Over the years, I’ve seen countless people-pleasers in my therapy office. But more often than not, people-pleasing wasn’t really their problem; their desire to make others happy was merely a symptom of a deeper issue.
For many, the eagerness to please stems from self-worth issues. They hope that saying yes to everything asked of them will help them feel accepted and liked. Other people-pleasers have a history of maltreatment, and somewhere along the way, they decided that their best hope for better treatment was to try to please the people who mistreated them. Over time, for them, people-pleasing became a way of life.
Many people-pleasers confuse pleasing people with kindness. When discussing their reluctance to turn down someone’s request for a favor, they say things like, “I don’t want to be selfish,” or “I just want to be a good person.” Consequently, they allow others to take advantage of them.
People-pleasing can be a serious problem, and it’s a hard habit to break. Here are 10 signs that you may be trying too hard to please everyone:
1. You pretend to agree with everyone.
Listening politely to other people’s opinions — even when you disagree — is a good social skill. But pretending to agree just because you want to be liked can cause you to engage in behavior that goes against your values.
2. You feel responsible for how other people feel.
It’s healthy to recognize how your behavior influences others. But thinking you have the power to make someone happy is a problem. It’s up to each individual to be in charge of their own emotions.
3. You apologize often.
Whether you excessively blame yourself, or you fear other people are always blaming you, frequent apologies can be a sign of a bigger problem. You don’t have to be sorry for being you.
4. You feel burdened by the things you have to do.
You’re in charge of how you spend your time. But if you are a people-pleaser, there’s a good chance your schedule is filled with activities that you think other people want you to do.
5. You can’t say no.
Whether you say yes and then actually follow through, or you later fake an illness to get out your commitments, you’ll never reach your goals if you can’t speak up for yourself.
6. You feel uncomfortable if someone is angry at you.
Just because someone is mad doesn’t necessarily mean you did anything wrong. But if you can’t stand the thought of someone being displeased with you, you’ll be more likely to compromise your values.
7. You act like the people around you.
It’s normal for other people to bring out different sides of your personality. But people-pleasers often sabotage their goals. Studies show that people-pleasers engage in self-destructive behavior if they think it will help others feel more comfortable in social situations. For example, people-pleasers eat more when they think it will make other people happy.
8. You need praise to feel good.
While praise and kind words can make anyone feel good, people pleasers depend on validation. If your self-worth rests entirely on what others think about you, you’ll only feel good when others shower you with compliments.
9. You go to great lengths to avoid conflict.
It’s one thing not to want to start conflict. But avoiding conflict at all costs means that you’ll struggle to stand up for the things — and the people — you really believe in.
10. You don’t admit when your feelings are hurt.
You can’t form authentic relationships with people unless you’re willing to speak up sometimes and say that your feelings are hurt. Denying that you’re angry, sad, embarrassed, or disappointed — even when you’re emotionally wounded — keeps a relationship superficial.
How to Break Free From People-Pleasing
While it's important to impress your boss and show that you can be agreeable, being subservient could backfire. You'll never reach your greatest potential if you're trying to be all things to all people.
Start getting out of the people-pleasing habit by saying no to something small. Express your opinion about something simple. Or take a stand for something you believe in. Each step you take will help you gain more confidence in your ability to be yourself.
If you’re really struggling to let go of these habits, seek help. A therapist can help you build the mental strength you need to create the kind of life you want to live.
Want to know how to give up the bad habits that rob you of mental strength? Pick up a copy of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do.
Exline, Julie & Zell, Anne & Bratslavsky, Ellen & Hamilton, Michelle & Swenson, Anne. (2012). People-Pleasing Through Eating: Sociotropy Predicts Greater Eating in Response to Perceived Social Pressure. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. 31. 169-193. 10.1521/jscp.2012.31.2.169.