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stop being a people-pleaser

Are you a people-pleaser?

Do you say “yes” when you actually want to say “no”?

When someone asks you to do something, do you agree immediately?

Do you feel responsible for what other people feel and constantly worried about hurting them? Or do you feel guilty when you have to reject someone?

Do you often feel get used and taken advantage of?

If you want to be loved by everybody and constantly need external validation to feel good about yourself, you are most likely a people-pleaser.

People-pleasing might not be a personality disorder

but it can be just as damaging to our well-being.

Many of us often confuse people-pleasing with love, compassion, and kindness. We people-please because we don’t want to be seen as someone who is selfish and only care about ourselves.

However, being compassionate has nothing to do with getting external validation or maintaining a self-image. A compassionate person cares for others not because they need praises or want to be perceived as a nice person. They truly understand the pain that the other person is going through. They are not helping others for selfish reasons.

Sometimes, it’s difficult for us to tell what our real intention is. One way to know is to examine the impact of our actions. People-pleasing often brings us a negative impact, while being compassionate doesn’t. So before we understand how to stop being a people-pleaser, let’s understand the harm that people-pleasing brings.

The Danger of Being a People-Pleaser

1. You Overcommit to Others

People who are too eager to please often say “yes” without much consideration and find themselves caught in a very stressful situation later. They start with a good intention of helping others but after making promises to too many people, they realize they do not have the time and energy to fulfill all that they have promised.

Afraid of not meeting other people’s expectations and being rejected, they sacrifice their own needs to meet other people’s needs. But eventually, they burn themselves up. Not only are their own needs neglected, but they also become too drained to please everybody.

It’s a lose-lose situation.

Overcommitment doesn’t just hurt you, it hurts your relationship with the other parties too. When you don’t do what you have promised to do, people feel disappointed in you. Other people have placed their trust in you. By committing to them, you cause them to have an expectation of you. They take your words for it and expect you to do what you have promised.

If you can’t, they feel deeply betrayed and you lose credibility. Your relationship with the other person gets affected negatively, which is not what you have intended in the first place when you try to please the other.

2. You End Up Feeling Negatively Towards Others

People-pleasers think that by being agreeable, they will feel closer to the other person. However, it is usually the contrary. When you please others without taking care of your own needs, you are setting yourself up for feeling resentful.

Beneath all your people-pleasing behaviors, there is a hidden expectation that the people you please will voluntarily do the same for you when you needed help. Sometimes, you even expect them to be sensitive enough to your needs and help you without you asking them to.

When they don’t, you feel used and taken advantage of.

Our desire to please others is an indirect way of getting love and appreciation from others. Instead of loving ourselves fully, we put our attention on others and exhaust ourselves to please them so that they will return our favors with care, appreciation, and gratitude.

There is nothing wrong with receiving love from others. However, if you depend too much on others for love and base your actions on the expectation that you will get something in return, what happens when the other person doesn’t return their love or show you any appreciation?

This is where all our buried feelings of anger and resentment get released. We blame the other for being narcissistic, manipulative, or unappreciative. But the truth is we have formed an implicit expectation first. They simply didn’t do what we expect them to do. Without this expectation, we wouldn’t have become angry with them.

3. No One Knows the Real You

People-pleasers have to keep up a likable image. They have to be nice to everyone. But being likable and nice comes with a price, people don’t get to know the real you.

They don’t know what you like or dislike because when you please others, you suppress your own needs. You are so ready to accommodate and follow other people’s wishes instead of having your own opinions and make your own decisions.

You might not even know the real you.

When you do or say things with the intention of wanting others to like you, you are focusing on what they like and what they want you to be. You are not acting from your true intention. Without spending time in introspection, it’s not easy to know yourself.

People-pleasing can make one feel very lonely not just because no one understands you. It’s because even you don’t understand yourself well enough.

How to Stop Being a People-Pleaser and Not Please Everyone

1. Exercise your freedom to choose.

People-pleasers have the habit of not choosing. When someone asks us for help, we automatically say “yes”. Because when we don’t have a set of criteria to determine whether we should help or not, we naturally fall back to our old habits.

To stop being a people-pleaser, the first thing you can do is to set aside some time to determine your standards. For example, you can ask yourself:

  • Who will I help and who will I not help? (E.g. I won’t help people who have a history of taking advantage of me.)
  • When will I help and when will I not help? (E.g. If I currently have a tight deadline to meet, I’m going to reject the other person.)
  • What will I help them with and what will I not help them with? (E.g. I will not help someone when doing so conflicts with my morals and values.)

When we resent, it’s because we feel that we don’t have a choice.

People-pleasers often can’t say “no” because we believe that we do not have a choice. We believe we have to say “yes” or else something bad might happen to us or the relationship. But in reality, we have a choice. No one can force us to do anything we don’t want to do. We have the right to say “no” when we don’t wish to do something.

Sure, there might be consequences that arise from your choice. For example, the other party might be upset with you. But consequences shouldn’t be confused with choice. We can’t control the outcome of our choice but we definitely have the freedom to choose.

2. Examine your underlying emotions and beliefs.

What will happen if you say “no”? Disagreeing with others feels uncomfortable for people-pleasers and they have to say “yes” to resolve this discomfort.

But rather than avoiding these feelings, I invite you to explore these uncomfortable feelings a little deeper and learn how to embrace them. Whenever such feelings arise, ask yourself what are you actually feeling:

  • Guilt: What if the other person feels sad or disappointed when I reject him or her?
  • Shame: If I don’t please them, will they perceive me as a bad person?
  • Fear: Will I lose my friends if I say “no”? Will they be angry with me?

Many of us have been programmed to please others since we are young.

The discomfort feelings that we have are usually a product of our childhood programming. As a child, we depend on our parents for love. We want to be a good boy or girl and please our parents so that they will love us. Remember the time in your childhood when your parents scold you or get angry when you disobey them. Or when you get praised for doing what you are told or putting in the extra effort to help.

Whether if it’s a positive or negative experience, as a child, we might internalize these events and form beliefs about how to treat other people. When we say “no”, we might feel as though we are bad kids like our parents once criticize us for.

Also, examine any beliefs that you might have adopted from your parents. For example, my mom who is also a people-pleaser keeps giving me the same advice since young, “Don’t ruin your relationships with others. Just bear with it.” This belief has stuck with me for a very long time and I used to feel a lot of guilt turning people down because of this belief.

3. Challenge your beliefs and change your perspectives.

When my mom tells me not to ruin my relationship with others, the underlying message that I received as a child is that if I cannot express my true opinion and my desire. Other people will abandon me if I do so. This creates a fear of abandonment in me.

But looking at how my mom is struggling financially and with her health issues now, I realized that it’s not very wise to put yourself last or deny your feelings.

Furthermore, this belief that my mom passed down to me is untrue. People don’t leave you just because you reject their requests. In fact, they are more likely to respect you for knowing where your limits are, standing up for yourself, and being honest. It’s better than being too agreeable and not able to fulfill your promises later.

Also, the people around us now are different from our parents.

When we are a child, it’s devastating if our parents abandon us. We cannot survive on our own. But it’s not the same now. We are adults now and we don’t depend on others for love like a child depends on their parents. Even if a spouse, a friend, or a colleague decides not to talk to you ever again, you still are able to survive without them or find someone else.

Of course, it hurts when someone ends a relationship. We will probably have to spend some time to get over the loss of the relationship. But it’s not life-and-death as compared to what a child might experience. As an adult, you don’t need everyone to like you. They are not your parents and you are not a child anymore. You can’t be abandoned as an adult. Only a child can be abandoned.

So it’s time to challenge the beliefs you have formed from childhood and let go of those beliefs that don’t serve you anymore.

4. Get to know yourself better.

As people-pleasers, sometimes we judge and blame ourselves for not being assertive enough or not setting boundaries and letting others take advantage of us. Or we feel guilty for breaking our promises to others.

But there is no need to blame ourselves or feel guilty for people-pleasing. You have to realize that a huge part of our people-pleaser personality boils down to our lack of self-understanding.

If we know our limits and the resources that we have, we will not have over-committed. If we know what we truly like and dislike, we will not be so quick to agree to everything. It’s because we spent too much of our time on others that we neglect ourselves and become unclear about what our true desires and boundaries are. We need to have some self-compassion.

Before you please someone, ask yourself,

“Will this makes me feel happy?”

Instead of thinking in terms of other people’s happiness, learn to think in terms of your happiness. It’s might be difficult at first, especially if you are just getting to know yourself.

But the general rule of thumb is if it’s not a complete “yes”, then it’s a “no”. If your own desire is in conflict with the other people’s desire in any way, always choose your own. Because if you don’t and go ahead with people-pleasing, you will always feel resentment in the end.

Alternatively, you can go ahead and say “yes” but review how you feel afterward. Sometimes, you have to do something to realize that you shouldn’t do it. But after you have this new piece of information about yourself, write it down and remind yourself not to agree again when you have a similar request next time.

5. Learn to give a direct “no”.

Even if you know what you like and dislike, as a recovering people-pleaser, you will find it difficult to say “no” to others. So instead of telling them “no” directly, you might drop some hints, hoping that they will get your message and not pursue their requests any further.

However, beating around the bush or not giving a clear answer usually makes things worse. In your mind, you might think that you are protecting the other person from feeling rejected. But from the other person’s perspective, they might interpret that you are still in favor of accepting their requests, so they continue to push harder. In a way, you are leading them on when you give them an unclear response.

Start with small “no”s or buy yourself some time.

It’s important to spend some time clarifying how you really feel about the matter before you give a reply. When someone has a request, you can always say, “Let me get back to you. I need some time to think about it”.

If you help someone but your heart isn’t in it, the quality of your help will be reduced tremendously. So not only will you feel unhappy with what you have to do, you can’t give your best to the other person too. Being a recovering people-pleaser, you can practice saying “no” to small requests first such as an invitation to hang out together or a work assignment.

If you give them a clear reason, they are more likely to accept your rejection and not be upset with you.

For example, you can say, “I really would love to hang out with you but recently I’m busy with a project. Can I ask you out again perhaps one or two months later?” Or if your managers are piling work on you, you can say, “I will not be able to complete your work on time because I’m involved in this other work assigned by the other manager. Is it possible to assign your work to someone else or perhaps extend the deadline?”

6. Give up your identity as the Mr. Nice Guy or Mrs. Nice Gal.

Rather than just stopping your people-pleasing behaviors, delve deeper, and look at the psychology behind your behaviors. People-pleasing for many is just a means to maintain a likable image. Being a nice person and people-pleasing go hand-in-hand. If you are willing to let go of your “Mr. Nice Guy” or “Mrs. Nice Gal” identity, you will find it so much easier to stop being a people-pleaser.

Furthermore, maintaining this image is extremely tedious and stressful. People are hard to please. They all have different agendas and preferences. Sometimes, their requests are contradictory to one another. For instance, your boss wants you to stay back late and complete your work, while your spouse wants you to work less and spend more time with the family.

Also, you don’t always know what other people want. Trying to guess and fulfill their expectations can create a lot of stress and anxiety in you. It’s difficult to please everybody.

Realize that not everyone is going to like you.

People-pleasing is most likely to backfire when people realize that you are just trying to be nice to everyone and not being authentic. You don’t need everyone to love you when you love yourself. So spend more time loving and caring for yourself. It feels great when you are true to yourself and you act with integrity.

Finally, get out of toxic relationships and get away from people who want you to please them no matter what. These people prevent you from growing and make you feel guilty and ashamed for not meeting their expectations. Instead, spend time with people who will support your priorities, dreams, and goals. There are plenty of them out there!

Featured Photo Credit: bruce mars