Considering other people’s feelings and treating them with kindness is something we should all strive to do. But sacrificing our wellbeing to make others happy is not. When you compromise who you are and what you need, people-pleasing has crossed the line from kind and generous to self-abandonment — not being your authentic self because you’re afraid others will disapprove, criticize, or reject you.
15 signs you’re a people-pleaser
How many signs of people-pleasing do you recognize in yourself?
- You want everyone to like you.
- You over-apologize.
- You crave validation.
- You let people take advantage of you.
- You feel guilty or mean when you set boundaries.
- You’re afraid of conflict.
- You’ve always been a “good girl” (or guy); a rule-follower.
- You think self-care is optional.
- You feel tense, anxious, or on-edge.
- You expect yourself to be perfect and hold yourself to high standards.
- You put yourself last and don’t know how to ask for what you need.
- You’re sensitive to criticism.
- You think your feelings, needs, opinions, and ideas aren’t as important as other people’s
- You're a "fixer"; you hate to see anyone hurt, afraid, sad, or uncomfortable.
You resent always being asked to do more and wish people would consider your feelings and needs.
Tips to help you overcome people-pleasing
To overcome people-pleasing, you must rebalance your thinking and consider what you need and what others need. These tips can help you get started.
1. Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish.
Self-care is a necessity, not a luxury. It’s not something you do if you have time or if you deserve it. Taking care of your emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical needs keeps you healthy — without it, you’ll get sick, overtired, stressed, and irritable.
- Put self-care activities (exercise, socializing, hobbies, rest, etc.) on your calendar to ensure that self-care is a priority.
- Check-in with yourself at least once each day and ask yourself, “How am I feeling? What do I need?” Doing this can will help you remember that everyone has needs and self-care is a healthy way for you to meet your needs.
2. Not everyone’s opinion matters.
One of the big mistakes people-pleasers make is acting as if everyone’s opinion matters equally; we try to make everyone happy all the time without differentiating whose opinion matters most and whose opinion we can dismiss.
Generally, the closer the relationship you have with someone, the more you’ll value their opinion and want to please them. All healthy relationships involve compromise and it’s natural to want to do things to make your loved ones happy.
However, you don’t have to treat everyone equally; you don’t need to consistently go out of your way to please acquaintances in the same way that you might with your spouse. Another important distinction between people-pleasing and healthy relationships is that compromise and acts of service are mutual (you should not be the only one giving and making concessions), and you shouldn’t have to violate your values and principles to make others happy.
- When making a compromise or doing something to please another, ask yourself these questions: Why am I compromising? Is it out of love? Habit? Fear of conflict, disappointing people, or being disliked? How much does my relationship with this person mean to me? Are we both making compromises or am I the only one? These questions should help you clarify whether you’re working too hard to please people.
3. Healthy conflict can improve relationships.
Many of us have experienced painful, out-of-control conflicts with loved ones. We worry that disagreeing or arguing will destroy our relationships, that others will get so angry with us that they’ll leave us. It’s understandable and common to want to avoid conflict. But it’s not helpful or possible.
When we avoid conflict, we suppress our feelings, wants, and needs. And this causes us to disconnect from ourselves and from others (we can’t be emotionally intimate when we don’t express our feelings). So, the more we try to avoid conflict, the more we lose touch with ourselves (our interests, hobbies, friends, goals, and so on), which is why people-pleasers and codependents often feel like they don’t know what they want or like. And when we suppress our feelings, we often grow resentful, snappish, and our bodies show physical signs of stress (aches and pains, insomnia, etc.).
But healthy conflict, one in which both parties can respectfully express their thoughts and feelings, can result in greater understanding and resolving differences that will ultimately strengthen the relationship. This is quite different than the unhealthy conflicts that many of us have experienced. Conflict doesn’t have to involve name-calling, yelling, or threats. Our goal is to respectfully express ourselves and be open to what others have to say.
- “I-statements” (which you can learn about here) are an effective form of assertive communication. Try practicing them with a supportive friend or family member.
4. Your feelings, opinions, and ideas matter.
When you don’t have a strong sense of who you are and what matters to you, it’s easy to discount your feelings, opinions, and ideas, and let other people take priority. When you do this, you’re essentially saying, “Other people are more important than me.” This belief is often based on negative and inaccurate messages that we got as children and then internalized and repeated time and again to ourselves. Since these beliefs are strong, it takes consistent work to replace them with more accurate beliefs about ourselves.
- Try repeating a mantra regularly, such as “My feelings and opinions matter,” to reinforce positive beliefs about yourself.
- When you notice a self-critical thought, be curious about it, don’t just accept it as fact. You might start asking yourself questions such as, “Where did this belief come from? How do I know it’s true?”
- Treat yourself as a valuable person. If you’re not sure how to do that, think about how you treat people you care about, and then do the same for yourself.
I hope this post has helped you identify symptoms of people-pleasing, recognize how it can undermine your wellbeing, and start to change.
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