Are You a People-Pleaser?

Are you a people-pleaser? Answer these question to confirm your suspicions.

Do you…

  • think self-care is optional?
  • say yes often? 
  • believe others can count on you to help? 
  • feel burdened by the things you have to do?
  • resent things you used to enjoy because it’s just one more thing to do? 
  • feel guilty or mean when you set boundaries?
  • put yourself last and not ask for the help you need? 
  • resent being taken advantage of?  
  • feel tense, stressed, anxious, or on-edge?
  • want everyone to like you? 
  • long for praise, attention, and validation? 
  • fear others will reject you? 
  • want to practice self-care, but there’s no time?
  • have intentions of setting or sticking by boundaries but don’t? 
  • expect to be perfect and hold yourself to high standards? 
  • take criticism personally?
  • try to help those in need? 

If you answered yes to many of these questions, congratulations, your people-pleaser suspicion is confirmed.

butterfly symbolizing a people-pleaser

What is a People-Pleaser?

A people-pleaser is one of the nicest people you know. They never say no, therefore you can always count on them. They get their work done, help others with theirs, make all the plans, and are always there for you. Their heart is definitely in the right place. Fantastic qualities, right? Yes, but it’s an unhealthy pattern of behavior.

A people-pleaser isn’t just kind-hearted; they fear troubled relationships, rejection, and upsetting others. It’s easier to agree to requests and keep others happy than it is to create waves. Their behavior has become a lifestyle of winning love and approval. It’s compulsive because they’re unable to say no.

A people-pleaser learned the best way to be safe, loved, and accepted, is to put aside their needs and allow everyone else’s to come first. While the external conflict diminishes, the inner conflict grows. They want to say no, then feel guilty when they do. On the other hand, they feel resentful when they say yes. It’s a vicious cycle.

Why am I a People-Pleaser? 

The intense need to please and care for others is rooted in fear of rejection or failure. 

The People-Pleaser has a Fear of Rejection 

“If I don’t help them, they might leave or not love me anymore as a result.”

Fear of Rejection can stem from early relationships in which love was conditional. Were you rejected or abandoned by an important person in your life? Did a parent leave or withheld love or approval? 

The People-Pleaser has a Fear of Failure 

“If I screw up, I will be punished or consequently disappoint people.” 

Fear of failure can come from early experiences with critical parents with high expectations. Rigid rules or severe punishment for small mistakes may have been a part of their life. Both can lead to anxiety, causing people-pleasers to do everything possible to do things right, finish the job, and ensure everyone’s happiness.

Regardless of the cause, putting others above your own needs can lead to unhealthy consequences.

A pair of butterflies

What a People-Pleaser Looks Like

Self Neglect

Susie is exhausted from helping everyone and running herself ragged. There is no time to take care of herself. She steps on the scale to find herself 40 pounds overweight.

People-Pleasers devote little to no time to self-care. They focus on taking care of others and neglect physical activity, eating healthy, and de-stressing. As a result, they often are prone to health problems. 

  • Balance is needed. Taking care of yourself first, then equips you to help others. Consider a cookie jar. If everyone takes cookies from the jar, it will soon be empty. Think of the time you put into exercise, healthy eating, and de-stressing as refilling the jar. Others can add to the jar by encouraging, helping, and taking your feelings into account. Be sure to rely on yourself first and not depend on others to take care of you.

Resentment

Susie realizes her relationships are suffering despite her best efforts. She has been snappy lately and knows it’s not conducive to the kind personality she’s worked so hard to foster. 

People-Pleasers find themselves angry but fail to communicate their feelings. The desire to be kind negates the anger until it turns into passive-aggressive behavior such as sharp comments, sarcastic jokes, and subtle actions. 

  • Resentment is the biggest destroyer of relationships. The only way to avoid resentment is to communicate your feelings. Focus on speaking up for yourself. It’s called setting boundaries and will result in the most noticeable difference in your recovery. 

Disengaged

Susie sits at her daughter’s track meet, obsessing about all the things she needs to do. She works herself into a wasted time frenzy that adds to her stress level. Susie misses the end of the race, therefore, her daughter’s excitement of coming in first deflates as she looks in the stands to see her mom not watching.  

People-Pleasers have a reduced ability to enjoy activities due to their constant busyness. Though they try to hide it, the lack of engagement in an activity or a person is impossible to hide. Disengagement is hurtful to others; it’s better to be absent.

  • Only attend activities that interest you. Recharge yourself during this newfound time, and get more enjoyment from the activities you do commit to. Would you rather visit with a friend or watch as they obsess over their phone? That’s a rather loud silent message, isn’t it? 

Stress and Depression

Susie is a bundle of nerves. Her neck and shoulders ache from overwhelming tension. She finds it hard to get out of bed and enjoy her life. She worked to make her friend’s surprise party fantastic but is now too tired to get dressed. 

People-Pleasers have more demands than they can handle, resulting in chronic stress. Constantly being too busy, doing for others, and neglecting themselves, is a sign something needs to change. Feelings of being bored, unhappy, or depressed often surface. Subsequently, anger, resentment, and conflict continue to grow. They turn to solitude to escape these feelings. Then miss the connection to others, which is what they crave. Though medication can help, it doesn’t fix the problem.

  • Identify one responsibility you can cancel to create free time for yourself. You know the one. You see it on the calendar and instantly moan. Every time. The book club for the book you don’t have time to read? The PTA meeting that results in another project for your to-do list? How about lunch with your friend Negative Nelly? Limiting time with people who bring you down is a fantastic first step.  

Taken Advantage Of

Susie agrees to watch her friend’s dog for a week. Then the friend adds that the dog has a vet appointment on Tuesday, a grooming appointment on Thursday, and needs to be taken to the dog park daily.

People-Pleasers rarely say no and often feel unappreciated and taken advantage of. Some take advantage of their kindness by asking for more than is reasonable. On the other hand, some are simply exploiting generosity. It’s time to rethink friendships.

  • People learn to treat us by the behavior we accept or reject. Don’t get upset with those who take advantage. After all, you taught them what is acceptable. Set clear boundaries with yourself and others. Boundaries are simply actions you can and cannot do and behavior you will and will not accept. Therefore, sticking to these boundaries is critical. Realize others may get upset when you begin to say no. Ignore the feelings of guilt; when taking care of yourself bears none.
up close butterfly symbolizing problems a people pleaser faces

The Underlying Issue of the People Pleaser: Self-Worth 

People-Pleasers often say yes to everything to help them feel accepted and loved. It’s become a way of life. The reasons vary, but all need to be considered and changed if necessary. 

You Feel Selfish

People-Pleasing is a hard habit to break. Recovery means we love ourselves enough to say no. It is not selfish because self-care is a necessity, not a luxury. Therefore, It’s not something we do if we have time or deserve it. Taking care of our emotional, mental, and physical needs keeps us healthy. Without self-care, we’ll get sick, overtired, stressed, and irritable.

Considering other people’s feelings and treating them with kindness is commendable. But sacrificing our well-being to make others happy is not. When we compromise our own needs, people-pleasing crosses the line from kind to self-abandonment. Not being our authentic selves because we’re afraid others will disapprove, criticize, or reject us is not realistic or healthy.

  • Put self-care activities such as exercise, socialization, hobbies, and sleep on your calendar to ensure priority.
  • Being all things to all people is an impossible task. Be the best girlfriend, wife, mother, daughter, you can be without losing yourself. That doesn’t mean saying yes to every request. Rebalance your thinking and consider what you need.

You Agree with Everyone

Agreeing for the acceptance we crave can cause behavior that goes against our values. People will soon learn not to trust us at our word. When we don’t have a sense of who we are and what matters, it’s easy to jeopardize our feelings and opinions and let others take priority. People-pleasers often sabotage their goals through self-destructive behavior. To coin an adage, if your friends jumped off a bridge, would you also? Know your mind.

  • Notice self-critical thoughts, but don’t accept them as fact. Ask yourself where it came from and, is it true?
  • Treat yourself as a valuable person. How, you ask? Treat yourself as you do others you love.
  • Find a mantra to reinforce positive beliefs about yourself and repeat it often.

You Need Praise

People-pleasers crave validation. If your self-worth depends on what others think of you, you’ll only feel good when others share compliments. 

  • Take pride in yourself and the tasks you do. Be proud of yourself. 
  • Make sure to use uplifting self-talk to encourage yourself. 
  • A genuine compliment has a higher payoff than the one you had to fish for.

You Avoid Conflict

We worry that disagreeing will destroy the relationship and cause the other person to be upset or leave us. It’s understandable to want to avoid conflict, especially if we’re more sensitive. But it’s not helpful or possible.

When we avoid conflict, we suppress our feelings, wants, and needs. We become disconnected from ourselves and struggle to stand up for what we believe in. The more we avoid conflict, the more we lose touch with our interests and relationships. But, by suppressing our feelings, resentment and anger seep in, resulting in signs of stress.

  • Respectfully express your thoughts and feelings. Resolving differences will only strengthen the relationship. Though foreign to us, conflict doesn’t have to involve name-calling, screaming, and ultimatums.
  • Consider your belief that pleasing others is the road to acceptance.

You’re a Responsibility Sponge for Other’s Feelings

It’s a problem to think we have the power to make someone happy. Every person is in charge of their own emotions while we are responsible for our own. 

Helping others has become a way of life, so stopping will be hard and scary. We don’t know any other way. How do well-liked people say no without guilt? How do they not care about what others think?

  • When you notice yourself taking on other’s feelings and problems, ask yourself if it’s your business. Then mind your own business. It doesn’t mean to become cold-hearted. Simply offer condolences or an ear to listen, not to shoulder and fix the situation.

You Apologize Often

Whether you excessively blame yourself or fear others are, frequent apologies can be a sign of a bigger problem. Over-apologizing is self-destructive behavior that signifies excessive self-doubt. Those who apologize too easily and too often make the apologies appear insincere. Some apologize for things not in their control, such as other’s actions, for being overly sensitive, and even apologizing for apologizing.

  • An apology means I’m sorry I did this, but I’ll do my best not to do it again. Make your apology sincere. Then do your best to remedy the issue that got you in hot water in the first place. You’re allowed to make mistakes. You’re allowed to feel remorse for things in your control, but nothing more. 

Overwhelmed Because You Can’t Say No

We work harder and longer to please the boss but get passed over for a promotion. We’re there for others and then resent being asked to help or take care of their problems. Are our schedules filled with activities others want us to do or what we want to do? There is a difference. Only we can speak up for ourselves. No means no, and yes means yes. Start small, but start. 

  • Get out of the people-pleasing habit by saying no to something small.
  • Express your opinion about something small but simple. 
  • Take a stand for something you believe in. 
  • Each step you take will therefore gain confidence in your ability to be yourself.

You Hide Your Feelings & Avoid Upsetting Others

If we can’t stand the thought of someone being upset with us, we’ll be more likely to compromise our values. People get upset. It’s a fact of life. On the contrary, denying your emotions will only harm the relationship.

We can’t expect others to read our minds. By expecting them to, resentment and anger build until we don’t think they care. Did you provide honest communication? Did you offer them a chance to apologize and fix the problem?

  • If you don’t have something to apologize for, let it go. 
  • Relationships require truthful communication, so resentments don’t fester. 
  • Speak up and say your feelings are hurt. It’s okay. Really.
  • Having solid values will help make decisions easier. 

Not Every Opinion Matters

When we try to make everyone happy, we lose sight of those most important to us. The closer the relationship, the more value their opinion will hold. But not all opinions are created equal. Acquaintances have less preference than close friends and family. 

A healthy relationship involves a two-way street where both give and take equally. One-way relationships, where you give and they take, need consideration. Never jeopardize your principles to make others happy.

  • Ask yourself: Am I compromising out of love or habit? 
  • Am I bending out of fear of conflict or causing disappointment? 
  • How much does this relationship honestly mean to me? 
  • Are we on a one-way or two-way street? 

The Price of Being a People-Pleaser

Pleasing others turns kindness into a chronic problem. We believe we aren’t lovable and therefore crave that love for our self-worth and happiness. Our need to be accepted and needed us to be compliant and dependent. The belief, “If you love me, then I’m lovable,” soon pertains to everyone, even those incapable of love. Unfortunately, people-pleasers sell out their true self for validation.

Holding on to relationships is our goal, even if they aren’t healthy. We reject the part of our personality that consequently shows anger, sets boundaries, and disagrees with others. Assertiveness feels harsh, setting limits seems rude, and having our needs met sounds selfish. We feel guilty. A lot. Our fear of rejection or abandonment may cause us to stay in an unhealthy relationship rather than leave.

In turn, we give up self-respect every time we hide who we are to please others. Our true self then becomes more obscure. We often fail to recognize our own needs because we have sacrificed for so long, resulting in a severe lack of joy in our lives.

hands holding a butterfly symbolizing a people-pleaser can change.

People-Pleaser Recovery is Possible

Though change is possible and desperately needed, it won’t be easy. Pleasing has become so ingrained that it’s now part of who we are. 

  • Start small and then celebrate your growth.
  • Make positive changes to find your voice and passion. 
  • Take the time necessary to discover your feelings and needs. 
  • Take a risk and say no. You’ll find the world won’t end. 
  • Learn your self-worth and work to raise your self-esteem. 

Under the layers of people-pleasing, you are a kind person that deserves happiness. I believe in you and know you can make positive changes that will benefit your life in ways you’ve never known.  

Read a related people-pleaser article here – 5 Tips for a People-Pleaser.

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