5 steps to overcoming people pleasing

15776571862_1fbf5c6b34_zHow can you tell if someone is a people-pleaser? They’re typically the nicest, most generous people you know (disclaimer, not all kind people are people-pleasers, but some of us are). They never refuse a request and are always willing to volunteer their time and energy.

Need help moving? They’ll come early, help you pack up, move boxes all day, and stay late. Need an early ride to the airport? Look no further. *As with all my posts, these thoughts are based on my own experiences and may differ from your own. If you have anything to add, I’d love to hear from you!

People-pleasers are often motivated by one of two things (or sometimes both). Their behaviour is generally rooted in either fear of rejection or fear of failure. Fear of rejection stems from being afraid of getting left behind if they make a mistake or do something wrong. They work hard to be helpful and valuable to others. They try to keep the peace. Fear of failure stems from being afraid to disappoint others or the fear that others will view them negatively. They work hard to live up to impossibly high standards and feel validated by the positive attention of others. As a recovering people-pleaser, I wanted to share a few things I’ll be working on this year.

1. I will speak up for myself.
I’ve always prioritized keeping the peace at the expense of my own comfort and peace of mind. My default is to avoid confrontation. But if something makes me uncomfortable, I will say something. Speaking up honestly takes a lot of courage but it’s something I need to do. I won’t allow myself to be taken advantage of again.

2. I will actively combat stress.
Holding onto stress isn’t healthy and I’ve personally paid the price for this one. If I find myself overwhelmed, I will find one obligation to cancel, then use that time to take care of myself: to cook a healthy meal, do a workout, or enjoy some reading. I’m still working on creating a balanced schedule for myself.

3. I will enforce my boundaries.
I had a huge wake-up call this past August. You can read about it here if you’d like. I realized that I’m the one who is responsible for how I allow others to treat me. If someone takes advantage of me once, that’s their fault. But if it continues to happen, and I don’t say anything, it becomes my fault. You can’t expect someone to respect you if you don’t have respect for yourself. I’ve written down my boundaries and will enforce them.

4. I will say no more often.
It’s always easier to say yes. You avoid the inevitable ‘why not’ or guilt trips. But I need to start saying no more often. When someone invites me somewhere or asks for a favour, I always tell them that I need to think about it. That relieves the pressure to make a decision right away. Then I’ll take some time to mull over the options. Am I doing this because I want to? Am I trying to avoid disappointing someone? Do I have the energy? Am I even interested?  Saying no can be scary, but its for my own benefit.

5. I’ll give myself a time limit.
I love helping people and its something I never want to stop doing. But volunteering for an entire day leaves me burned out, exhausted, and barely able to drag myself home. In the future, if someone needs my help, and I’m able to do it, I’ll let them know I’m available for a set amount of time. If the deadline arrives and I feel great, I’ll extend my stay, but will keep a close watch on my energy. I also like volunteering for setup duty, as I’m free to leave once things start to get busy.

Being generous and helpful is a wonderful thing. But I’ve experienced the health issues that come from internalizing stress and taking on more than I could handle. By caring for myself, I’ll be able to serve others at a greater capacity. Helping others should never come at the expense of anyone’s health, relationships, or happiness.

Have you had any similar experiences or insights?

Image credit: “Smile” by Vladimir Pustovit is licensed under CC by 2.0



25 thoughts on “5 steps to overcoming people pleasing

  1. Bart Leahy says:

    Guilty of excessive volunteerism, though I’ve tried to see the bright side: https://heroictechwriting.com/2016/12/05/the-plus-side-of-helium-hands/

    That said, I don’t volunteer nearly as often as I used to, and it’s surprised people. I’ve taken a more mercenary attitude when people ask for free writing–my bread and butter (“I’m only accepting new work if it pays”). However, this approach does two things: it ensures that I’m more respectful of my time and it does a little more to ensure that others understand that my is valuable and my skills are a commodity, not just something I do out of the kindness of my heart.

    As for personal favors, I’m still pretty much the guy who says yes.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Ally says:

      I enjoyed your post regarding the benefits of volunteering. It definitely does expand your experience and skill set.

      I’ve also stopped doing free design work for those I know. One friend in particular was surprised that I was going to charge them for designing and building a website. They assumed I’d be happy to do it for free. However, if I’m spending 20+ hours on a project, you’re going to have to pay me for it. I love helping people out, but you have to draw a line somewhere 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. traceyr1984 says:

    #5 I feel exactly the same way! I am looking to make some changes to my schedule but I am committed for the next few months. I will make the changes when I can and I am dreading telling people that I won’t be participating next fall. It feels so awkward. One can’t say “I’m a 75% introvert and this meeting just wears me out too much”. I’ll probably say something about making changes to my schedule and hope they understand.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. brittabottle says:

    One of my housemates is a terrible people pleaser. So much so that I stopped opening up to her about some things happening in my life because I could tell she was uncomfortable with it–I realized she was only listening because she felt obligated to. It has caused some tension in the house because now she’s taking my lack of opening up personally. As an INFJ, I can tell when someone isn’t interested, though, and sometimes people pleasers need people in their lives who will set boundaries for them.

    This is a really great list, Ally. As a former people pleaser myself, I can definitely relate to all of these on some level.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ally says:

      I completely agree, boundaries are so important. If we don’t create them ourselves, the next best thing is to have others do so for us. Otherwise it’s easy to take on too much. Thanks for sharing, it’s encouraging to know that people-pleasing is something that can be overcome.

      Liked by 1 person

      • brittabottle says:

        I still have my people pleasing moments but, overall, I’ve gotten MUCH better at it. I’ve realized that a kind/empathetic action has so much more meaning to it when it comes from the heart, rather than an insecure need to appear as a good/agreeable person to others. Sometimes I still have to actively remind myself of this, but it has also gotten easier with time.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Salvageable says:

    I definitely match your description of a people pleaser. Although I could do with less stress, I’m not sure how much I want to change. Setting deadlines, though, and leaving when they happen, sounds like a good idea. J.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ally says:

      My people-pleasing tendencies created a lot of stress and led to a major health issue. That was my wake-up call, warning me that things couldn’t continue like this. If you’re getting enough time to take care of yourself, you’re probably doing pretty well.


  5. Akuokuo says:

    Not sure if I am a true people pleaser–but maybe… Quite often (everyday) my twin sister and I get approached by people pointing out that we are twins. Oh hello. Yes, yes–we are twins! Smile. Smile. Then usually the people want to tell us all about what they know about twins. Today, in fact, at the grocery store, this man yelled out from across a checkout stand, “I see twins!” Then he came over to us and started telling us that although we look alike he could still tell us apart. Then he wanted to shake our hands– as he asked our names. Even though this happens a lot– I still find it is best just to be nice–then politely move/run away. So, I don’t know…is that people pleasing behavior? Or simply accepting that other people get excited about twins.

    Thanks for the tip on having a time limit. I will definitely, from now on, give myself a mental time limit/boundary for these encounters 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ally says:

      Wow, you sure have a lot of patience, I’d get pretty annoyed if that kept happening. I usually think of people pleasing as putting others first while neglecting your own needs/peace of mind. So unless these encounters make you feel really uncomfortable, it doesn’t seem like its people pleasing. But that’s just my two cents. Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. exanimo7 says:

    Guilty of being a people-pleaser. My mom and sister are fairly demanding, opinionated people (whom I love dearly), but I have a very hard time saying no or asserting myself around them. Frankly, I’m sick of letting myself feel like a pushover.

    I’ve made a promise to myself that this year, I’m going to start standing up and voicing my feelings more often. Easier said than done, right? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ally says:

      Thank you for commenting! I hope this year will be a positive one for you, filled with lots of personal growth. Everything starts with small steps, which is my plan. I’m hoping that the more I assert myself, the more comfortable and confident I’ll become.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. thecoffeebeanbrain says:

    I’m guilty of this, or I used to be, but I’ve learned a lot since getting work and after. I think it’s all part of society’s validation but in the real sense, we need to validate ourselves first before others can do that for us. Say “I am enough”.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Erica O says:

    Thanks for sharing! As a recovering people-pleaser (which really just means I’m aware of it and trying to improve when and where I can) I appreciate your clear and concise descriptions and the strategies you have developed to work on it. It’s an encouragement to all of us!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Marvin Gau says:

    Hey! I love this post! I experienced the the same thing in my workplace. I have be helping people to get their job done. I don’t deny it, I feels good to be accepted. In the year end review, I realised I didn’t really do much for myself. Ever since then, I always draw the line! I lose some friends, but I don’t really bother about it. The true and genuine friend will stay and accepts who you are. It takes practice to draw the line. I now always have a “me” time.

    I’ll keep your step in mind as a guide!! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. pearlgirl says:

    I so relate to this, and this past year has definitely taught me that I need to have better boundaries and start speaking up for myself. A challenge for sure, but something that I also hope to work on. Thank you for sharing your goals. All very helpful. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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