How To Stop People Pleasing – The Definitive Guide 2023
For many of us, the relentless pursuit of being the one who has it all together, striving to keep everyone happy while neglecting our own needs, was once our way of life. But one day, we wake up and realize that we've lost ourselves in this pursuit. This awakening marked the beginning of my journey—a journey filled with research, study, and experimentation on how to break free from the shackles of people-pleasing.
I've been in those trenches, deeply entangled in the web of people-pleasing without even realising it. The compulsion to please seeped into my personal life and even my business, leaving me emotionally drained, stressed, and anxious. I had forgotten who I was, what I was passionate about, and the life direction I truly desired—all because I was too preoccupied with worrying about others.
In this updated article, we'll explore the traits of a people-pleaser, dissect the intricacies of people-pleasing, delve into its causes and effects, and most importantly, learn how to break free from its grip
Understanding People Pleasing
What Defines a People-Pleaser?
A people-pleaser is someone who consistently prioritizes the needs of others over their own. They possess a keen awareness of others' needs but often struggle to advocate for themselves. This self-neglect can breed resentment and harmful assumptions. On the surface, people-pleasers appear helpful, kind, and agreeable, but beneath, they carry unhealed pain stemming from the compulsion to earn approval to sustain relationships.
The Impact of People-Pleasing on Mental Health and Relationships
People-pleasing is a mental health issue that profoundly affects our relationships—with both ourselves and others. It manifests as self-sacrifice, causing emotional and physical exhaustion, stress, and anxiety.
Recognising the Signs
20 Signs You Are a People Pleaser
1. Difficulty Saying No
You often find it challenging to say no, even when you want to decline a request or commitment. For instance, you agree to help a friend move on your only day off because you can't bring yourself to say no.
2. Constant Need for Approval
You frequently seek validation and approval from others to feel worthy and valued. This might mean constantly seeking reassurance from your supervisor that you're doing a good job, even though you're highly competent.
3. Prioritizing Others Over Yourself
You tend to prioritize other people's needs and desires over your own, often at your own expense. For instance, you might cancel your weekend plans to accommodate your partner's preferences, neglecting your own interests.
4. Avoidance of Conflict
You go to great lengths to avoid conflicts or disagreements, even if it means suppressing your own feelings. For example, you don't speak up when a colleague takes credit for your idea during a meeting to avoid confrontation.
5. Excessive Apologizing
You apologise excessively, even for minor things or situations beyond your control. This could mean apologizing profusely when traffic makes you arrive a few minutes late for a meeting, even though it's out of your control.
6. Fear of Disappointing Others
You have a strong fear of letting down or disappointing people, which drives many of your actions. As an example, you agree to attend a family gathering you don't want to go to because you don't want to disappoint your parents.
7. Going Along with the Crowd
You tend to conform to the preferences and opinions of those around you to avoid standing out. For instance, you might pretend to enjoy a movie you don't like because all your friends loved it, and you don't want to be the odd one out.
8. Taking Responsibility for Others' Emotions
You feel responsible for the emotions and well-being of those around you, often to an excessive degree. This can mean taking it upon yourself to cheer up a coworker who had a bad day, even though it's not your responsibility.
9. Struggling with Boundaries
You have difficulty setting and maintaining personal boundaries, often allowing others to overstep them. An example might be letting a friend consistently borrow money without repayment because you can't assert the boundary of financial fairness.
10. Feeling Overwhelmed by Others' Problems
You frequently become overwhelmed by the weight of other people's problems or expectations. This could involve taking on extra work tasks because your colleagues expect you to, even though you're already overloaded.
11. Suppressing Your True Feelings
You avoid sharing your genuine thoughts and feelings to prevent upsetting or offending others. For instance, you pretend to agree with your partner's political views, even though you have a different perspective, to maintain harmony.
12. Prioritizing Others' Happiness
You consistently prioritize the happiness and comfort of others over your own well-being. As an example, you let your friends choose the restaurant for dinner every time, even if you don't enjoy the food.
13. Taking on Extra Responsibilities
You habitually take on extra responsibilities, often going above and beyond, to meet others' expectations. This can mean volunteering to organize a charity event and ending up doing all the work because you want it to be perfect for everyone.
14. Difficulty Making Decisions
You have trouble making decisions, fearing they might displease someone, leading to indecision. An example might be struggling to choose a vacation destination because you're worried it won't satisfy everyone in the family.
15. Feeling Guilty for Self-Care
You feel guilty when you prioritise self-care or say no to others, seeing it as selfish. This could involve skipping your own self-care activities to help a friend, and then feeling guilty for neglecting your own well-being.
16. Desiring Universal Likability
You believe that being liked and accepted by everyone is essential, and you strive for universal approval. This might mean agreeing to attend social events even if they don't interest you, driven by the desire to be liked by everyone.
17. Mirroring Others' Behavior
You frequently mirror the behaviour and interests of those you're with to fit in and gain acceptance. For example, adopting the slang and habits of your new group of friends, even if they don't align with your true personality.
18. Struggling to Identify Your Desires
You have difficulty identifying your own desires, passions, or values separate from others' influences. An example might involve being unable to answer when someone asks about your hobbies because you've adopted your partner's interests as your own.
19. Experiencing Stress and Burnout
You often experience stress, anxiety, or burnout due to the constant pressure of people-pleasing. This could include feeling overwhelmed by commitments and responsibilities, leading to anxiety and exhaustion.
20. Difficulty Asserting Your Needs
You find it challenging to assert your own needs and preferences in relationships and situations. For instance, not speaking up when your friend consistently chooses the restaurant without considering your preferences, leading to unmet needs and frustration.
The Modern-Day People-Pleaser
In today's world, people-pleasing takes on various forms, with each individual exhibiting their unique set of traits. However, the journey to change begins once these traits are identified and acknowledged.
The Dangers of Being a People Pleaser Today
Being a chronic people pleaser can have severe consequences on your well-being and relationships. Here are the dangers you need to be aware of:
1. Loss of Self-Identity:
When you prioritize others' needs above your own for an extended period, you risk losing sight of who you truly are. It's like wearing a mask so often that you forget your own face. You might find it difficult to identify what genuinely brings you happiness, your passions, and your dreams.
2. Strained Relationships:
People pleasing often results in unequal and strained relationships. When you constantly cater to the desires of others, you inadvertently place them on a pedestal, diminishing your own worth in the process. This inequality can erode the foundations of healthy connections.
3. Neglecting Self-Care:
People pleasers frequently neglect self-care and their own needs. You might skip meals, lose sleep, or forget to engage in activities that nurture your well-being because you're too busy attending to others.
4. Inability to Enjoy the Present:
Constantly monitoring and attending to others' needs can make it challenging to be present in the moment. It's like being on high alert, always ready to jump in and save the day. This prevents you from fully enjoying life's simple pleasures.
5. Persistent Stress and Anxiety:
The overwhelming pressure to please everyone can lead to chronic stress and anxiety. This perpetual state of arousal can make it difficult to relax and unwind, affecting your mental and physical health.
6. Hidden Resentment and Passive-Aggression:
Bottling up your emotions, especially feelings of frustration and anger, can result in passive-aggressive behaviour. Instead of addressing issues directly, you may resort to subtle and indirect ways of expressing your dissatisfaction.
7. Decision-Making Challenges:
Self-doubt often plagues people pleasers, making it hard to make decisions. You may second-guess yourself, seeking external validation instead of trusting your instincts.
8. Unhealthy Relationships:
Chronic people-pleasing can lead to imbalanced and unhealthy relationships. When you consistently put others' needs first, it can attract individuals who take advantage of your selflessness.
9. Communication Breakdown:
The habit of people-pleasing can cause communication breakdowns. Instead of expressing your thoughts and emotions openly, you may withdraw inwardly, fearing that your true feelings will upset or disappoint others.
Understanding these dangers is the first step toward breaking free from the cycle of people pleasing and reclaiming your life and self-worth.
BEING NICE VS. BEING A PEOPLE-PLEASER
Being nice is a natural human inclination driven by the desire to strengthen bonds and contribute positively to others' lives. However, there's a distinction between genuine kindness and people-pleasing. The latter arises from a fear of disapproval, rejection, or confrontation. Let's explore this distinction through two examples:
1. Genuine Kindness:
- Imagine you're at work, and a colleague is struggling with a heavy workload due to personal issues. You offer to help without hesitation because you genuinely care about their well-being. Your intention is to support them, and your act of kindness is driven by empathy and compassion.
- In contrast, let's say you have a packed schedule, but you agree to help a coworker with a project, even though you're already overwhelmed. You do this not because you genuinely want to help, but because you fear their disapproval if you decline. This act of helping stems from a need for external validation and a reluctance to assert your own needs.
It's crucial to recognise that true kindness should uplift both you and the people you're helping. When kindness becomes a burden, driven by the fear of rejection or a desire for approval, it may be a sign of people-pleasing.
Uncovering the Root of People-Pleasing
The inclination to please resides in all of us, but its consistent manifestation at the expense of our mental health demands exploration. People-pleasing often originates from childhood, where it's unconsciously learned and carried into adulthood. Here are some common reasons for people-pleasing:
Childhood Conditioning: People-pleasing often takes root in childhood when we learn that conforming to the expectations and desires of our caregivers can lead to love, attention, and praise. This early conditioning can create a lifelong pattern of prioritizing others' needs over our own. For example, if you grew up in an environment where making your parents happy was crucial for receiving affection, you may carry this behaviour into adulthood by constantly seeking to please others.
Fear of Rejection: The fear of being rejected or disliked can be a powerful motivator for people-pleasing. This fear drives individuals to prioritize others' opinions and preferences over their own, as they worry that asserting themselves might lead to rejection. For instance, you might go to great lengths to avoid disagreeing with your friends or colleagues to maintain their approval.
Emotional Neglect: Experiencing emotional neglect in childhood can create a strong desire to please others in adulthood. When caregivers fail to meet emotional needs, individuals may seek external validation to fill this emotional void. This can lead to a pattern of seeking praise and approval from others, even at the expense of their own well-being. For example, if your emotional needs were not acknowledged as a child, you might become a people-pleaser to compensate for this unmet need.
Culture and Social Norms: Societal and cultural norms can also contribute to people-pleasing behaviour. In some cultures, there's a strong emphasis on collectivism and maintaining harmony within the community. This can encourage individuals to prioritize others' needs and expectations over their own. For instance, if you were raised in a culture that values conformity and group cohesion, you might find it challenging to assert your own preferences or boundaries.
Feeling of Inequality: Some people-pleasers perceive themselves as less valuable or important than others, leading them to overcompensate to bridge this perceived gap. This behaviour often arises from a lack of self-esteem and the belief that their needs are less valid than those of others. For example, you might consistently put your partner's needs ahead of your own, believing they deserve more.
Trauma: Past traumatic experiences, such as physical or emotional abuse, can also contribute to people-pleasing tendencies. Trauma can heighten sensitivity, anxiety, and fear, causing individuals to prioritize the comfort of others over their own well-being. For instance, a person who experienced emotional abuse as a child might become hyper-vigilant about not upsetting others to avoid triggering negative reactions.
The Core Undercurrents: Poor Self-Esteem and Insecurity
People-pleasing often emerges from the undercurrents of poor self-esteem and insecurity. These patterns are deeply rooted in childhood conditioning. While it's not your fault that you learned these behaviours, you have the power to change them. Recognizing these patterns is the first step toward breaking free from the cycle of people-pleasing. It's a journey toward putting yourself first and reclaiming your sense of self-worth.
How to Stop Being a People Pleaser (11 steps to change your life)
STEP ONE: Acknowledge that You are a People Pleaser
Acknowledging that you are a people pleaser can be a profound and transformative moment. It's a realisation that you've been giving away your power, often without even realising it. I remember my own bittersweet moment when a stranger called me out for my chronic people-pleasing behaviour. It was a wake-up call that I had repeated this pattern countless times.
Self-awareness is the key to this step. Recognise the signs and behaviours associated with people-pleasing, as listed earlier, and acknowledge them in yourself. It can be challenging to confront this truth, but it's the first step toward change. Once you identify how you consistently prioritise others' needs and opinions over your own, you can begin the journey of rediscovery.
Step Two: Identify Your Patterns
Our behaviours often follow well-established patterns that we've learned over time. These patterns become so ingrained that we often react on autopilot. The challenge lies in catching ourselves in the act of giving our power away because we've become so accustomed to responding in a certain way in specific situations.
One useful tool to aid in this process is a Trigger Journal. Create a journal where you record situations or events that trigger your people-pleasing tendencies. In this journal, note down the specific circumstances, your emotional responses, and any thoughts or beliefs that surfaced. Don't worry if you only realise what happened after the fact; the key is to acknowledge the behaviour. By documenting your experiences, you'll begin to notice recurrent themes and patterns.
For example, I used to get angry and snappy while cooking dinner each night because I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility to feed my family. It was only after recognising this pattern that I could delve deeper into understanding why it was happening. So, create your Trigger Journal, and watch as it becomes a valuable tool in unveiling your people-pleasing tendencies.
STEP THREE: Build & Maintain Boundaries
Creating and maintaining boundaries is a crucial step in breaking free from people-pleasing. Boundaries serve as protective barriers that clearly define what you are comfortable with and what you are not. They signal to others your limitations and help you reclaim your personal power.
However, it's important to understand that establishing boundaries may not always be met with open arms, especially if you've been a "yes person" for an extended period. Some people in your life may resist these changes, and that's okay. Your personal boundaries are a reflection of your values and your commitment to self-care.
It's worth noting that setting boundaries can have a profound impact on your relationships. Some will evolve and grow stronger, while others may naturally fall away. This transformation is a sign of personal growth and a shift toward healthier connections.
For people-pleasers, mastering the art of setting and maintaining boundaries is a valuable skill. If you're interested in delving deeper into this topic, you can find more insights on > How to set & Maintain Boundaries.
STEP FOUR: Learn to Say No
Learning to say no is a pivotal skill for anyone seeking to break free from people-pleasing tendencies. It's essential to recognize that saying no is not a rejection of others but rather an affirmation of your own priorities and values. Here's a tool to help you navigate this step:
Tool: A List of One-Liners
Create a list of one-liners that you can use when faced with requests or opportunities that don't align with your priorities or values. Craft a polite yet firm response that conveys your decision. For instance, you might say, "I appreciate the offer, but I have prior commitments." or "I'd love to, but I need to focus on other priorities right now." Keep this list handy, and practice using these one-liners until you feel comfortable.
Remember that saying no is not selfish; it's an act of self-care. It allows you to allocate your time and energy to the things that truly matter to you. While it may feel challenging initially, practicing assertive communication and setting boundaries are essential steps in reclaiming your authenticity and personal power.
STEP FIVE: Challenge Your Inner Critic
Confronting your inner critic is a critical step in breaking free from people-pleasing tendencies. Often, our inner voice pushes us to prioritise others over ourselves. To overcome this challenge, consider questioning your negative thoughts
When your inner critic surfaces with a negative thought, take a moment to check if it's a valid thought. Ask yourself whether these thoughts are based on reality or fear. For example, if your inner critic says, "I have to say yes; they'll think I'm selfish if I don't," challenge it by asking, "Is it true that saying no makes me selfish? What evidence supports this belief, and what evidence contradicts it?" This questioning process helps you gain clarity and challenge unfounded assumptions.
STEP SIX: Prioritise Self-Care
To break free from the need to please, it's crucial to rediscover and honour your authentic self. This journey begins with self-love and self-care, nurturing the very essence of who you are. When you prioritise self-love, you cultivate a deep sense of confidence that naturally attracts the right people into your life.
Self-love is about cherishing your inner and outer self. Dedicate time to daily practices that rejuvenate your soul. Whether it's a peaceful walk, a refreshing swim, indulging in a good book, or simply savouring a quiet moment with a cup of tea outdoors, these practices nourish your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Embrace activities like meditation, yoga, or creative hobbies like crafting that resonate with you.
By making self-love and self-care a priority, you not only enhance your own well-being but also empower yourself to break free from the need to please others. Your inner radiance, fueled by self-love, becomes a magnet for authentic connections and a testament to the beauty of embracing your true self.
STEP SEVEN: Seek Support
Seeking support from trusted friends, family, or a therapist can be a game-changer. These individuals can offer valuable guidance, unwavering encouragement, and a compassionate listening ear as you navigate your path to self-discovery. Consider opening up to those who understand and support your journey. Share your experiences, challenges, and triumphs with them. Discussing your people-pleasing habits with a therapist can also provide professional insights and tailored strategies to help you overcome these patterns effectively.
In the company of a supportive network, you'll find strength, fostering healthier relationships and a deeper connection with your own worth and well-being.
STEP EIGHT: Start Communicating
No one can guess how you feel, don’t keep it all bottled up. Share what is going on for you, many people pleasers have forgotten how to share their voice because they have often been the great listeners of the world. There are times when we need to express what is going on, ask for what we want, set boundaries, open ourselves up and get vulnerable. Asserting your voice comes with practice and relearning how to communicate is tricky but the rewards are healthy relationships that thrive.
STEP NINE: Stop Assuming
One of the key steps in breaking free from the people-pleasing cycle is to stop making assumptions about your role in other people's happiness. There's no universal timetable or prescribed method for living life. It's essential to release the burden of assuming responsibility for how others feel.
When we make assumptions, we essentially become judges, predicting the outcomes of situations based on our beliefs. This can lead to suppressing our emotions, not seeking help when needed, and saying yes when we genuinely want to say no. It's a tricky mindset to change, but setting and reinforcing boundaries can make all the difference.
As you let go of the need to cater to everyone's expectations, you'll begin to distinguish between helping because you genuinely want to and doing so out of a perceived obligation. This shift allows you to redirect your focus toward your own needs and desires, fostering healthier relationships and genuine self-care.
STEP TEN: Embrace Discomfort
In your journey to break free from the chains of people-pleasing, it's vital to acknowledge that discomfort is an integral part of the process. Understand that stepping outside your comfort zone, challenging long-held beliefs, and changing ingrained behaviours can be uncomfortable at times.
However, it's crucial to embrace this discomfort as a positive sign of personal growth and change. Much like a muscle that grows stronger through resistance, your ability to assert your needs, set boundaries, and prioritize self-care will strengthen as you navigate through the uneasy moments.
Instead of shying away from discomfort, use it as a compass guiding you toward a more authentic and fulfilling life.
STEP ELEVEN: Stay Patient and Persistent
Breaking free from the clutches of people-pleasing is not an overnight transformation. It's a journey that demands time, patience, and persistence. As you work to shed ingrained habits and nurture a more authentic self, remember that setbacks are a natural part of this process.
TIPS FOR DISRUPTING THE NEEDS TO PLEASE:
- Remind yourself daily that you can’t be everything to everyone!
- Start small – focus on one area that you want to change and watch how it filters through to the rest of your life. It might be simply to start saying no.
- Stop apologising for shit that is out of your control
- Drop the excuses and justifications when asking for things
- Keep a journal and write down your discoveries, your lessons and tips that you have found useful.
- Know that uncomfortable feelings come with the terrain of healing and disrupting the need to please – it’s a part of the learning, nothing to be scared of.
- Say NO with conviction >>read more here