Are you a "People Pleaser"?

16 Oct 2023

Most people like to do nice and kind things for others in selfless acts from time to time, but there is a line that can be crossed when this stops feeling like a conscious choice and actually becomes a pattern in interactions where it might feel more of a compulsion or obligation. We’ve all heard the term “People Pleaser” – but what actually constitutes as being a people pleaser?

People pleasers usually…

  • Find it very difficult to say no to people, even if they don’t really want to do what they been asked to do.
  • Fear that people will reject them if they say no – “If I don’t help with this they may not ask me to involved again” or “they will stop inviting me and move to someone else”.
  • Apologize for things they really don’t need to apologise for.
  • Feel anxious about how other people value them and the opinions others will form of them.
  • Agree with other people (even when they disagree) to avoid conflict and be liked by others.
  • Have low self esteem and need validation from others to help them feel good about themselves.

Being a people pleaser can be draining, having boundaries that are easily stepped over can be tiring, there’s rarely “me time” and even when there is it can be associated with guilt. People pleasers can develop unhealthy co-dependent relationships which can be filled with a resentment. For example “I hate how much this person asks of me, I don’t feel respected by them and I get nothing in return……BUT…...if I keep turning up for them they will see that I am a good person, and as such I will feel like I am a good person”. People pleasers don’t like to burden others with their own problems, so as well as being there for everyone else they hold onto their own stuff single handedly – no wonder it can be draining and take its toll on us.


Where does people pleasing stem from?

We are interactive beings, we learn from past interactions how to get attention and how to keep ourselves “secure” in relationships (secure a word being used hesitantly here as the security might be false or very superficial – but we seek security and can hold on to anything that gives us that feeling, even when inconsistently felt). People often trace being a people pleasure back to early relationships having learnt from parents and other significant people in our lives that if we say no it doesn’t go well for us. Maybe the only way to feel loved or accepted in those early interactions was to do what was asked, and saying no in the past has led to conflict that we have felt responsible for and even rejection, and that’s painful. People pleasing can be a way to avoid it happening again. Wrapped up in this is low self-esteem/low self-worth, if people can not find a positive voice within self about self we look to others to validate our worth, and people pleasing can be a way to ensure positive evaluation from others. However in a vicious circle kind of way, by being a people pleaser we are essentially modelling to others what we feel is an acceptable way for us to be treated, we are saying “its OK to use me” which sadly some people will take advantage of.


So how can I break this cycle?

If you are reading this and recognising yourself in some of it, don’t panic! There is things you can put in place to help break the cycle, and the first job of being aware of where you are is done.

  • Develop that awareness – are there certain people or situations that exacerbate your people pleasing behaviours? How do you adapt your behaviour around other people? What are you afraid of?
  • Practice saying no!
  • Have a go at expressing your needs and opinions to someone – people pleasers generally forego their own needs in favour of making others happy and meeting the needs/wants of others.  
  • Assess your boundaries – which ones are often being crossed, or in fact where you see no boundary – what would you like to put in place?

How can therapy help?  – taking into account all of the above, recognising that you are a habitual people pleaser might bring some stuff up for you that you need so support working through. Talking it through can help you to build an understanding of the origin for you, process past relationships and events, and work through the emotions that arise. Therapy can also help you to work on low self-esteem and think about the boundaries you need to put in place for your own emotional benefit.