People Pleasing: Why We Do It and How To Stop

Do you skip lunch to finish a report for your boss? Have you ever gone out with friends when you really needed a night at home in your pajamas? Do you worry that if you say no to someone, they won’t like you? If so, you might be a people-pleaser. People-pleasers ignore their own needs to take care of others. They may say yes to too many engagements, take on more than their share of household chores, or overextend themselves at work, leaving little time for self-care.

People pleasers go out of their way to make people happy, even if doing so requires them to change who they are or pretend to agree with something they don’t. People pleasing behaviors often stem from low self-worth and can damage your mental health if left unchecked. In this blog, we’ll explore signs and causes of people-pleasing tendencies and give you practical tips for setting healthy boundaries and improving your sense of self.

Signs of People Pleasing

smiling man at work

Taking care of others is not inherently a bad thing. Bringing your sweetie breakfast in bed occasionally or helping with events at your child’s school are ways to show love and support. These behaviors can be people-pleasing behaviors if you feel like you have to do them, resent doing them, or do them because you’re seeking validation in the form of praise for your behaviors. So how do you know when you’re people pleasing instead of just being nice? Here are signs that you spend too much time taking care of others at the expense of your well-being:

  • You take responsibility for the feelings of others and are bothered if you think someone is angry with you.
  • You pretend to agree with people even when you don’t.
  • You feel overwhelmed or burdened by the things you have to do. You may feel angry or unappreciated.
  • You don’t speak up when someone hurts your feelings.
  • You struggle to say no, even when you should. This means you always have too much on your plate.
  • You frequently apologize even when you’ve done nothing wrong.
  • You worry a lot about whether others like you.
  • You change your personality based on who you’re with.
  • You experience perfectionism.

Causes of people-pleasing

People pleasing behaviors stem from an inability to set boundaries. People-pleasing can be a symptom of codependency – a relationship where one person consistently puts someone’s needs above their own. The tendency to take care of others and ignore your own well-being often stems from:

  • Low self-esteem – you don’t think you’re worthy of love and affection unless you do things for others.
  • Fear of rejection – you worry that people won’t like you, so you people-please hoping to gain the approval of others.
  • Trauma history – people-pleasing is a coping mechanism when people experience abusive relationships with parents or partners and find it easier to keep the peace.

People Pleasing is Harmful

Pleasing others is more than taking care of your loved ones – it’s ignoring your own needs in favor of doing for people. People-pleasing tendencies can be harmful to your health and well-being for many reasons. Keep reading for a list of the detrimental effects of people pleasing and some tips for combatting them.

You Neglect Yourself

Spending too much time pleasing others instead of attending to your own basic needs means your health will suffer. You may wind up exhausted, stressed, or even sick. Chronic stress can lead to mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression.

You can’t take care of anyone when you experience burnout. Taking care of your needs will allow you to give from a place of gratitude instead of resentment. Self-love is not selfish. Make time to address your needs in the following categories.

  • Exercise.
  • Healthy eating.
  • Hobbies and activities that combat stress.
  • Connect with your favorite people.

People Pleasing Harms Relationships

lady looking at the camera

You spend all your time at home cooking for and cleaning up after others. You take on more responsibilities at work, so your co-workers don’t have to, and your friends haven’t had to plan a get-together in decades. How is it possible that all this “doing for others” actually harms relationships and fosters disconnection?

Genuine, loving, healthy relationships require vulnerability, healthy boundaries, and authenticity. When you spend all your time running around trying to make sure everyone is happy and cared for, you aren’t showing up as your authentic self. You’re stuffing down any negative feelings, trying your best to avoid disappointing others, and hoping no one looks close enough to see who you are. Maybe you’re afraid they won’t like the real you – the one who gets tired and angry – the one who sometimes needs to receive care instead of giving it.

People pleasing leads to frustration and anger that can cause you to withdraw from loved ones emotionally. It can also allow people to take advantage of you. If you crave genuine human connection (and we all do), try using some of these strategies to stop people-pleasing.

  • Never say yes to a commitment without looking honestly at your calendar. Tell people you’ll think about it, but you need to check your calendar first.
  • Admit when you’re feeling overwhelmed, and then take steps to reduce your workload.
  • Learn to set healthy boundaries about your time and energy. Then stick to them. Enlist a friend or loved one to hold you accountable.
  • Practice saying no. With your children, use the phrase, “I can’t do that for you, but I’m happy to help you learn to do it for yourself.” If you’re at work and your boss asks for one more thing, try saying, “Which of the other priorities you’ve given me would you like me to put aside to work on this?”

Get Help to Stop People Pleasing

When you are in the habit of taking care of everyone around you to avoid disappointing others, it can be difficult to stop. Your loved ones are probably used to you doing everything for them and maybe upset if you suddenly change your behaviors. You’ll need support and encouragement to build healthy relationships as you begin undoing harmful habits.

Working with a therapist can help you develop strategies for prioritizing self-care, setting boundaries with loved ones or coworkers, and creating new relationship habits for the future. At SMPsychotherapy, our clinicians use a variety of modalities to provide patient-centered mental health care. We believe that when people are empowered to be decision-makers in their own lives, they can create a life they’re proud of. Reach out to our office today to start your journey to healthy relationships that don’t require you to give up your sense of self.

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