid it
  • You have a strong need to be liked and gain approval in any setting
  • Hyper-vigilance- you are always on the lookout for signs that you are being rejected by others
  • You tend to apologize and accept blame when it's not necessary and over-explain your mistakes
  • Your actions and decisions tend to be based on what others will think about them
  • Suppressing negative emotions comes easily to you
  • You go out of your way to do favours and be generous, even when you are clearly and consistently at a disadvantage
  • The thought of losing control scares you

Keep in mind that experiencing any one of these these scenarios occasionally does not necessarily make you a people-pleaser.

However, if you see yourself reflected in many of these statements, let’s talk. People-pleasing is a habitual pattern of relating to others that comes with many costs.

The Costs Of People-Pleasing Behaviour

People-pleasing behaviour isn't inherently damaging. Considering the needs and feelings of others is an important part of co-existing and connecting with people.

Where we get into trouble is when we rely solely on others as a gauge for how to regard ourselves.

There are many ways that people-pleasing can affect us over time. When we consistently put others' wants and needs above our own, it can be damaging to ourselves and the relationships we value the most.

How does this happen?

It's Easy To Become Bitter And Resentful

People pleasers often go out of their way to do things for others in order to gain their approval and positive regard. Overtime, people become used to this behaviour and instead of appreciating it, they may begin to expect it.

There is no way to guarantee that colleagues, friends, and loved ones will even acknowledge the efforts and sacrifices people-pleasers make. Many times, others may not realize that someone is making sacrifices for them because they are so accustomed to it.

This leads to resentment and bitterness. People-pleasers, like most of us, are not entirely selfless. They want their efforts to be acknowledged so they can feel needed and liked by others. When this doesn't occur, it can lead to passive-aggressive behaviour that can be confusing to the people around them.

Life Can Get Stressful When You Can't Say 'No'

People-pleasers tend to pile their plates high. By taking on more they cn can handle, they leave less time for themselves.

The cumulative effect of this behaviour is stress and burnout- two things that make just about anything in life harder to deal with!

People Take Advantage Of Agreeableness

There are people who will recognize early that you tend to yes and agree to everything. This initiates a cycle where they keep asking (knowing you won't say no) and you keep saying yes because you don't want to disappoint them.

This cycle can put someone with people-pleasing tendencies in very vulnerable, and even dangerous positions. They are more susceptible to manipulation and abuse by those that pick up on and learn to exploit this quality.

Relationships Suffer

Those with people-pleasing tendencies may form relationships with the goal of earning the approval of the other person. This will not be fulfilling for long because the people-pleaser is not bringing their true self into the relationship.

Instead, they are demonstrating that the other person's wants and needs govern the relationship. Healthy give-and-take is replaced by give-and-give. This can make the relationship feel hollow and unsatisfying for all parties involved.

It Is Difficult To Be Authentic

People-pleasers are used to pushing aside their needs and feelings to focus on other people. They may also rely heavily on others' assessment of a situation to determine how they should feel and react.

Over time, someone with people-pleasing tendencies may find it hard to recognize their own emotions. It is difficult to be true to yourself when you are accustomed to casting that aside and prioritizing others.

Losing a solid sense of self composed of your own needs, wants, emotions, likes, dislikes, and boundaries is a heavy thing to lose. This is why authenticity can be difficult for a people-pleaser- it is hard to show up with your true self when that person is rarely given a voice. It is much easier to do what will make others happy.

What Is Behind People-Pleasing Behaviour?

Now that we know some of the common habits of people-pleasers how it can affect their lives, let's talk about why these tendencies exist in the first place.

Let's get one thing straight: it's not your fault!

People-pleasing behaviour is usually based on early childhood experiences that shape how we relate to other people. You are never to blame for these experiences!

As with most things in life, there is no single cause that unites everyone who has a tendency to people-please. It's a complicated thing! There are however, a few prime suspects.

Early Relationships And Fear Of Rejection

If you recall, we mentioned earlier that people-pleasers are usually hyper aware of signs that they are being rejected.

This fear of rejection can stem from early relationships with parents/caregivers. For example, if your caregivers were only approving and affectionate if you did what they asked or if you behaved in a specific way, you learn pretty quickly to act in a way that guarantees their approval.

This early fear of rejection can follow us throughout life and lead us to believe that all love and acceptance is conditional. To avoid being rejected, people-pleasers will do everything to fulfill what they believe to be the conditions for that love and acceptance.

Low Self-Esteem And Self-Worth

Those of us with people-pleasing tendencies likely absorbed certain messages throughout our lives about our self-worth.

For example, if we believe that our value is based solely on what we can do for people, we will prioritize others in order to feel valued.

Over time, we forget that we are inherently valuable. This diminishes our self-worth and results in low-esteem. In order to cope with these feelings, a people-pleaser will act in a way that makes them feel worthy, which is pleasing others.  

Past Experiences Of Trauma

People who have experienced trauma tend to seek safety in a number of ways. Our minds and bodies are in tune with what reminds us of the traumatic experience and what helps us feel safe. Sometimes this occurs even outside our conscious awareness!

If you have experienced childhood trauma or intimate partner violence, you might have learned that there is safety in appeasing people and doing what they want.

Long after the events have passed, our minds and bodies continue to seek that safety. We end up believing that we can find it by being agreeable and likeable (and therefore, safe).

How To Disrupt People-Pleasing Patterns

Doing things to make others happy is not a bad thing! It becomes problematic when we derive our own self-worth entirely from others' reactions and our life revolves around appeasing others.

So how do we overcome this pattern of behaviour?

1. Recognize The Patterns

In order to disrupt the pattern, we first have to root it out. One way to do this build awareness around where people-pleasing shows up in your life.

Observe who you feel the need to appease and earn approval from the most. Ask yourself:

How would I feel if this person was disappointed in me?

When is the last time I said 'no' to them?

Is our relationship based on my tendency to give and give?

This can be an overwhelming process- be kind to yourself. It's never easy to uproot deeply ingrained patterns of behaviour because these behaviours are serving a purpose in our life. They are familiar, and comfortable, even when they are no longer serving us.

Examining them closely can make us feel as though the rug got pulled out from under us. Go slow and remember to be compassionate with yourself.

2. Practice Being Assertive

Assertiveness is a skill that can be learned! It is an important aspect of being able to say 'no', voicing our opinions, and setting boundaries.

Dealing with conflict tends to be exactly what people-pleasers aim to avoid. So facing it, and then asserting your needs and preferences will naturally feel daunting!

Here are a few ways you can start off slowly.

Use 'I' More Often

Place your feelings and preferences at the centre of the conversation by using 'I' statements.

For example, instead of saying:

"maybe this isn't such a good idea"

try saying:

"I don't think this is a good idea, can we try something different?"

The latter makes it clear what your opinion is and that it is coming from you.

Work On Setting Boundaries

The next time someone asks you for help, try asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do you want to do this or are you helping out of a sense of obligation?
  • Will you be neglecting your own needs to help this person? (I.e. sacrificing limited free time)
  • How do you expect to feel after? Can you see yourself resenting this person if they do not acknowledge your efforts they way you were envisioning?

As you gain confidence, being assertive will become easier. And the only way to gain confidence is to practice!

3. Look For Self-Worth Within

This one may the most important of all! People-pleasers are not the only ones working on this- many people I see in my practice struggle with low self-esteem and a weak sense of self-worth.

This work is deep, and constantly evolving- it certainly won't happen over night!

As a people-pleaser, your self-worth may be rooted in what you can do for others. Try disrupting this by:

  • Practicing positive affirmations
  • Figure out what you are good at and developing these competencies- you will begin to feel confident while exploring interests that are entirely for you
  • Try being less critical of your mistakes. Practice self-compassion and forgive yourself instead
  • Learn to accept genuine compliments, even when it is uncomfortable (and it will be!)

4. Practice Distress Tolerance

Building awareness around people-pleasing patterns, practicing assertiveness, and focusing on your self-worth and self-esteem is bound to cause distressing emotions to arise.

Those of us with people-pleasing tendencies are more likely to suppress challenging emotions. This means we also have less experience tolerating them. It's never too late to start though! We can practice accepting and releasing challenging emotions by first practicing distress tolerance.

Here, I'll link an excellent resource on 6 Distress Tolerance Skills.

Over To You Now...

I hope this post helped you, my people-pleasers, to feel seen and understood. By nature, you may be a giver. If this post inspired you to consider what might be behind that identity and perhaps do something to put yourself first- I'll consider it a success!

Remember to be compassionate towards yourself if you are trying to disrupt people-pleasing tendencies. It takes time, but believe me, it is worth the effort ✨

I want to hear from you: Has people-pleasing shaped relationships and opportunities in your life? How have you shifted these behaviours? Feel free to leave me a comment!

As always, if you have any questions about this topic or need some additional support, flip me an email, or book an appointment with anyone from my awesome team!

Until next time!

Sarah Ahmed electronic signature

Sarah Ahmed
Co-founder
WellNest Psychotherapy Services