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How to Overcome Being a People Pleaser: 11 tips

It is essential to your well-being to recognize the difference between being kind and falling into a pattern of unhealthy people-pleasing behaviors.

We are taught from a very young age that being helpful and kind to others is important.  And while this is true, falling into a regular pattern of putting other people’s needs ahead of your own can be detrimental to your well-being.

This pattern of unhealthy behavior, also known as people pleasing, can leave you feeling drained, unfulfilled, stressed, and burned out. 

Being a nice person vs. being a people pleaser

There is a distinct difference between doing things to be kind and doing things as a people pleaser.  Taking a deeper look at the “what” behind why you are doing these things is where you will find the distinction. 

For example, think of your responses to the following questions:

  • How many times have you been utterly exhausted or overloaded, yet still said yes to something? What is causing you to say yes when your plate is already so full?
  • How often do you agree with other people’s opinions when you have a different viewpoint or suggestion?  What is holding you back from either offering up your own thoughts or even just walking away?
  • Or maybe you carry the reputation of being the one who can “handle it all” and are everyone’s go-to person?  What boundaries have you set?

People pleasers tend to sacrifice their own well-being to ensure that others have their desires or needs met first.  Although people pleasers may be aware of their unhealthy behavior it can be challenging to stop.  An important step is to first recognize the signs of people-pleasing tendencies when situations arise.

Signs of people-pleasing behaviors

It can be difficult for people pleasers to recognize people-pleasing behaviors.  Chronic people-pleasers operate on an auto-pilot type of response because they have grown accustomed to consistently taking care of others while putting their own needs second, or third, or even last. Or they may always feel so pressured to give a quick response that they don’t take the time to evaluate how, or if, the choice is serving them well.

Some common people-pleasing behaviors and signs include:

  • Being quick to agree
  • Having difficulty saying no
  • Being averse to conflict
  • Difficulty holding to beliefs or values
  •  Being quick to take the blame
  • Feeling guilty or that you are letting others down
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Seeking the approval of others
  • Fear of rejection

No matter the reason behind wanting to please others, it is critical to assess how your own well-being is impacted and recognize the importance of putting yourself and your own needs first.  The good news is that there is nothing wrong with being helpful or wanting to support others and it can be done in a healthy way – one that serves you well and doesn’t leave you feeling mentally or physically depleted.   

11 Tips for How to Overcome People-Pleasing Tendencies

Below are some tips that can help you take the first step in overcoming people-pleasing ways while still being true to your helpful and kind self.

1. Stop apologizing

A well placed or meaningful apology is powerful, but if something is not your fault, there is no need to apologize. Too often, the words “I’m sorry” fly out of our mouths as if we have done something tragically wrong when in fact, we had no control over a situation.  Psychologists share that the habit of over-apologizing can undermine your authority and decrease your self-esteem. The small step of choosing your words differently can have a big impact on how you feel about yourself.  For instance, try reframing your language to say, “Thank you for the invite but I am not able to make it” instead of “I’m sorry I can’t make it.” Or try saying, “Thank you for waiting for me” instead of “I’m sorry I’m late.” It takes a conscious effort but this small reframe will help you become a better communicator and leave you feeling more empowered.

2. Pause before responding

Responding in the moment is not always necessary.  Ask for time by saying things like, “Let me check my schedule and get back to you.” This gives you extra time to assess the request and gather your thoughts for how you would like to respond without feeling pressured to instantly meet the needs of others.

3. Set boundaries

Define your limitations, you cannot be all things to all people and expect to show up as your best self for you or even your loved ones. Setting healthy boundaries can show up in lots of ways – emotionally, physically, materially, intellectually, and even as time limits.  A healthy relationship thrives with healthy boundaries while toxic relationships will likely begin to wither away.

4. Awareness

One of the most important things is to realize that you have a choice.  Practicing awareness is a great first step in working towards overcoming people-pleasing behaviors.  Start by being honest with yourself about your intentions or reasons for helping.  Are you concerned that people would dislike you if you don’t participate?  Or are you genuinely excited to lend a hand or return a favor? 

Understand your own energy levels, mentally, emotionally, and physically, before determining how much of a commitment you can make to support someone or something else.  Doing this quick assessment will help you cut down on overextending yourself as well as guide you towards what is most fulfilling. Taking a few moments to pause will remind you that you have a choice in the matter.

5. Don’t overexplain

“No” is a complete sentence.  This may be one of the more difficult techniques to master but for sure it is one of the most powerful. Feeling the need to explain your reasons for saying no is your unnecessary guilt with the sound turned on.  It provides the opportunity for others to poke holes in your explanations and can sometimes even open the door for unfortunate acts of manipulation. 

The awful truth is that most people don’t care about when you need to leave to get to that appointment on time or if you are having a rough week trying to balance it all because they are thinking about what they need you for.  It may sound harsh, but human need can sometimes overshadow human compassion.

Realize that “no” can be delivered in a soft but firm way.  Try saying, “Unfortunately, I don’t have the capacity,” or “I’m flattered, but this will require someone else who can dedicate the time it needs.”

You are best served by giving minimal explanation, if at all.

6. Be curious before committing

Just as important as knowing your own needs, it’s imperative that you have a full understanding of what is being asked of you.  What are the expectations of others? 

Something that initially seems like a minor task or ask could end up being a much larger commitment than you had planned.  Take a closer look by asking for details before you respond.  Being curious will help uncover any unspoken expectations and give you a clearer understanding so you can commit on your own terms and in a way that feels most aligned with your own personal values. 

7. Build your self-esteem

Negative self-talk fuels a lack of self-esteem and people-pleasing ways.  Reassure your inner voice by infusing positive self-talk into your daily routine.  Start by using positive affirmations or mantras and repeat them often throughout the day as a reminder of your strength and values. 

It’s a good idea to keep a few powerful affirmations where you can refer to them quickly and frequently.  Some helpful places to consider are in the Notes app on your phone, sticky notes on the fridge, bathroom mirror, or console of the car.  Change the lock screen on your phone to a meaningful positive affirmation to keep your mindset going in the right direction throughout the day!

8. Know your priorities

Check in with your own needs by revisiting your goals and priorities for the day, week, month, or year. Once you are clear on where you stand with your own list of priorities, it will help you determine how much time or capacity you have left to commit to other things. 

Reaffirm that you are honoring your own personal values and spending time on things that are moving you forward.

9. Role play

One of the better ways to become more confident in your responses is to role play.  Ask a good friend or family member to throw some people-pleasing scenarios or test questions your way.  Practice how to respond by using some of the above tips so you can get used to what feels most comfortable.  Role play may feel awkward at first, but over time it will help you craft real time responses that become second nature.

10. Aim for progress, not perfection

It can be difficult for chronic people pleasers to pull back, consciously recognize their sense of self and put their own wants or well-being ahead of others’ needs.  It may take a long time to consider yourself a recovering people pleaser but that’s ok!  Realize that small steps are still steps in the right direction.

11. Recognize and reward your progress

When it comes to doing the hard work of rewiring your people-pleasing behaviors, little things call for big recognition!  Take a short pause each time you catch yourself practicing any one of these tips and congratulate yourself with intention.  Add those wins to your mental highlight reel of positive change!

Becoming a recovering people pleaser

While excessive people-pleasing is unhealthy for your own well-being, doing nice things for people is still a wonderful way to gain fulfillment and share your kind, true self.  Being mindful of any people-pleasing behaviors is a great way to start identifying where you might begin making positive change. 

Next time you are faced with an ask or find yourself feeling overwhelmed with commitments, try a few of the tips above and take notice of what changes for you!