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  • Writer's pictureAnda Bolojan

How to Stop Being a People-Pleaser

Truth is, in part, humanity is still intact because most people work hard to get along and be nice to each other. But some people work extra, extra hard in this regard: people pleasers.


People pleasers, in general, subconsciously rely on others’ approval to feel good about themselves. They can’t say no for fear of feeling guilty or worrying that others will think they’re selfish and inconsiderate. And so, in order to feel worthy and accepted, they say yes. And yes. And yes.


Various moods of people pleasers

Whether people-pleasing has deep roots in the mind or is just a bad habit, constantly working for others’ approval while ignoring one’s own needs can take a toll on well-being. Even if people pleasers often convince themselves that approval makes them happy, truth is that the inevitable pressure to manage others’ emotions can be exhausting, anxiety-inducing, and even lead to depression.


This doesn’t sound too good, does it? But, unfortunately, it’s quite common. Even if not with everyone, we do become people-pleasers for some, at least from time to time, and it has the potential to deeply taxing to our well-being.


So in this article, we’ll learn together how to stop being a people pleaser and ditch this unhealthy behavior of wanting a thing and agreeing to something else.


But first, let’s see where this thing comes from, what are the effects and how can you recognize this behavior in yourself.


Causes


There are a number of reasons why we might be engaging in this kind of behavior, including:

  • Poor self-esteem. Sometimes people engage in people-pleasing behavior because they don't value their own desires and needs. Due to a lack of self-confidence, they have a need for external validation and may feel that doing things for others will lead to approval and acceptance.

  • Insecurity. In other cases, people might try to please others because they worry that other people won't like them if they don't go above and beyond to make them happy.

  • Perfectionism. Sometimes people want everything to be "just so," including how other people think and feel.

  • Past experiences. Painful, difficult, or traumatic experiences may also play a role. People who have experienced abuse, for example, may try to please others and be as agreeable as possible in order to avoid triggering abusive behavior in others.

The bottom line is that in some cases, the motivation to help others can sometimes be a form of altruism - a person might genuinely want to make sure that other people have the help that they need. But in other cases, this pattern can and will be a way to feel validated or liked, as we stated above.


Effects


With that being said, people-pleasing isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Being a concerned and caring person is an important part of maintaining healthy relationships with loved ones. It becomes a problem, however, if you are trying to win approval in order to shore up weak self-esteem or if you are pursuing the happiness of others at the expense of your own emotional well-being.


If you are devoting all of your time to helping others in order to make them happy and win their approval, you might experience some of the following consequences.

  • Anger and Frustration. While you might actually enjoy helping, you are also bound to experience frustration when you are doing things reluctantly or out of obligation.

  • Anxiety and Stress. Efforts to keep other people happy can stretch your own physical and mental resources too thin. Trying to manage it all can lead to stressful feelings.

  • Depleted Willpower. Devoting all of your energy and mental resources toward making sure that others are happy means you are less likely to have the willpower to tackle your own goals.

  • Lack of Authenticity. People-pleasers will often hide their own needs and preferences in order to accommodate other people. This can make it feel as if you are not living your life authentically.

  • Weaker Relationships. If you are putting all of your efforts into making sure that you meet other people's expectations, you may find yourself feeling resentful. While people might appreciate your giving nature, they may also begin to take your kindness and attentiveness for granted.


How to recognize it in yourself


There are a number of characteristics that people-pleasers tend to share. Here are some signs that you might be one:

  • You have a difficult time saying "no."

  • You are preoccupied with what other people might think.

  • You feel guilty when you do tell people "no."

  • You fear that turning people down will make them think you are mean or selfish.

  • You agree to things you don’t like or do things you don’t want to do.

  • You want people to like you and feel that doing things for them will earn their approval.

  • You’re always telling people you’re sorry.

  • You take the blame even when something isn’t your fault.

  • You never have any free time because you are always doing things for other people.

  • You neglect your own needs in order to do things for others.

  • You pretend to agree with people even though you feel differently.

People-pleasers tend to be good at tuning in to what others are feeling. They are also generally empathetic, thoughtful, and caring. These positive qualities may also come with a poor self-image, a need to take control, or a tendency to overachieve.


Steps to stop being a people pleaser


Fortunately, there are some steps that you can take, that will help you stop being a people-pleaser and learn how to balance your desire to make others happy without sacrificing your own.


1. Recognize your reasons


What are the reasons that make you put aside your need to accommodate someone else’s desire?


Is it the fear of disappointing them? Is it about not being liked? Do you feel burdened by how much that person has done for you, so you feel obligated to give back without constraints? Or, is it about the fear of losing harmony? Are you afraid of displeasing these people?


Listen, we hear you, your fears are not invalid. They seem to root in kindness and care, but only for the other person. Are you not afraid of mistreating yourself? Shouldn’t you also honor your desire?


2. Validate yourself


Once your worth is not dependent on someone else’s opinion or appreciation of you, there is no reason for you to exhibit this unhealthy behavior.


You are worthy just as you are. Your worth was never and will never be attributed to any metric. You are a human being. Isn’t that enough worth on its own?


3. Protect your peace


I think we all want to live a life that is peaceful, fulfilling, heart-warming, and a rich experience through and through. People-pleasing is a surefire way to throw away that peace while trying to keep the peace between you and them. Ironical, isn’t it?


Make your well-being a priority. Decide to not compromise your peace to please someone else. You know it’s not worth it.


4. Say “No” kindly


People pleasers have the fear of not seeming nice and sounding rude, and this pushes them to agree and accommodate even when they don’t want to. But saying “No” is not rude by default.


There are ways to decline an offer without wiping the smile off someone’s face. You know, most people are understanding, and they won’t judge you.


Some ways to say “No” kindly are:


“Hey, thanks for the offer, but I’ll have to pass. I’m unavailable this weekend.”

“Thanks for thinking of me, but I’ll take a rain-check this time. Would you like to meet next Friday, though? I’m free then.”

“I have planned out my tasks for today. I’ll take this up tomorrow.”


You don’t have to give any big excuses to seem genuine to the other person. Do yourself a favor and only choose what you want to choose.


5. Remove toxic relationships


Sometimes, it’s them, not you. If you have people in your life who make you feel bad for putting yourself first and keep breaching your boundaries or simply aren’t the people that you want to hang out with anymore, let go of them.


I know, they won’t just disappear but start by cancelling plans that you used to give in to, increase the distance, and if they don’t get the idea, be upfront.


It will take courage and they won’t be so happy about it, but it will save you a lot of discomfort and wasted time.


6. Introspect what matters to you


Sit down and self-reflect on the values that are important to you, what goals you have, and the kind of life that you want to live.


In the grand scheme of things, giving your self-respect and freedom of choice to please others seems such a waste.


Your life is capable of being lived so freely and beautifully, embracing the joy in little things, and suppressing this potential because you put your needs below someone’s desire rips you away from living that wonderful life.


7. Respect your time


We don’t want to open your eyes by reminding you that we only have so much time in this world, but if this is what it takes, listen to us.


Remember how uncomfortable you felt when you were at that party when instead you wanted to read a book sitting on your comfy bed, or how overwhelmed you felt because you had agreed to work on more things than you could manage, or how bored you were being with people that you didn’t feel connected with.


All of that time could have been lived in a way that worked for you if you had respected your time and spoken up about what you actually wanted to. You are responsible for taking care of yourself.


You teach others how to treat you. If you don’t respect your time and voice, others won’t too.


8. Stop apologizing unnecessarily


Been there, done that. We feel that we’re being really nice and careful about the other person’s emotions, but it’s just another way of people-pleasing.


Did you actually do something wrong? Was it your fault that there was traffic or bad weather or someone sick at home? Is being busy to take someone’s call and asking to call back later such a bad thing?


We’re all for apologizing when it’s needed, and it’s seemingly harmless to throw away apologies here and there, but it diminishes the weight of real apologies and blames you for something you didn’t do.


When you’re late, instead of saying, “I’m sorry I was stuck in the traffic” say, “Thanks for waiting for me. There was heavy traffic on the way here.”


9. Accept the truth


No matter how hard you try, or how many times you let people walk over you, you cannot have everyone be pleased with you. It doesn’t work that way, and it won’t.


Molding yourself to the expectations of others will steal you away from yourself. You are not responsible for how they feel or respond, you are responsible for yourself.


Shaping your actions and reactions to suit theirs is a disservice to yourself. Speak up what you want to when you want to, and stay silent when you don’t want to add to a conversation.


Also, even if you might think that accepting bad behavior, not challenging it, and just letting it go will save you from a situation you don’t want, that never happens. Don’t ignore the truths around you. Be a peacekeeper only when it is rational, and speak up when boundaries are crossed.


10. Help when you want to help


In the end, you don’t need to give up being kind and thoughtful. Those are desirable qualities that can contribute to strong, lasting relationships. The key is to examine your motivations and intentions. Don’t do things only because you fear rejection or want the approval of others.


Keep doing good things, but on your own terms. Kindness doesn’t demand attention or rewards - it simply requires a desire to make things better for another person.


Conclusion


If being a people-pleaser is making it difficult to pursue your own happiness, it's important to find ways to set boundaries and take back your time. Remind yourself that you can’t please everyone, so you shouldn't try to.


Don’t forget that it’s never too late to live a free life - one that’s finally on your own terms. Start today!




Other Resources


Books

  • The Disease To Please - Dr. Harriet B. Braiker

  • When It’s Never About You - Dr. Ilene S. Cohen

  • Boundaries - Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend

  • Not Nice - Dr. Aziz Gazipura

  • Codependent No More - Melody Beattie

Videos








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