Are You a People Pleaser? How to Stop Caring About What People Think

Five ways to be less concerned about people who don't really care about you.

Posted Jan 30, 2021 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma

An emotionally safe person is usually conscientious. Attuned to others, he or she offers empathy and support to those who struggle. This affords the person the capacity to comfort, help, and empower those whom he or she is close. Also capable of entertaining another’s perspective, this person quickly resolves interpersonal conflict with others who share this ability. 

Yet, when conscientiousness kicks into overdrive, a person is often consumed with anxiety about doing, saying, and reacting the “right” way. He or she worries about disappointing others and perseverates about relational missteps, miscommunications, or blunders, berating himself or herself for silly and accidental mistakes.

A certain type of personality often exploits an emotionally available individual’s tendency to self-reflect, compounding the problem. Although self-awareness helps a person monitor words and actions in a relationship, increasing empathy for others, it may also create a vulnerability with an individual who struggles with sensitivity and conscientiousness.

People who lack empathy and exploit a conscientious individual may be difficult to detect because they act like they have the person’s best interest at heart. Yet, this may not be the case. Possibly jealous of a person who possesses deeper emotional capacities, he or she may seize any opportunity to tear down an empathic individual. Being in a relationship with this sort of person may cause deeply sensitive people intense anxiety. They intuitively sense they must be perfect to escape judgment and rejection.

For these reasons, it is important for a people pleaser to consider four strategies. First, tighten the circle. Tightening the circle equates to determining exactly who is trustworthy and emotionally safe. The list may be short but maintaining closeness with the people who hold a person’s best interest at heart is critical. Instead of attempting to expand a social circle, reign it in. Invest the most time with the individuals who sincerely care. Weed out the people who gossip, back stab, and take advantage. These folks may never change.

Second, avoid opening up about private matters unless a person has proven himself or herself trustworthy. Many people pleasers see the good in others and assume everyone possess altruistic intentions. This may not be realistic. Many insecure individuals want to collect “dirt” on others. Although people pleasers are typically authentic and “wear their hearts on their sleeves,” this may backfire with a person of unknown character. A narcissistic acquaintance may distort details and sully the information in an attempt to destroy a person’s reputation. It may also be especially important to refrain from airing private issues on social media. Discussing personal struggles with a loyal confidant may be the safest decision.

Third, resist going all in with a new friend. Often people pleasers are excited and flattered when someone likes them. They get carried away and do favors for the new friend to prove their loyalty. The new friend, however, may be exploiting their good nature and desire to please. It’s lovely to connect with someone but solidifying the relationship slowly and thoughtfully may prevent a person from being manipulated.

Fourth, everybody says and does silly things occasionally. It may seem as if everyone else is perfect, flawless, and unrattled, but this is not true. Slips of the tongue or momentary lapses of logic are human. Human beings are gloriously flawed and, hopefully, empathetic and understanding of other people’s imperfections. If a mistake was not malicious or possessed an intention to hurt another, revel in it. Faults are universal and even the most intelligent people on the planet say “dumb” things.   

Fifth, understand the underpinnings of a need to please. The tendency may result from an attachment relationship with a caregiver. For example, a parent who continually prioritizes his or her own feelings as more important than a child’s. He or she demands the child feel the same about issues. If the child expresses a different feeling or opinion, the parent shames the child. The child learns to stifle his or her own emotions and prioritize the parent’s to avoid being shamed and humiliated. He or she may internalize this pattern of relating and grow into an adult who neglects his or her own feelings and focuses on ensuring everyone else is happy.

Moreover, an egocentric parent also uses emotional manipulation to control a child. The parent may withhold affirmation and validation if the child is not doing what he or she wants. For example, Valerie works hard to make her softball team, but her mother makes it clear she believes Valerie should play soccer like her. When Valerie bounds into the kitchen to share the news, her mom shrugs and walks away disinterested. Valerie is crushed and hurt. She decides to quit the softball team and go out for soccer, despite disliking the sport, to gain her mom’s affirmation. Valerie may become an adult who believes she needs to sacrifice aspects of herself to chase people’s acceptance and approval.

Empathy, conscientiousness, and self-awareness, promote closeness, love, healing, and empowerment. They are essential qualities in maintaining strong and healthy relationships. They can, however, cause trouble if a person is unaware of the downside. Protect the gift and be careful. A person’s golden heart has power but also creates vulnerability. An awareness of this may help.