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The Disease to Please: How to Stop Being a People-Pleaser


July 9, 2021

“She’s so nice.” 

 The ultimate goal for a people pleaser is to get positive social approval from others and have others like them.

The thoughts of others not liking them makes them feel uncomfortable, unworthy and downright awful.

Getting a bad review takes on a special significance for the people pleaser- it indicates that have been rejected by others and, since they invest so much stock in what others think of them, it truly hurts to the core when they are not liked.

This is because their sense of self is invested in the external world- most notably in the opinions of others.  Underpinning this condition is fear; fear that they are not worthy or enough just as they are, fear of social judgement and rejection, fear of conflict and emotional discomfort.

Although I have great compassion for people pleasers, (I was one myself for most of my life!) the uncomfortable truth is that the condition is based on inauthenticity.

 Firstly, nobody can be THAT nice all the time.  People can often pick up on this and may even conclude that there is something fake about the one whose unflappable pleasantness pervades all seasons.

Secondly, by making other people like you as the goal, you end up compromising your integrity and needs as a person which ultimately equate to a betrayal of the self.  There isn’t anything commendable about that!

Moreover, as many people pleasers will tell you, it is a habit that comes at a high cost.  People pleasers feel burnt out and depleted by putting everyone else’s needs before their own.  Apart from the energetic depletion that goes along with it, people pleasers are susceptible to things like anxiety, perfectionism and addiction. Their disconnection from selves and their needs means that hey risk their own happiness and personal growth that can come through engaging in conflict rather than avoiding it. According to Dr. Illene Cohen, when you aren’t advocating for yourself, you risk losing your identity, agency and competency.

Here are my top tips for stepping out of this self-defeating behaviour:

Start saying NO

The first no for a people pleaser can be quite a challenge so start small.  Begin to consider whether the thing in question is something you really want to do.  Be wary of offering a litany of excuses either to make the no easier to say.  Truly confident people can say ‘No, I won’t be able to do that’ without having to launch into a full story on why.

Consider your goals

Start focusing on your needs, wants and desires.  Part of the problem with people pleasers is that they place very little value on what they themselves are looking for and place others happiness above their own.  This needs to change.  Part of true self-esteem is making our needs and goals matter.  Ask yourself what is important to you and start to take action to prioritise your own happiness.

Stop apologising

One of the hallmarks of people who like to please is over-apologising because they don’t like to inconvenience or upset other people.  The more you apologise however, the more it communicates that you have done something wrong and others pick up the message that you are willing to play a diminutive role which can lead to problems.  If you are always willing to be seen as at fault then you make yourself a target for those who seek power over others.  Save your apologies for when they really count.

Recognise if you are being manipulated

It’s a sad truth that some people will see an opportunity in a person who wants to please and use the situation to their advantage.  The people pleaser must be alert for flattery as a means of persuading them to do what others want.  “You’re the best at…” is one particular example of this.

Create internal validation

Work on building up your sense of self and identity from within you rather than relying on external indicators of success, acceptance and validation.  We need to recognise that we can give to ourselves that which seek from outside of us.

Change your default

Instead of saying ‘yes’ to every request and demand, default to “Let me get back to you.”  This way you will buy yourself time and check in with whether this is something you actually want to do.

Build Up a Strong Sense of Self

Who are you beyond the roles you play? If you no longer were a pleaser, what would you think, believe and how would you act? This requires doing a little enquiry through journaling or coaching to connect with a forgotten part of you: your authentic self. Who are you really on a deeper level and what do you value? Once you have discovered this, you can start to live in integrity with yourself and make empowered choices based on this clear knowing of who you truly are.

The Game Changer

What I have noticed from clients’ experiences is that eventually the people pleaser will often encounter someone who challenges their people pleasing ways.  Perhaps they encounter someone who doesn’t like them no matter what they do.  This can be a painful, confusing and disruptive experience for them as the old pattern is called into question.  The question becomes, do I still continue comprising myself by being nice and getting no payoff in terms of their approval, or do I flip the script and become my unapologetic real self and risk showing who I really am?

I have come to view these kinds of experiences as blessings which force us to heal this unhealthy habit.

What about you? What has your experience been with as or with people pleasers?

Realise that not everyone will like you and that’s ok! 

By focusing on the ones who do, we can feel like we are being true to ourselves and live authentically.  Sometimes we are grumpy, angry, sad, confused etc. and by choosing to accept ourselves for whatever we are experiencing, we are performing an act of self-love.

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Cohen, I. S. (2017). When It’s Never About You: The People-Pleasers Guide to Reclaiming Your Health, Happiness and Personal Freedom. Harte & Co Publishing: Miami.

About Sarah

I’m Sarah, women’s life and wellbeing coach. I am an intuitive, warm & compassionate coach who truly understands the modern female experience and the challenges it can bring

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