How to Stop Being a People Pleaser

yes yes in neon lights how to stop people pleasing midlife mums

Understanding the People Pleasing Phenomenon

People pleasing is pretty common, especially amongst us women. In fact, perhaps unsurprisingly approximately 85% of people-pleasers are women.

So what is people pleasing?

Prioritising others, doing or saying what we ´think´ we should do and generally thinking about everyone else. People pleasing is a behavior pattern in which individuals prioritise the needs and desires of others over their own.

Where does people pleasing come from and how can it affect us?

It appears that people comes so much from the way in which we are conditioned. Us women are told from an early age to be the ´good girl´, to do as we are told, to smooth things over, fix things and make it all ´nice´. We absorb all these well-intentioned messages and it can lead to us losing sight of who we are and what we want.

We can then get caught in this pattern without even realising it and a vicious circle ensues eating away at our precious sense of self. This often constant putting of others´ needs first can leave us feeling worn down and resentful over time, particularly when we have kids in the mix too.

Studies have shown that people pleasing can stem from a desire for approval, fear of rejection or low self-esteem. It can also lead to burnout, breakdowns, more stress and a lack of fulfilment. People-pleasers may have a higher risk of developing physical health problems due to chronic stress. And yet, so many of us do it, even if we think we have moved passed it, it can still often be subconscious.

heart graffiti self love

Identifying Signs of People Pleasing

Common signs of being a people pleaser include saying yes to others, even when it means sacrificing your own needs and desires. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed and burnt out, as well as resentment towards those who we are trying to please.

Another sign is difficulty saying ´no´ or setting boundaries. People pleasers often fear conflict or rejection, so they avoid saying ¨no¨ or setting boundaries to avoid upsetting others. This can lead to being taken advantage of and feeling powerless in your relationships. People pleasers also tend to seek validation and approval from others. They may go out of their way to do things for others in order to feel liked and accepted. This can lead to a lack of self-worth and self-esteem, as their sense of value is dependent on others’ opinions of them.

People pleasers may struggle with making decisions or asserting their own opinions. They may defer to others’ opinions or preferences in order to avoid conflict or maintain harmony. This can lead to feeling like they don’t have control over your own life and decisions.

There also can be very subtle ways that we people please. For example, not allowing ourselves to do things we would like to, as we assume responsibility for everything in the home or with the kids, for example.

Cooking everyone else´s favourite foods and neglecting our own preferences. Letting others choose the tv programme or film or music instead of saying what we might like.

Subtle things. But they can all be a partial form of people pleasing or not entirely allowing ourselves to enjoy the fullness of our own life.

In fact people pleasing has actually been cited as a selfish act as we are trying to project one image of ourselves in order to look or (temporarily) feel good but actually we are living a lie and not being our true selves.

“The art of pleasing is the art of deceiving.”

French Proverb
hand up to say no with girl

Breaking Free from People Pleasing: Tips & Strategies

When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘no’ to yourself.
– Paulo Coelho

Here are some ways to break free from people pleasing: These require self-awareness, courage, and a commitment to self-care. Here are practical strategies to help on the journey:

1. Recognise the behaviour: The first step in overcoming people-pleasing tendencies is to recognise the behavior. This means having some awareness and acknowledging that we have a tendency to prioritise other people’s needs and desires over our own. Once we recognise this behavior, we can start to take steps to change it.

2. Identify the triggers: People-pleasing tendencies often stem from a fear of rejection or a desire for approval. It’s important to identify the triggers that cause us to engage in people-pleasing behaviour. This could be a particular person, situation, or even a thought pattern. Once you identify your triggers, you can start to work on changing your response to them.

3. Practice saying ´no´: Saying no can be difficult for people-pleasers, but it’s an important skill to develop. We can start small by saying no to requests that are not a priority. One way of disrupting this pattern, for example is, that if we are asked to do something or invited to something, we don´t have to give an answer straight away to anything, instead we can ask to think about it or say we have to check something. This applies to our work and personal lives.

Check in with ourselves first instead of defaulting to yes!

As we become more comfortable saying no, we start to gain confidence to set more boundaries and prioritise our own needs.

red hand light say no or stop

4. Focus on our own needs: People-pleasers often neglect their own needs in favor of others. It’s important to prioritise our own needs and desires. This means taking time for self-care, setting boundaries, and learning to say no when necessary. It also means tuning into what we want and need which can be tricky for people pleasers; We can lose sight of who we are and what we really want and need. The line between what we want and what we want for others can be a blurry one. However, with time and patience and slowly allowing ourselves to tune into our own needs´ this connection to self gets stronger and stronger.

5. Be aware of our thoughts: People-pleasers often have negative thought patterns that contribute to our behaviour. Having awareness of our thoughts (a meditation, journalling or mindfulness practice can really help with this) can then give us some space to look at our thoughts as an observer and ask ourselves if they are true and if they are helpful. We can then choose what we focus on in our thoughts and give ourselves what we need in the moment instead of just reacting in our old (often unhelpful) habitual patterns.

6. Seek support: Overcoming people-pleasing tendencies can be challenging, and it’s important to seek support from friends, family, a therapist or coach. Talking to someone about the challenges can help us gain perspective and develop strategies and tools for change.

stepping into something new break away from people pleasing

A Key part: Embracing Imperfection and Self-Acceptance

The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.
– Michel de Montaigne

Perhaps the key to overcome people pleasing is that we also have to accept that we are not perfect. We are not superwoman or able to do all of the things all of the time. This may be hard for some of us to admit, especially if we have done all the things in the past or are high achievers.

But what has that cost us?

Some questions for you to consider:

Do you feel that you are giving from an honest place of care, love, fulfilment?

Do you feel that you have honest and authentic relationships?

Do you live in fear of rejection from others or even yourself, particularly if you don´t do or say the right thing?

To truly overcome people pleasing we need to accept our humanness.

Our imperfections.

What makes us uniquely us.

To be able to say to someone, I am not able to do that favour as I have too much going on or simply to just say ´no´ without any explanation.

We can so often accept the imperfections in others. The challenge is now to accept them in ourselves. And give ourselves the love and compassion we need as we navigate the freeing, but (initially) challenging path to becoming who we truly are.

Creating a life that feels way more authentic and fulfilling, being aligned with our values and what makes us uniquely us.

Isn´t that something truly worth saying yes to?

Woud you like to read more about my research with women in midife – some powerful insights and how we are certainly not alone!

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas, questions, tools and practices around overcoming people pleasing and anything that works for you. Please do get in touch below and share – it is always so wonderful to hear what you have to say.

Thanks so much for reading!

Images: Thomas Kinto, Michèle Eckert, Kai Pilger, Sammie Chaffin

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