Being a people-pleaser can sneak up on us. We value friendship; we value the memories we make with people we love. We value celebrating special occasions with others. There is no denying that relationships add irreplaceable meaning to our lives. It can be difficult, then, to consider that we may do “too much” for those around us. How can we even begin to quantify something like that? I know that there are people and situations that I would do anything for or anything to solve. I’m sure you feel that way, too. The trouble with people-pleasing is that these sacrifices become commonplace, to the point that they are just your default behavior. No matter what you have going on, pleasing others is at the top of your list.
What is People-Pleasing?
You might think that you are just a good friend or family member and not a people-pleaser. You like to help out, you like to feel needed, and you feel a sense of purpose in being there for your loved ones. Don’t get me wrong; there is always a time when it feels like the right thing to do is step up and help, such as in an emergency or crisis. Rearranging priorities because something more meaningful and urgent has come up is not people-pleasing if you are the person determining that the issue at hand is the most important.
People-pleasing involves putting the needs of others ahead of your own, no matter how inconvenient or how frequent. It is not getting a call that your best friend’s dad had a heart attack and scrambling to arrange childcare so that you can be at your friend’s side. It’s saying yes when you don’t want to; it’s saying no when you don’t want to; it’s staying silent when you have something to say. Often, these habits are born out of insecurity, a need to be liked, and/or a fear of rejection. You might have been raised by a people-pleaser and seen this behavior modeled. You might have been raised by someone who never cared about anyone else’s feelings and vowed never to be that way. Whatever the reason is that you are putting your needs at the bottom of the list, the behavior is not ideal for self-care or growth.
What is the Cost of People-Pleasing?
You might struggle to understand the consequences of people-pleasing, the toll it takes on you, and the problems that come from it. If you’ve been a people-pleaser for a long time (or even your entire life), you might not know any other way to be. But there is a cost to people-pleasing, and it can impact everyone and everything in your life. Being a people-pleaser can lead to burnout. Between doing too much during the day and being anxious at night, you might be running on fumes.
You may begin to resent people who ask for your help or people who you see successfully avoiding people-pleasing. Resentment is the natural result of envy. If you resent that people ask for your help, you might really be feeling envy that they feel comfortable reaching out or having someone to go to. If you resent that people are able to stick to their boundaries and say ‘no’ when they want you, you might really envy their ability to advocate for themselves. It feels bad to resent; it can eat us up inside and wear us down. It’s not a positive emotion; we will always feel uncomfortable in that space.
People-pleasing is a direct route to losing yourself. When you aren’t able to prioritize your wants and needs, you can quickly forget them. Not having a clear idea of your personal goals and dreams and not feeling able to work toward them can create depression and bitterness about life, making it hard to enjoy time with loved ones, your job, and your hobbies.
5 Steps You Can Take to Correct People-Pleasing
1. Know the signs:
If you can’t say no when something is asked of you, no matter how much you don’t want to do it, that is a surefire sign of people-pleasing. From the outside, people might wonder how it could be possible not to be able to decline an invitation or request. But to people-pleasers, this is all-too-common.
A sneaky sign of people-pleasing is when you worry about other people and their goings-on as if their problems are your personal problems. You might just think you are a thoughtful person or have a lot of empathy. On some level, that is probably true! But the trials and tribulations of others shouldn’t be as important to you as your ordeals, goals, and plans.
People-pleasing involves putting others’ needs before yours. This means that you will cover for someone at work when you really need to pee. You will agree to make cupcakes for the bake sale when you are exhausted. You will defer to what others want to do when making plans, even if that means you end up at a seafood restaurant when you’re a vegan or stay out too late when you have a big important event early the next day. No matter how big or small the need, yours is always last.
Feelings of anxiety and guilt about others – what they will think, do or say – when determining what you want or what your choice is, you are people-pleasing. When you do say no to something, whether you’ve mustered up the courage or you are forced to, you might find that you ruminate about what the other person feels about you. These negative emotions may plague your thoughts while the other person has moved along without a care; you can’t imagine how they would forgive you.
There are the things we don’t really feel like doing, and then there are the things we absolutely detest. If you sign on to do things that you dread doing, count yourself as a people-pleaser. If you would rather do something you hate because that is a better alternative than disappointing someone, that’s a sign.
2. Do the opposite:
This may seem obvious, but it is much harder to practice than it is to suggest. Doing the opposite does not mean you go 180 degrees to the other end of the spectrum and become unavailable or inconsiderate. Doing the opposite of your people-pleasing tendencies actually means finding a healthy balance between independence and dependence.
The nice thing is that it will often mean simply listening to your gut response. If your first instinct is ‘no,’ but you feel like you have to agree, that is a cue to explore how you are feeling and why. You may be feeling that way because what you really want and need to say is ‘no.’ If you need to start this process with lower stakes, try picking small things to say no to. You can even recruit a trusted friend or family member to “help you practice” by asking you innocuous questions, which you must decline. Say ‘no’ as often as you can bear to at first. Explain to people you trust – these are probably people to whom you don’t feel as obligated to say yes – what you are trying to achieve. See if they can help you and support you.
3. Practice healthy boundaries:
You will always hear me talk about the importance of boundaries because they are game-changer! Boundaries come into play when you discover a need that you have. Whether you want to feel safe, feel respected, feel appreciated, or want to rest, relax, or have space to decompress, most of what you need is on the other side of clear and firm boundaries. Everyone’s boundaries are a little bit different, which is why it is important to communicate your boundaries to the people around you. They cannot be expected to guess what yours are, just as you cannot be expected to guess theirs.
It is important to be open and honest with yourself when you are determining what your boundaries are. If you feel like you constantly have to go above and beyond at work, a boundary is probably being crossed. Working on projects above your pay grade might cross a boundary; being asked to work late; being asked to pick up shifts because you are the only person without children; being talked over in meetings. Your boundary may be that you value your own time and wish to be compensated appropriately; this may also be why you don’t appreciate being asked to work late or pick up extra shifts. You might say to yourself, “My time is valuable, and so am I.” If what is being asked of you doesn’t communicate an understanding that you and your time are valuable, that is where you practice your healthy boundaries. You might want to inform someone of your feelings in a direct way. You might feel more comfortable phrasing it as a question, such as, “Are you aware that I have been asked to work late more than once per week for the past x weeks? I’m wondering if there is a specific reason for that?” However the other person responds, or whatever reason is given, you will be able to state or inquire further if you stick to your affirmation.
4. Explore the root causes of your people-pleasing:
This step is one of the more advanced steps you would take in your journey of recovering from people-pleasing. In this process, you explore events, people, and situations that played a role in your development of people-pleasing. You may choose to do this work with a therapist, whether in-person or online, both of which we offer at our practice in Woodland Hills.
You may be able to remember a time in your life when people-pleasing really took over for you, or you may not have any memories that pre-date the issue. As you consider the impact of people-pleasing on your life, you might become aware of certain times or events that were especially triggering, where you were more prone to putting others first.
This may bring up emotional wounds, old resentments, or current issues to do with people in your life to whom you have felt beholden. Being able to navigate these feelings with the help of a therapist can make this process gentler. You may also want to discuss and unpack what comes up for you before attempting to communicate with the person or people you feel have played a big part in your people-pleasing.
5. Reconnect with and prioritize yourself:
At some point in your people-pleasing, you start to develop a negative relationship with yourself. You give up your hobbies, goals, dreams, wants, and needs; the core components of who you are and what you love are stripped away. As time passes, you may become used to living without these things or even fearful about your ability to have them again. You might speak to yourself unkindly instead of being gentle and forgiving with yourself.
To combat this, you might want to make a list of the things you like and love about yourself and the things you are proud of (that don’t have anything to do with what you do for others). To begin with, you might decide to take five minutes per day that are just for you. You can meditate, journal, listen to a bit of a podcast, paint your nails, whatever. Over time, you may strive to increase that time to more and more time throughout the day, whether that time is broken up or all at once. It’s hard to put others first when you have a time quota of self-care to hit.
Part of recovering from people-pleasing and setting healthier boundaries with others will require you to turn inward and repair your relationship with yourself. To do so, you may explore and seek treatment for underlying mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and/or codependency. If the idea of dealing with these maladies feels overwhelming, I want you to know that that is a normal response. You might even think that doing the work to alleviate symptoms and cope with your mental health issues is selfish, but that is exactly the point of doing it. To re-train yourself to prioritize your self-care, you need to take action that puts caring for yourself first. It may feel foreign and even upsetting at first, but it will be work that pays off more and more over time.
There is no quick and easy route to undoing and changing behavior; things are no different when it comes to people-pleasing. It will take time and patience with yourself to work through your steps. You may encounter obstacles that are difficult one time and simpler the next, then difficult again. Just remember to show yourself compassion and remain curious about what is happening and why. Be kind to yourself but determined. You’ve got this! Stick to your goal and stay open-minded.
Other Services at Embracing You Therapy
Here at Embracing You Therapy Group, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
At our mental health practice in Woodland Hills, CA, we offer individual therapy and couple’s therapy. Both Dr. Menije, Ani Seferyan, AMFT, Cindy Sayani, AMFT, and Ani Seferyan, AMFT offer virtual therapy to treat mental health concerns including panic attacks, OCD, phobias, and stress; Mood disorders including depression; Relationship issues, both in couples therapy and with individual clients; Perinatal mental health issues such as postpartum depression, Codependency, and Addiction.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress. Then, let’s find the tools-your unique tools that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Client Care Coordinator.