If you feel like you may be a people-pleaser, you’re not alone. In a YouGov poll from 2022, 49% of adults surveyed self-identified as people-pleasers. In today’s hyper-connected world, we have a growing obsession with, and cultural proclivity for, being liked and needing to please others.
In my book, Beyond Happiness: The 6 Secrets of Life Satisfaction, I talk about people-pleasing behaviors, their impact, and some exercises to help you start reducing people-pleasing behaviors. People-pleasing can take many forms. Family therapist Virginia Satir defines people-pleasers as placaters — people who feel they have no value except for what they can do for another person. It is my experience that people seek to please others for both conscious and unconscious reasons, including conflict avoidance, securing feelings of indispensability, and reducing fears of abandonment. Their fears of anger and confrontation force them to use agreeableness as self-defense.
People-pleasing behavior can lead to mental and physical health problems such as fear of rejection, resentment, frustration, anger, addictions, headaches, stomach problems, and/or high blood pressure. It can result in weak boundaries, problems with decision-making, low self-worth, dependency, and low competence. For that reason, it’s important to recognize and overcome your own people-pleasing behaviors.
Here are six simple exercises that you can start working on today. If you are motivated and stay consistent, you will see tangible results that will result in healthy, interdependent relationships.
1. Practice being alone
Learn to love your own company. Trust that people will not abandon you, even if you don’t drop everything for them. Believing you are lovable for who you are, not what you do, means knowing that people will still be there for you even if you have not made yourself indispensable to them or persisted in frantically searching for ways to please them. Practice this by going to a movie or restaurant alone.
2. Keep plans with yourself
Plans you make with yourself are as important as plans you make with other people. Otherwise, you are sending a message to your brain that a plan you make with yourself does not hold as much value as a plan you make with someone else. Don’t break long- or short-term plans you make with yourself, whether it’s going to the gym or studying for an exam.
3. Make a decision by yourself
Many people-pleasers are used to making decisions by consensus, practice making small independent decisions and build up to bigger ones. First, map out your options without gathering input from others or overthinking. Remind yourself that you don’t have to please everyone with your decisions, just yourself. It’s not your burden to make everyone else happy. If someone else has an opinion it’s their responsibility to state it, not your responsibility to mind read. Start small by picking a restaurant and then work your way up to larger decisions as you feel more competent and confident in yourself.
4. Practice saying “no”
If you’re a people-pleaser you may find it hard to say “no” because you feel it comes across as cruel or uncaring. But it absolutely does not have to. Assertive, mindful communication is more honest and can be done in a firm yet respectful way. Be clear, be direct, and use “I” statements. Try statements like: “I would really love to be able to help you, but unfortunately, I’m already committed at that time.” Or “That activity sounds like a lot of fun. I don’t think it’s exactly for me, but I would love to do something else with you at another time.”
5. Don’t offer
Try to stop offering, doing things, or advising, unless you’re specifically asked. This may be difficult if you’re a person who anticipates other people’s wants or needs. Use restraint and wait to be asked. If someone is “downloading” to you—instead of offering advice, try to simply validate their feelings. If you’re unsure, it’s helpful to use something I call a “resentment check-in.” When someone asks you to do something, do a body scan and ask yourself, “Were this behavior never to be reciprocated or validated in any way, do I feel a twinge anywhere in my body?” If you feel a twinge, delegate, edit, or deny the request. If you don’t then go ahead and accept.
6. Turn to internal reassurance
Remind yourself about your positive qualities instead of waiting for others to notice. Reflect on your day and give yourself positive feedback or do something nice for yourself. For example, you could make a nice meal for yourself or take yourself to the movies. People-pleasers look to the outside world for validation; turn that around and praise yourself.
By consistently integrating these six strategies into your life, I’m confident you’ll break your people-pleasing habits. By doing so, you’ll develop more healthy, interdependent relationships. This will yield an overall improvement in self-confidence and life satisfaction.
Journalist, J. B. D. (2022). Retrieved from https://today.yougov.com/topics/society/articles-reports/2022/08/22/wom…
Satir, V. (1988). The New Peoplemaking. United States: Science and Behavior Books.
Guttman, J. (2023). Beyond happiness: The 6 secrets of lifetime satisfaction. New York: Post Hill Press.