The dictionary definition of a people pleaser is ‘a person who has an emotional need to please others often at the expense of his or her own needs or desires’. People pleasers are often seen as kind and helpful. Behind this agreeable façade, they often struggle to advocate for themselves which can lead to a negative pattern of self-sacrifice or self-neglect. Sound familiar?
Poor self-esteem is often a factor in people pleasing behaviour. When we lack self-confidence, we have a greater need for external validation. People pleasers often believe doing things for others will lead to approval and acceptance. In some cases, people try to please others because they worry they won’t be liked if they don’t.
Perfectionism and people pleasing also go hand in hand. They are both efforts to prove your worth that tend to be driven by fear. Fear you’re not good enough and others will reject you in some way. Perfectionists and people pleasers often feel responsible for the happiness and needs of others. They also tend to put other people’s needs ahead of their own, often to their own detriment. For more help in this area, read 5 Ways to Beat Perfectionism.
Clear and specific boundaries are the first line of defence against people pleasing. When you know and understand your limits, it’s easier to spot when someone is asking too much and resist the urge to help. You can set boundaries at work and at home, with people you know well and with people you’ve just met.
It can be hard to make a sudden change, so start by asserting yourself in small ways. Try saying no to a text or email request before working your way up to telling people ‘no’ in person. Build your confidence by practicing in different settings or situations, or with different people.
Saying sorry implies you are in the wrong, so next time you’re about to apologise, ask yourself whether this is true. If not, try these alternatives:
Changing behavioural patterns can be difficult. Learning to tolerate the discomfort and guilt created by enforcing boundaries and saying no may take time. You not only have to retrain yourself, but you must also teach people around you to understand and respect your limits. You need to give yourself adequate time and space to practice. And remember, pleasing others should never be done at the expense of your own happiness and wellbeing.