10 Signs You’re a People-Pleaser - and How to Stop
You’ve had a long day at work, and you can’t wait to get home to your couch, snuggle up under a cozy blanket, and watch your favourite Netflix show until you fall asleep.
But you get a text from a friend begging you to go to a party with them tonight. It’s the last thing you want to do, but you want to be a good friend.
So you push through, forcing yourself to go to an event you would rather skip, and daydream about being at home the entire time.
If this sounds familiar, you might be struggling with people-pleasing.
As a registered psychotherapist, I have been helping ambitious, high-achieving individuals learn how to recognize and overcome people-pleasing behaviours for over six years. Hopefully, this article can help you feel more confident in taking that first step in your journey toward leaving people-pleasing behind!
After reading this article, you’ll know what people-pleasing is, the risks of being a people-pleaser, and three ways to overcome people-pleasing behaviour.
What is a People-Pleaser?
If you’re a people pleaser, you might fear rejection, worry about disappointing others, and base your self-worth around your ability to support others.
10 Signs You’re a People-Pleaser:
- Having a difficult time saying “no” to others
- A reluctance to admit to feeling overwhelmed
- Difficulty communicating your limits or capacity to others
- You have a difficult time advocating for yourself or your own needs
- You believe that other people’s needs are more important than yours
- The tendency to overcommit and then feel guilty if you can’t tackle it all
- You try to avoid conflict, even if it means giving a pass to things you aren’t okay with
- Difficulty setting boundaries, especially if you think the boundary will upset someone
- You avoid disagreeing with others or expressing anything you view as an unpopular opinion
- Feeling pressured to always seem as though you’re in a good mood for the benefit of others
What Causes People-Pleasing?
There can be many reasons why people become people-pleasers. Sometimes we learn it by observing other people-pleasers in our lives. Sometimes we’re taught by well-meaning family or friends that the key to being liked and successful is keeping others happy.
Causes of people-pleasing include:
- Fear of conflict
- Low self-esteem
In many instances, we can see an overlap between people-pleasing and perfectionism.
In other words, people-pleasing becomes about wanting to feel as though we’re good enough and gaining the approval of others.
We often become people-pleasers out of a desire to be accepted by others and a fear that we will get rejected by anyone we disappoint.
Somewhere down the line, we may internalize the notion that putting our own needs last and over-extending ourselves without any regard for our well-being is a necessary and reasonable trade-off for the approval of others. We may even start using our ability to please everyone as a measure of our self-worth.
Is it Healthy to Be a People-Pleaser?
People-pleasing has more to do with seeking approval from others than it does about taking care of them. It’s more a matter of, “I need to keep others happy so that they like or accept me.” The focus shifts to how people perceive us rather than how we can serve them.
Drawbacks of People-Pleasing include:
- Stress and burnout
- Feeling resentful of others
- Neglecting your own needs
Another unintentional drawback of people-pleasing is that we balk at the thought of setting boundaries, which can actually put a strain on our relationships over time.
If we feel compelled to say yes to anything that’s asked of us, even when it depletes us in the process, we may start to resent the people in our lives for even asking or expecting us to come through no matter what.
Contrary to popular people-pleasing wisdom, we’re best equipped to support others and consider their needs when we make it a priority to acknowledge and take care of our own!
3 Ways to Recover from People-Pleasing
Recovering from people-pleasing can feel overwhelming. But by shifting your mindset, setting healthy boundaries, and managing your expectations, you can learn to make yourself a priority in your life.
1. Shift Your Mindset
Overcoming people-pleasing requires a mindset shift. Recognize that it’s possible to help others in a way that doesn’t compromise your well-being. Sometimes you won’t have the capacity to offer that help - and you aren’t a “bad person” for honouring that!
Identity can also factor into people-pleasing. You might think, “I’m a nice person, so any action that leaves someone else displeased contradicts that.” This, of course, results in over-promising, difficulty saying no, and so on.
But think of it this way. If you want to describe yourself as a helpful and compassionate person, does “All that matters is that I keep OTHERS happy” really align with that?
When we prioritize people-pleasing, we’re not only pursuing an impossible endeavour, but we may end up embodying the very opposite of the traits we’re going for!
2. Set Boundaries
In many ways, the first boundary we need to set is with ourselves.
It’s an agreement that we do not exist exclusively to please others, and that we do not have a moral obligation to neglect our needs for anyone else’s benefit.
Sometimes “no” is the last thing someone wants to hear. Sometimes the choice you make will be difficult for someone else to swallow.
Learning to say “no” with kindness will not only help you present your best self to others, but you’ll quickly find yourself surrounded by people who appreciate and value you enough to weather the occasional “let down.”
Remember: Healthy relationships thrive on boundaries.
3. Accept That You Can’t Make Everyone Happy
You can’t be everywhere at once or everything for everyone. Sometimes people will be displeased, but that doesn’t mean you’re making the wrong decision. All we can ever do is our best and trust that this will be good enough for the people closest to us.
Sometimes, putting yourself first means choosing what’s best for you, even if it’s inconvenient for others.
You pick a college that’s far from home and your parents are sad because they’ll miss you.
You can’t help your friend move apartments because you’re still not at 100% after a bout with the flu.
You have to pass on a work project because there’s already too much on your plate to be able to deliver it on time.
No matter what choice you make, somebody is invariably going to disagree, criticize it, or feel unhappy about it from time to time. But that doesn’t make it the wrong choice.
Next Steps for Recovering People-Pleasers
After reading this article, you now understand what causes people-pleasing and three ways you can overcome it.
As a member of KMA’s team of passionate therapists, I have helped many clients overcome people-pleasing and boldly set forth to achieve the level of progress they want to see in their lives - on their own terms! You can check out my blog for additional articles on overcoming the personal and professional hurdles that can often get in the way of living the life you want.
If you’re not yet ready to book an appointment, read these articles to learn more:
- If you’re dealing with perfectionism, read: 8 Signs You Might Be a Perfectionist
- To learn more about how you interact with others, read: What’s Your Attachment Style?
- To learn more about caring for yourself, read: What is Self-Compassion? (& 5 Ways to Build It)
About the Author
Elizabeth is a Registered Psychotherapist with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario, and a Canadian Certified Counsellor through the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. She holds an M.Ed. in counselling from Acadia University and a BA in Psychology from Concordia University.
Currently, some of her specialties include issues such as depression, anxiety, stress, relationships, challenging life transitions, grief and loss, low self-esteem, trauma, and chronic pain and injury.
Book an appointment to begin working with Elizabeth!