Among friends, relatives or colleagues, people pleasing takes the form of doing everything possible to be liked.
It sometimes rubs people the wrong way, and people may call you goody-two-shoes or a doormat. To you, it’s all about making others happy, but you often don’t realize it’s at the expense of your happiness and well-being.
People-pleasing takes several forms:
- Doing something that you don’t want to do but continue to because it makes someone else’s life easier or makes them happy.
- You put everyone else’s needs before your own.
- Your energy depletes because you can’t catch a break.
- Doing something that goes against your values to be accepted.
- You feel guilty when you say no, and remain feeling guilty a long time after.
- You don’t take care of yourself.
The good thing is that this does not have to be your life. While people pleasing is based on good intentions, it ultimately leaves you feeling unhappy, miserable and in some cases, resentful.
There are things you can do to stop being a people pleaser and take back control of your life.
1. Find out the root of your people-pleasing
When you’re prone to people pleasing, it almost always feels like a compulsion.
It feels like something deep within you craves something—unconditional love and approval. Often times, abandonment or a lack of acceptance as a child is the main culprit. The death or absence (physically or emotionally) of a parent or both parents push the child to look for someone to nurture them.
Without the right support system, a child grows up seeking these desires from other people and will take it in whatever forms it comes in.
Being compared to other kids or ignored is another reason why children grow up to be people pleasers. To them, they equate being the best at everything with automatically being worthy of love.
Middle children sometimes get termed as being the forgotten ones, and when that belief takes root, the thought of failing begins to torment them.
It doesn’t always apply to middle children though; some parents tend to have favorites and focus on them more.
When this happens, the neglected child grows a fear of failure and does everything in their power to excel. When they do fail, they take it harder than most people would.
Once you’ve identified where your behavior comes from, accept it and learn to move past it. Every time you’re in a situation where you’ll end up compromising a part of you for someone else, use the root as a reference point and actively work on saying no.
Don’t let the fear of rejection or failure taunt you anymore.
There might be some shame in accepting that you’re a people pleaser—how could I let them use me?
But don’t let it deter you.
Things beyond your control, like a parent passing away or their choice to leave, aren’t your fault. Once you’ve come to a place of understanding, it’s easier to be kind to yourself.
2. List the areas you need help in
Make a list of all the sections in your life you feel you’re doing more than those around you.
In the office, are you always staying back late to work to pick up your co-worker’s slack?
Among your siblings, are you the one always buying everyone gifts and hardly get anything in return, including a thank you?
Do you feel that your partner is guilt-tripping you to do things you don’t want to do?
Once you have these down, set boundaries and stick to them. Do everything you can to remember to not go back on your decisions.
Put a reminder on your phone that goes off at lunchtime to remind you to stay firm. When you’re overwhelmed, ask someone you usually help to assist you.
Their refusal or acceptance will let you know whom to support and whom to dismiss.
3. Get support
People pleasers often feel like they have to do everything themselves, which makes it difficult to ask for help. But if you want to break free of people pleasing, it’s extremely helpful to have a support system.
It could be anyone you know that doesn’t take advantage of your kindness. It could be your supervisor, a trusted colleague, friend or sibling.
Explain to them your goal—to stop people pleasing—and what improvements you need support in enforcing.
An example is delegating. If on any occasion you find yourself doing the bulk of the work, your support system will point it out and help you brainstorm how to and what responsibilities to delegate.
4. Practice Saying “No,” politely
Being assertive, for the people pleaser, is a hard task. They often fear that it will damage relationships.
That might be the case if you’re rude or unkind when saying no, but when told the right way, it leads to respect.
Practice answering no differently until you are able to find a version that feels comfortable. Examples are, ‘Sorry, I won’t be able to do that, I am busy,’ ‘I’d love to but I can’t,’ or ‘No, maybe next time.’
With time, saying no will come more naturally. People will then learn to respect your time and what you do for them. You’ll also find yourself apologizing less for things that aren’t your fault.
5. Take your time
Lifetime habits cannot change in a day. It takes time to unlearn and learn new ways of doing things.
Finding yourself falling back into your people-pleasing ways shouldn’t make you want to give up. Take baby steps when it comes to saying no. Start with one area, and when you’re better, move to another part of your life you’re having trouble in.
For instance, success in the workplace will give you more confidence to seek the same results at home.
Doing it slowly also gives people time to learn the new you. It makes them less likely to be hostile when they understand the steps you are taking toward professional and personal development.
It’s a lot better than shouting ‘NO!’ suddenly to every request.
6. Realize you are not alone
Thinking that things won’t get done just because you’re not there is not always accurate. In most cases, not taking up all the responsibility allows other people to step up to the plate.
This knowledge will eliminate stress and help you enjoy your career and personal life better.
At home, if you find yourself doing all the housework, learn to delegate. Resist the temptation to want to do it yourself, especially if it’s not done to your specifications. Allow those around you to gain a sense of responsibility and other life skills.
People pleasers often experience burnouts because making everyone happy all the time is not sustainable. When you make your happiness a priority, you’re able to make healthier choices and relax.
7. Make peace that not everyone will like the new you
Not everyone will be happy that you are now putting yourself first. They may say some hurtful things or go cold. And when that happens, understand that it’s okay.
If anything, it’ll show you the people who have your best interest at heart, and those who don’t. Wouldn’t you rather have people around you that you know care than people who don’t?
If someone only wants to be around you because you do everything they ask, that’s not a healthy friendship or relationship. So don’t be afraid to cut them out of your life.
Like everything, it’ll be hard a first. But slowly, the enormous burden of other people’s happiness will be lifted off you.
Stop People Pleasing
The surest way to stop being a people pleaser is to love yourself and work on building your self-worth and self-esteem.
When guilt strikes, remind yourself that you are doing what’s best for your physical and mental health. Write in a journal or talk to a friend- just don’t bottle it in.
Like all new habits, when they take root, they drastically change the course of your life. Your happiness is something worth fighting for. Don’t give into the pressure of being a people pleaser.