How to Stop Being a People-Pleaser

November 17, 2022   •  Posted in: 

Being a nice person is a wonderful quality. But is there such a thing as being too nice?

This could be the case for people who have what’s known as a people-pleasing personality. People-pleasers are always nice – not because they want to do good, but because they’re terrified of disagreeing with anyone. People-pleasers need to be liked by everyone, even to the detriment of their own well-being.

Here’s how to recognize whether you could be a people-pleaser, and what to do about it if you are.

 

Signs of a people-pleaser

Being a people-pleaser is different from being a kind person. In fact, being a people-pleaser isn’t about kindness at all.

People with people-pleasing personalities want to please others, even to the detriment of their own well-being. They always put others before themselves and will go to any lengths to make others happy. Often, the people-pleasing behavior isn’t so much about being kind or altruistic – it’s about earning the approval of others to maintain relationships.

Some common signs of a people-pleasing personality include:

  • You have difficulty saying no or turning down requests, even when saying “yes” comes at a price.
  • You pretend to agree with people even when you don’t.
  • You feel responsible for others’ feelings and try your best not to upset them.
  • You’re more focused on your relationships than yourself.
  • You have a very hard time disagreeing with anyone.
  • You apologize to appease the other person, even when you haven’t done anything wrong.
  • You feel selfish when you do something for yourself rather than somebody else.
  • You worry a lot about what others think about you.
  • You do things for others to gain their approval.
  • You struggle with low self-esteem.
  • You worry that other people will think you’re bad if you say “no” to them or disagree with them.
  • You hate when someone is angry with you, and you’ll do almost anything to “fix” the relationship.
  • You are more uncomfortable with conflict than most people.
  • You pretend it’s not a big deal when people hurt you.
  • You feel good about yourself when people like you; being likable is important to you.
  • You check others’ opinions before starting your own.
  • You would have difficulty being “okay” if someone was upset with you.
  • You change your personality or say different things depending on your relationship.
  • People tend to take advantage of you.
  • You feel pressure to be friendly and cheerful always, even when you’re not feeling that way.
  • You have a hard time “being yourself.”

Some of these traits are normal – for example, almost nobody enjoys conflict. But for someone who is a people-pleaser, these feelings are so intense that they start to completely neglect themselves and their needs.

 

What causes a people-pleaser personality?

Being a people-pleaser isn’t a diagnosis, and it’s not considered a mental health condition. Many experts say that a people-pleasing personality is related to a psychological trait called sociotropy, which causes people to place too much importance on their relationships[1].

Many mental health conditions can cause sociotropy, including[2]:

People with low self-esteem could also be at risk of becoming people-pleasers. If you don’t hold yourself in high regard, then you may feel worthless when people disagree with or criticize you. This could make you so fearful of upsetting or disagreeing with others that you end up saying whatever they want to hear.

The culture in which you grew up could also have an impact. Depending on the family, country, or society where you grew up, you may have faced the expectation that you should always be “nice” and agreeable. For example, women across many different cultures live under this expectation.

Trauma and childhood abuse can also create people-pleasers. You’ve probably heard of “fight, flight, or freeze mode.” But experts are now realizing that these may not be the only reactions humans have to traumatic situations.

Some people go into “fawn” mode, which leads them to try to appease and pacify the threat (like an abusive person) in an effort to stay safe[3]. This response could be seen as an extreme version of people-pleasing.

Although many factors come into play, there may be a scientific explanation for why some people are people-pleasers. One study found brain differences in people who reported they have a hard time disagreeing with others[4]. We need additional research to be able to explain this more thoroughly, but brain science may be able to explain part of it.

 

7 ways to stop being a people-pleaser

Although it might feel to you like you aren’t hurting anyone with your people-pleasing personality, you’re unfortunately wrong – you’re hurting yourself! People-pleasers often end up feeling overburdened and exhausted from constantly diminishing themselves for others’ sake.

People-pleasing can also start to get in the way of relationships. Some people-pleasers hold their resentment towards others internally until they end up lashing out at someone they love.

If you’ve recognized you’re a people-pleaser, then it’s important to start valuing and expressing your own needs. This doesn’t mean you need to change your personality completely. There are ways to be a kind and likable person without taking on the damaging effects of being a people-pleaser.

Here are 7 ways to stop being a people-pleaser and start taking care of yourself.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is an ancient practice that’s now commonly used as a mental health intervention. We usually talk about mindfulness in the context of managing stress. But at its core, mindfulness is simply about paying attention to the present moment. When you practice mindfulness, you become more likely to notice how you’re feeling.

This means that you may be more equipped to realize when you’re pushing your own needs aside for somebody else’s. The next time you find yourself agreeing with someone, take a few moments of mindfulness and listen to what your heart is saying. Do you truly agree with this person, or are you simply trying to appease them?

You don’t need to do anything about it right away. But the first step to stop people-pleasing is to notice when you’re doing it.

Take baby steps

You’re probably not going to stop caring what other people think overnight, and that’s okay. Take baby steps at first. Find occasional opportunities to say “no” in low-risk situations. Practice saying “no” and standing up for yourself, even in situations that may seem frivolous to you.

For example, saying “no” when your troubled brother asks you for money may be extremely challenging at first. But can you say “no” to the grocery clerk when she asks you to donate money to charity? Can you speak up about a movie you’d really like to see when deciding what to do with your friends?

Gradually, you can work your way up to saying “no” in more important situations.

Differentiate between kindness and people-pleasing

Again, people-pleasing is not the same thing as kindness. We show kindness to other people because it makes us feel happy and fulfilled. People-pleasing usually comes along with some feelings of guilt, and maybe even resentment.

The next time you agree to do something for someone else (even when you don’t really want to), notice how it makes you feel. Are you doing it because you truly want to help this person? Or because you feel guilty saying no?

Striving to stop being a people-pleaser doesn’t mean you can no longer be kind or do nice things for other people. Just make sure that these acts of kindness are about truly that – kindness.

Learn assertive communication skills

One skill that people-pleasers often lack is assertiveness. Assertiveness is a style of healthy communication that allows you to express your own needs while continuing to respect those around us.

Assertive communication is not aggressive – forcefully expressing ourselves no matter who we hurt. But it’s also not passive, which is the style of communication that people-pleasers often use.

Learning assertive communication skills can go a long way in helping you stand up for yourself and your needs. One important assertive communication skill is the use of “I-statements.” Practice expressing what you want and need using statements that start with “I.” For example, “When you said that, I felt really hurt.”

Learn to value solitude

Often, people-pleasers feel overly dependent on those around them. If you’re a people-pleaser, you might second-guess yourself and feel like you can’t trust your gut feelings. You feel like you need to check your opinions against others.

Try to value solitude as much as you can. Remember that solitude isn’t the same thing as feeling lonely; loneliness can be associated with negative health outcomes. But spending time, willingly, on your own can allow you to start getting to know yourself better and learn to trust yourself.

Practice self-compassion

Self-compassion is a practice you can use to foster feelings of warmth and kindness toward yourself. This can be especially helpful if you struggle with low self-esteem or are overly critical of yourself.

Dr. Kristin Neff, a lead researcher in self-compassion, says that self-compassion has 3 elements[5]:

    1. Self-kindness (vs. self-judgment): Talk to yourself like you’d talk to a beloved friend.
    2. Shared humanity (vs. isolation): Remember that your mistakes and failures connect you to shared humanity – we’re all human, and we all make mistakes.
    3. Mindfulness (vs. over-identification): Notice your negative thoughts and feelings without becoming attached to them.

By keeping these 3 elements in mind, you can start being more compassionate with yourself and, ideally, let go of the need to constantly please others.

Talk to a therapist

Lastly, if your people-pleasing has been chronic and has affected your happiness, well-being, and relationships, then it may be a good idea to talk to a therapist about breaking these habits.

A therapist can help you explore the root of your people-pleasing: when did you start behaving this way, and why? They can also teach you important skills, like mindfulness, self-compassion, and assertiveness, to help you overcome people-pleasing.

At The Center • A Place of HOPE, we treat a variety of different conditions including depression, anxiety, and PTSD. We’ve been voted a Top 10 Facility in the U.S. for depression treatment, and our proven Whole Person Care approach ensures that all of you is being taken care of – your physical, mental, intellectual, and spiritual health. We can help you overcome people-pleasing, address any underlying mental health issues, and learn how to love yourself.

For more information, get in touch with our team today.


[1]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16986139/
[2]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7459840/
[3]https://cptsdfoundation.org/2022/02/21/rejection-trauma-and-the-freeze-fawn-response/
[4]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26858629/
[5]https://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/

Dr. Gregory Jantz

Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...

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