People Pleaser? How to Stop.
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
How to Stop Being a People Pleaser
“Um, sure, I guess so,” Mia says, while her stomach churns and she feels a wave of exhaustion already at the prospect of picking her sister up from the airport at midnight on a Wednesday. She wants to say, “It’s a $30 Uber, and I need to get up for work early.” But she doesn’t. She’s annoyed all the way to the airport, all the way back, and irritable and sleep-deprived at work the next day. Why couldn’t she say no?
It’s because Mia is a people pleaser. Can you relate to this? Have you ever:
1) said “yes” when you really meant “no,”
2) accepted an invitation you would have preferred to decline,
3) or apologized because you couldn’t do something that wasn’t your responsibility?
If so, you may be a people pleaser. This is no cause for alarm — we all do things on occasion just to make others happy, or to avoid potential conflict. Healthy relationships require a balance of give and take. When things are in balance, our relationships feel satisfying and mutual. We don’t need to keep score, but overall, we have the sense that we’re getting as much out of relationships as we’re putting in.
But when we lean a little bit too far in the direction of people-pleasing, things can start to feel out of balance. Your relationships might be stressful and guilt-ridden if you have a tendency to people please. You might grow resentful toward the people in your life and feel powerless to stop them from encroaching on your time and energy.
If you’ve noticed you’re doing a little too much pleasing lately, it’s time to take your power back. The “people pleasers” who arrive in counseling or coaching here at Growing Self to work on themselves around people-pleasing tend to be highly empathetic people, who understand and care deeply about other people’s feelings, wants, and needs. They know that it’s time to work on healthy boundaries and learn how to be appropriately assertive with confidence.
And that’s what this article is all about. I’ve also recorded an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. My guest is Kathleen C., a therapist and life coach here at Growing Self who has helped so many people reclaim their priorities, draw their own boundaries, and tilt the balance away from people-pleasing and toward self-care. You can find the episode on this page, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. And while you’re there, I hope you’ll subscribe!
Our authentic relationship experts know how to help you learn, grow, and move forward into a bright new chapter.
How to Stop Being a People Pleaser
People pleasing is something we all do from time to time, and it’s not always a bad thing. But for some, the balance can tip a little too far in the direction of people pleasing, making it difficult to assert yourself, ask for what you need, or draw healthy boundaries with others.
If you’ve noticed a pattern of people pleasing in your relationships, this conversation will help you take back your power and put your focus back where it belongs: on your own needs and desires.
What Is a People Pleaser?
People pleasing is a pattern of putting other people ahead of yourself, at the expense of your own wellness. This could take many different forms. You might have trouble telling other people “no,” and so end up with a schedule so jam-packed with other people’s priorities that you have no time for the things that are important to you.
Or, you might not feel able to ask for what you need to feel emotionally safe in a relationship, like regular communication from a partner, and so you endure relationships where your true needs aren’t met.
Signs of People Pleasing
How can you know if people pleasing is an issue for you? Here are some signs that you may be doing a little bit too much people pleasing in your relationships:
- Feelings of anger and resentment toward the people in your life, especially when they ask you to do things for them.
- Feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, or drained by all of your commitments.
- Experiencing feelings of guilt when you need to tell someone “no.”
- Feeling inadequate, like you can never do enough.
- Feeling like you don’t really have a choice when someone asks you for something.
- Worrying a lot about what other people think.
The Danger of People Pleasing
To stop being a people pleaser, it helps to understand why you do it in the first place — as well as truly understanding the toll it takes on you and on your relationships.
When was the last time you said “yes” when you really wanted to say “no,” or put someone else’s priorities ahead of your own? Can you remember what you were thinking and feeling at the time? Maybe you felt worried about some outcome if you asserted yourself, like losing a valued friendship or angering your boss. There may have been a story you were telling yourself, about how the other person would react if you didn’t go along with what they wanted — and what that reaction would mean about you. For example, you might think, “If I was a good partner/friend/employee/person, I would do this for them.”
By reflecting on what feels difficult about not people pleasing, you can begin to question the beliefs that are making it hard for you to draw your own boundaries and speak up for your own needs. Doing so is not selfish; it’s taking care of yourself.
It’s also essential. People who struggle with setting healthy boundaries for themselves will, over time, often start feeling very angry, resentful, and even depressed. Feeling like a doormat can damage your self-esteem, but also damage the very relationships that you’re working so hard to protect.
Your feelings of anger and resentment will start to be *felt* by others – whether or not you’re saying how you feel out loud. If left unchecked, people pleasing can actually lead to passive aggressive behaviors, and increasing disconnection and distance in your relationships.
People Pleasing and Boundaries
The key to overcoming people pleasing is having a good sense of where your boundaries are. For all of us, this is easier said than done. Healthy boundaries are firm but flexible and can be negotiated depending on the relationship and your needs and the other person’s needs at any given time.
But understanding where your own boundaries are will help you have clarity about what you actually want, so you can notice when your impulse to people please is creeping in.
One key to understanding where your boundaries are is tuning into your feelings. If you’re feeling angry, resentful, pushed, or infringed upon, that’s a sign someone may be stepping on a boundary for you, even if your conscious mind is not aware that this is a boundary you need to hold.
How Values Can Help People Pleasers
Values are crucial. They’re the lighthouse that guides you in the direction of the life you want, and being clear about them can help you overcome a tendency to people please.
If you value your physical health, you won’t overcommit to too many responsibilities, spreading yourself thin and adding excessive stress to your life. If you value emotional honesty and authenticity, you’ll want to be open with others about how you really feel, and what you want and need.
Stay in touch with your values and you’ll have more clarity about whether you’re doing something because it’s what you really want, or because it’s what someone else wants.
How to Stop People Pleasing
For recovering people pleasers, there is plenty of reason to hope: You can get better at assertive communication, self-care, and staying in touch with your own boundaries and values. Many people benefit from working on themselves in therapy or life coaching, and this is especially helpful if you’re struggling to get clarity around your needs, rights, and feelings — and hope to confidently communicate those to others.
People pleasing can be a hard habit to break, but once you do, you’ll be able to enjoy positive, mutually-fulfilling relationships, without all the stress, guilt, and resentment. You’ll feel happier, your relationships will improve, and you’ll feel the love and respect you’ve always wanted and deserved.
People Pleaser Podcast Highlights
[02:27] The Signs of Being a People Pleaser
- When you’re people pleasing, you get into a space where you want to defend yourself, and you feel angry and resentful
- Over time, you feel really exhausted, inadequate, overwhelmed, drained, and burnt out.
- You feel that you can never do enough
- People pleasers also talk about feelings of guilt and irritability.
[06:32] What Is a People Pleaser?
- A person with a pattern of putting other people before themselves to the detriment of their personal well-being.
- It is a pattern of doing things in conflict with your own value system, abandoning or betraying yourself, your mental health and physical health, and boundaries.
- There is a loss of power and safety that makes an individual feel the need to prioritize others over themselves.
- There are relationships where people are bullied into this behavior. It can also happen because of past experiences.
[11:26] Acknowledging a People Pleasing Personality
- Recall a time when you felt pushed against a wall, guilty or resentful doing something that you didn’t feel comfortable doing.
- Be honest with yourself and reflect on the motivation behind your actions.
- It’s not about self-judgment but holding a space for you to be clear about your feelings.
- We sometimes fall into autopilot or find justifications for our actions.
[16:17] Finding Balance: Is Being a People Pleaser Bad?
- People pleasing behavior can range from simply taking the path of least resistance, to being afraid of major consequences.
- Finding balance and checking within yourself to know the pros and cons of your actions is an art.
[20:23] People Pleaser Anxiety and Anger
- People pleasing can metastasize into insecurity and anxiety because there has been a pattern of feeling like you need to earn taking up space.
- It can also show up as physical symptoms: headaches, digestive issues, muscle tension, fatigue.
- These are the body’s way of expressing that it has been holding a lot of stress, anxiety, fear, anger, or guilt.
- Feelings give us information about ourselves, but not necessarily facts about the situation.
- Connecting with yourself, including feelings like anger and resentment. It’s only human to feel angry when you’ve stretched yourself too thin.
[28:37] Guilty Feelings in People Pleasing
- Guilt comes from a well-intentioned place of empathy.
- It comes from that place of caring, but it gets distorted when we aren’t able to hold that empathy and also hold space for our own needs at the same time.
- People pleasing can also feel like love in the moment. However, there is always time and space to be compassionate and empathetic.
[33:10] Recovering People Pleaser: How to Get Over People Pleasing
- Reflect on your motivations. Think about what you’ll feel and the consequences in the long and short-term.
- Use your values as anchors. These values can also change over time and depending on your needs.
- Take time to decide and think about what you need.
- It’s helpful to have scripts and assertiveness techniques that give us something to lean on and guide us as we’re starting out.
- Assertiveness opens up the lines of communication, and it is respectful. If someone chooses to escalate things in response instead of respecting your boundaries, it gives you good information about that relationship.
Music in this episode is by Austin Archer, with the song “People Pleaser.”
You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: Austin Archer. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.
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People Pleaser? How to Stop.
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
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