What’s wrong with being a people pleaser?
Doing good for others can be the source of great joy in life. “It’s better to give than to receive,” right? When we give of ourselves to our community, we gain confidence and bask in the gratitude we receive. And most of us have children and other dependents who rely on us for their survival and health. But it is possible to take “selflessness” too far. If we consistently set aside our own needs and take on unwanted tasks simply to avoid confrontation or judgment, it sets up a pattern of people-pleasing that can be damaging to the psyche and a barrier to healthy relationships.
How do I know if I am a people-pleaser?
Here are the top habits of people-pleasers. If these resonate with you, it could be a sign that you may be setting others’ needs before your own on a regular basis.
- You have trouble saying “no” to people.
- You feel guilty or make excuses when you do say “no.”
- You frequently find yourself doing things you don’t want to do.
- You agree to take on tasks in order to not upset people
- You feel that others are taking advantage of your time, money, or other resources.
- You apologize often, even for things that are not your fault.
- You strive to win the approval of others by doing favors for them.
- You feel drained or stressed-out from the tasks you do for others.
- You tend to hold in feelings of anger or resentment in order to avoid confrontation.
What are the causes of people-pleasing habits?
There are a variety of events and situations that can set the stage for people-pleasing. These habits generally develop over time, and can be a reaction to past trauma, abuse, or rejection. People who grew up around caregivers who were perfectionists or people-pleasers can become people-pleasers themselves. These patterns can also grow from chronically low self-esteem: if you constantly seek validation from others, you are more likely to overlook your own needs and goals in order to try to please others. If setting aside your own needs has been rewarded in the past, it is more likely that you will continue to do so.
What are the impacts of being a people-pleaser?
It is gratifying to do good deeds and take care of the people you care about. But if you consistently place others’ needs before your own, it can lead to serious consequences for your mental health, physical wellbeing, work life, and personal relationships:
- It can lead to even lower self-esteem. If you constantly strive to please others, falling short of their expectations can cause you to feel worse about yourself. This keeps the vicious cycle of low self-esteem going strong.
- Taking care of others—and ignoring yourself in the process—can be mentally and physically exhausting, leading to depression, anxiety, and other problems.
- Saying “yes” to too many extra tasks at work may mean that you may get overloaded, leading to errors, burnout, and stagnation.
- A lack of give-and-take can lead to codependency and other unhealthy relationship patterns.
- The stress of constantly working to please others can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, like alcohol and drug abuse.
How to stop being a people pleaser
If you notice signs of people-pleasing patterns in yourself, you can work to change your habits. You don’t need to become selfish; rather, you can still be kind and generous, while also being true to yourself and your own needs and desires. Professional therapy can help with this process. Our list of the Best Online Therapy Services can be a great starting point if you are considering telehealth options. Here are the top 10 tips for overcoming the tendency to be a people-pleaser.
1. Take stock of your people-pleasing habits
Begin by noticing the things you do for others. Are these tasks fulfilling to you in some way? Or do you do them out of habit, obligation, or a reluctance to disappoint the other person? Do you think you may be getting manipulated, through flattery or guilt, into doing things you would rather not do? Paying attention now will help you develop priorities and set limits moving forward. If you have a list of things you do for others, categorized into those you’d like to continue, and those that are not worth your effort, you will be better able to see clearly and become truer to yourself. Talking to a trusted friend, or a professional therapist, can allow you to take a step back and see more clearly as well.
2. Begin to set boundaries
Once you are aware of the habits you’d like to break, you will need to begin to kindly let others know where your limits are. Some people may not react well to new boundaries. It will be a retraining process for all of you. Often, you can start with small steps, like setting a time limit. For example: “I can’t spend hours on this task like I have in the past. This time I will be able spend about a half an hour on it.” You may also need to frequently remind yourself of your boundaries; otherwise, it’s easy to let old people-pleasing habits creep back in.
3. Learn to say “no”
While setting boundaries in advance can head off uncomfortable conversations, you will need to firmly reject requests from people who don’t understand your limits, without excuses. It is still possible to be polite, for example: “Thanks for thinking of me! But I will not be doing this kind of task anymore.” You may need to start small and practice using a firm but polite “no” in low-stakes situations like at stores or restaurants. Pay attention to your tone of voice and body language as well as the words you say. Does your voice say “no,” but with a question mark at the end? Are you reluctant to make eye contact? Some people may use these openings as a weakness, to get you to cave in. Stay strong!
4. Be prepared for pushback
If you are a people-pleaser because you avoid conflict, it may be difficult to process the reactions of some people when you begin to assert yourself. Those who have grown accustomed to your people-pleasing tendencies may be surprised or angry to learn that you will no longer be doing unnecessary tasks for them. You may in turn feel discomfort if you are not used to receiving criticism, judgment, or anger head-on. Developing a level of acceptance for people’s negative reactions can be a tricky but important step. Remember to honor yourself and stick to your priorities when communicating with these people.
5. Be true to yourself
In developing a “selfless” personality, you may have unconsciously trained yourself to stifle your inner voice in order to put the needs of others first. You will need to take the time and energy to get in touch with your own needs, and to reassure yourself that your opinion matters. Part of this process is self-acceptance, which can be difficult for people with low self-esteem to cultivate. Working with a trained therapist can help with self-esteem and other issues. Talkspace is an online therapy provider that offers a variety of ways to get in touch with a counselor, including text, videoconferencing, and audio messaging.
6. Be honest
A common aspect of people-pleasing is dismissing the truth in order to avoid offending people. As you gain confidence and begin to trust yourself, you will grow in your ability to tell the truth as you see it. Speaking up for yourself can be the most difficult part of changing your people-pleasing ways. You do not need to be unkind to tell the truth, and being honest will help with other areas, like boundary setting and saying “no” as needed. True friends will understand and applaud your newfound honesty. Those who become angry may have grown too comfortable benefitting from your past people-pleasing behavior.
7. Spend quality time alone
Productive solitude can work wonders for your confidence and your ability to trust in yourself. Time alone—away from the demands of others—will help you develop a sense of your own needs, goals, and desires. When you get a better handle on these, you will be able to communicate your boundaries more confidently to the people in your life. You may need to overcome the nagging feeling that time alone is “selfish.” Remember that recharging your batteries alone will help make you a more relaxed and confident person, which will benefit others in your life in the long run. It may take time to find the solo activities that work best for you: meditation, exercise, and time spent outside are all great options to try alone.
8. Examine your relationships
Are there people in your life who may be taking advantage of your giving nature? Do you repeatedly give more than you receive from certain friends? If you don’t think the relationship can grow with your newfound confidence, it may be time to take a step back. The connections worth maintaining are the ones with friends who can be happy for you when you assert yourself.
9. Ask for help
There may be a trusted person in your life with whom you can open up about your concerns about people-pleasing habits. They can help you notice the times you may be ignoring your own interests, and may even help you role-play saying “no” without making excuses. Help can also come in the form of a trained therapist, such as those available through our list of the Best Online Therapy Services.
10. Remember that you are worthy
Rather than a cycle of people-pleasing that leaves you feeling worse about yourself, start a new cycle of self-acceptance. Keep track of your progress: take note of the times when you successfully assert yourself and refer to those notes when you need a boost. You may want to develop a mantra that works for you in difficult situations: repeating affirmative phrases like “I CAN say no,” “I am worthy of my own time,” “my opinion matters” or others may be useful for you.
Generosity is a wonderful thing. But when it goes too far—and we deny our own happiness in the constant service of others—people-pleasing can damage our relationships, work life, wellbeing, and happiness. There are a variety of reasons that people become people-pleasers. Whatever the cause, it’s important to take steps to establish boundaries, say “no” when you need to, and stay true to yourself.