By: Carolyn Hoffert
An Ultimate Guide from a Recovering People Pleaser on How to Change Your Life for the Better.
You just wanted some nachos.
A quick trip to the food court and then off to finish your errands. But an overeager salesman caught your eye, saw your weakness, and pounced.
Now you’re struggling to hold on to your cold, hard cash even though no part of you wants anything he is selling.
You tell yourself you just need to be assertive, say “No!” and walk away.
It should be easy, right?
But instead, you feel the crushing pressure, sweaty anxiety, and completely unreasonable guilt at the thought of disappointing Joe salesman.
And why, for the love of all things sane?
Because you’re a people pleaser and the thought of disappointing some stranger you’ll never see again is paralyzing.
What is a Pleaser Personality, Anyway?
People with a pleaser personality often have low self-esteem but hide it well (think comedian Robin Williams or his role as Genie in Aladdin) and find their worth in the praise of others.
They sacrifice their own happiness for the safety they think pleasing others will bring.
They’re often anxious, depressed, and surrounded by controlling personalities whose need for compliance makes them feel valued.
And while women are more likely to exhibit a pleaser personality than men, people pleasers can be anyone.
While this definition of a people pleaser might be rough for you to hear, don’t turtle up yet! Knowing you have a pleaser personality is the only way you can start to fix it.
Below is a short people pleaser quiz to see if you try to please people a little too much.
10 Signs You’re a Textbook People Pleaser (With Examples)
If you can relate to more than one of the points below, you’re a textbook people-pleaser.
You Need to Stop Apologizing
“I’m just being a peacemaker!”
“I don’t want to make waves.”
“Isn’t admitting you’re wrong a good thing?”
Sure, none of these excuses are inherently wrong on their face; peacemakers in this world are valued far less than they should be, and admitting your wrong is indeed a commendable trait.
But when you’re a people pleaser, you say sorry even when it’s someone else’s fault.
Jenny texted Carol saying she would meet her outside the library at 2 o’clock. Carol shows up and waits for an hour before Jenny exits the library.
“Where were you?” Jenny puffs, “I’ve been waiting inside for you forever!?”
Carol puckers her lips, assessing the frustration level of her friend. The text clearly said outside at 2. Jenny went inside. Not Carol’s fault. BUT she doesn’t want Jenny any madder.
So she says, “Sorry, Jen! I must have read the text wrong.”
In this situation, Carol devalues herself by apologizing for Jenny’s mistake.
Sound familiar? Mark it as a yes and keep reading.
You’re a Sheeple
“Uh. Rude. I’m not just some mindless follower.”
Is that what you’re thinking?
You wouldn’t say that to my face though, right?
Alas, my people-pleasing sheeple, if the answer to the second question is a sad shake of the head, this one’s a yes.
One of the defining and most frustrating traits of a people pleaser is that you agree with everyone even when you don’t, so no one knows what you really think. Ever.
You Say “Yes” When You Want to Scream “No!”
People pleasers are notorious yes-men. And you know what happens to yes-men, don’t you?
They either overflow with pent-up rage and retribution (like in Dead Man Down) or end up dead themselves (like Peter Pettigrew in Harry Potter).
If you’re a people-pleaser, you say yes so much, you’re schedule is full of things you don’t want to do. And that burns you out.
So much so, that eventually, you’ll be binge-watching Netflix in dirty underwear because why the fluff not?
But you’ll still say yes when other people ask for something, copping out later with a cowardly “I’m sick today” text for the hundredth time.
Still not sure if this is you? Think of the last thing you did for someone that you didn’t want to do. Was it recent? What about the one before that and the one before that? Are they frequent?
Now, pick out the task that was the absolute worst. Remember the agony and anger you had fulfilling that task. If that person came and asked you to do it again, would you?
If you’ve just given a hopeless and sullen nod of the head, take a moment to mourn the loss of time you’ll never get back, mark this trait as a yes, and keep reading.
You’re Terrified of Offending People
A people pleaser’s true driving force is ensuring no one leaves them. This fear creates an intense need for everyone to like you.
Let’s go back to Carol and Jenny for a moment. Jenny just reamed Carol for something that wasn’t her fault and Carol offered her ice cream in return.
The correct response to this is, “WTF, mate?”
But Carol isn’t thinking about logic or justice. She’s thinking about how afraid she is that Jenny might walk away if she stays mad, leaving her utterly alone.
Is her fear of people leaving her healthy? No. Productive? No. Reasonable? Still a no. But it’s painfully real.
Or take the nachos travesty; the thought of offending someone, even a manipulative salesman, is unfathomable. Why?
Because people pleasers are so afraid of being alone, they’d rather offend themselves than someone else. But who cares about personal happiness, am I right?
Take a deep breath. Let the frustration go. And if you can relate, mark this as a yes.
You Wilt in the Face of Anger
If you’re a people pleaser, anger is like the pits of hell. Your mom’s anger. Your neighbor’s. Your own, even, and the dog’s down the street.
You. Just. Can’t. Deal. With. It.
So you go to extraordinary lengths to avoid confrontation. You tell idiots they’re “brilliant!,” smile when someone insults your face to your face, and lend your friend another $20 you won’t get back.
And you ignore how you feel. You push feelings deep down until they become a festering pool of resentment you pretend won’t break out in hulkish, city-destroying form someday.
Do you feel that hulk stirring within? Are you a martyr before the flames of other people’s potential rage? Yes and yes? Just scribble a half-hearted check mark and keep going. We’re not done yet.
You Take Responsibility for Other People’s Feelings (Like a Chump)
In other words, you feel like you’re constantly drowning.
Or you actually are drowning, if you’re like most mobster movie people pleasers. You can’t make everyone happy, no matter how hard you try, and this torments you.
And you do try. So, so, so hard. But your schedule is already full with other people’s priorities. So you tread water just trying to keep up, and meanwhile, you’re neglecting the only person you should be worried about.
Instead, you fill your time, emotional reserve, and mental capacity with other people’s problems.
Remember Jenny and Carol?
After Carol’s (unjustified) apology, here’s how things progressed.
Jenny frowns. “Saying sorry doesn’t make it better, Carol. I just wasted a whole hour!”
Carol sighs and plasters on a smile. “I’m really sorry. Forgive me?”
“I don’t know if I can.” Jenny crosses her arms. “I’m so frustrated right now. I just don’t think I can be friends with someone as unreliable as you.”
Carol squirms as an uncomfortable pinch settles in her chest. She made Jenny mad. She should have thought to check inside when she arrived. This was her fault. She should make it right.
“Don’t be upset Jenny. Let’s go get some ice cream, my treat!”
The two problems here are:
- Carol convinces herself that Jenny’s unhappiness is her fault (even though it isn’t).
- She takes it upon herself to “fix” Jenny’s anger with an apology and ice cream even though Jenny’s feelings are her own responsibility to deal with as, you know, someone older than a 6-year-old.
If you constantly try to manipulate people into feeling better and convince yourself you’re the root of their problems, you’re a people pleaser.Mental Persuasion
Mark a yes for this trait and soldier on.
Your Love Language is Praise
You’re amazing, you know that, right? Wonderful, brilliant, and a real looker.
Okay, so I don’t really know you, but since you’re here trying to change, I know you’ve got some real grit. And it’s okay to feel good when people praise you.
What’s not healthy, however, is altering behavior in a constant search for praise. People pleasers fish for compliments, go to painful lengths to serve people in hopes of recognition, and bask in the praise of others.
Conversely, when your efforts to please go unnoticed, that resentful hulk monster pops out another muscle. Not that you’d say anything about it, of course. Which pops out another.
If this sounds about right, check yes, remember that you are amazing and keep going.
You’d Rather Die Than Ask for Help
You never ask for help. Like ever. You don’t want to burden people. And that means never bothering them with your own problems.
Let’s take our Jenny and Carol conundrum and add another layer. Before Jenny arrived with her drama, Carol learned her dog died.
What she needed was a comforting hug and someone to talk to. She hoped Jenny would sense her sadness and ask what was wrong. Instead, Jenny threw a fit.
Carol could have told Jenny about her dog anyway. Even a drama queen isn’t monstrous enough to yell at her after that, right? But Carol pushed down her own feelings so she wouldn’t bother her already upset friend.
Even if they’re dying inside, people pleasers put themselves last and ask for nothing.
If you muscle through everything alone and dread asking for help, check this one off, too.
You Look Like Freaking Bozo the Clown
The keyword here is look. People pleasers are masters of the forced smile. They’re the ones, like Carol, who cheerily offer others ice cream even though their dog just died.
For a personal example: I had a college friend who told me I looked “hammy” in all the pictures we took together. I laughed, keeping that fake smile up even though I was deeply hurt.
I had had a tough year, but thought I was hiding it well. (Remember the not wanting to burden others section?) Apparently, I wasn’t as masterful at the forced smile as I thought and other people could tell.
If you’re cringing with relatability, that’s another yes.
You’re Lost. So, So Lost
People-pleasers are so focused on keeping other people happy, they forget who they are.Mental Persuasion
When people are deciding where to eat, do you have any opinion at all? If you were forced to choose, could you even come up with an answer?
Or if your boss turns to you and says, “You make the decision,” could you? Or would your mind go terrifyingly blank?
If you can’t think of an answer in either situation, you’re not only a people pleaser but you’ve been pleasing others far too long.
If You’re a People Pleaser, You’re Not a Generous Person
Ouch. But hear me out.
Because when it comes down to it, you can tell if you’re a people pleaser by checking your motivation.
Do you help people because you genuinely want to see them happy or because you want them to like you?
Do you agree with everything your friend says because she’s right or because you think she wants you to agree with her?
While they appear similar, people-pleasing is not generosity. You’re not coming from a place of selfless giving but from a desire to protect yourself from loneliness.
Take hope, my people-pleasing friend. You can stick up for yourself and still have family and friends who love you. Keep reading to find out how.
“Why Am I a People Pleaser?”
Now that you know you’re a people pleaser, I’m sure you’re asking the ultimate question: “Why do I people please?” The truth is, the answer to this question can vary dramatically. But the first step to overcoming the pleaser personality is understanding your origin story.
Science Says: It All Goes Back to Roots (Thanks Mom and Dad)
Children are malleable, clever little creatures, built to survive. While this resilience carries most of us through to adulthood, the toll of our childhoods can leave lasting damage.
People pleasers are often children of absentee or overly-critical parents.
- Absentee parenting creates a desperate need in children for companionship because they are usually alone.
- According to Dr. Paul Schoenfeld, “Children, who grow up in dysfunctional families . . . start acting like responsible adults by age 8, taking care of their parents and siblings, because no one else is functioning as a parent.”
- Hyper-critical parenting styles create a desperate need for approval in children and a dominating motivation to please the unpleasable.
In other words, a lack of love as a child can create a care-focused individual bent on pleasing no matter the cost.
Whatever your people-pleasing origin story may be, you can change!
So why stop people pleasing?
The 8 Unseen (But Painfully Real) Dangers of Being a People Pleaser
More Doctor Visits
If you never take time for yourself, your physical and emotional well-being are going to suffer. People-pleasers are more likely to have poor health, be overweight, sleep poorly, and have diseases related to stress like high blood pressure and IBS.
If you’re feeling run down, exhausted, and prone to emotional eating, ending your people-pleaser tendencies may be the first step to a happier, healthier life.
Low Self-Esteem and that Pesky Inner Voice
With many pleasers packing a loveless childhood, it’s no wonder they tend to suffer from low self-esteem.
What you may not know is that people pleasing perpetuates feelings of self-hate. When you constantly choose others over yourself, you’re validating that jerkish inner-voice, telling you you’re not worth it.
This leads to depression, the baby of poor physical health and low self-esteem. When you feel awful both inside and out, your life starts to grey out. Hopelessness takes over and you begin to hate who you are.
Even worse? You’re still people pleasing! What energy you muster is to help someone else. This saps your strength and wastes it on people who either don’t know how to help you or just won’t.
Banishing these thoughts and putting yourself first can end the negative people-pleasing cycle you’re stuck in.
Passive-Aggressiveness and the Crap Umbrella
Have you ever heard of a crap umbrella?
It’s the ever-so-loving term used by middle managers to describe fellow middle managers. They take crap from indecisive and demanding bosses above so it doesn’t hit lower employees and crap from whiny employees below to shield their bosses.
Being a people pleaser makes you everyone’s crap umbrella all the time. But taking on other people’s emotional burdens leads to resentment and passive-aggressive behavior.Mental Persuasion
Your smile starts to tighten at the corners. Your words say “yes,” but your tone says “bite me.” And while you think you’re pleasing people, they start to feel wary and uncomfortable around you. All the while, your resentful mini-hulk is growing. Not good.
Sucky Job Performance
The devaluing of yourself and others can be very harmful to your success at work. You see, when you go around keeping your opinions to yourself, three things happen:
- You screw people over. If Jimmy comes to you with a garbage idea and you tell him to go for it, what happens? He pours his time and money into the equivalent of a career toilet. Sure, you spared his immediate feelings, but your false encouragement did him no favors in the long run.
- No one believes you. You become the token ‘Atta Boy’ cheerleader that people can rely on for a smile and hug but not valuable advice.
- You stop caring about what you truly think because you’re never going to say it anyway.
In the end, you’ve created a toxic work environment. When you’re around people, motivation and excitement putter to a halt and you feel obligated to fix everything, which keeps the cycle of demotivation rolling perpetually onward.
A “Kick-Me” Sign on Your Back
Master manipulators love people pleasers. Why wouldn’t they? A little push on a negative trigger (anger, disappointment, unhappiness) or twist on a positive one (praise, or a promise of happiness) gets you to bend over backward.
It hurts to admit it, but most people pleasers stick out like a palm tree in Alaska. There’s a reason you never did get your nachos once that salesman smelled your weakness.
The People Pleasers/Codependents Paradox and Toxic Relationships
What is the opposite of a people pleaser? Controllers. These people crave the approval of others, just like pleaser personalities. The difference is controllers feel validated when people do what they want.
Despite being vastly different, controllers are drawn to pleasers because of their compliance, and pleasers are drawn to controllers because of their decisiveness. This is codependency. Each person looks for their self-worth in the other, creating an unhealthy need to keep the other around even when utterly unhappy.
Enter the toxic relationship. This grotesque conglomeration occurs when someone close to you is a manipulative controller. It could be a parent, sibling, best friend, or romantic partner.
A sure sign you’re in a toxic relationship is if the other person has complete disregard for how you feel, whether you speak up or not.
Let’s jump back to Jenny and Carol: Jenny threw a fit because she knew she could get away with it around Carol. Jenny uses this knowledge to make herself feel better at Carol’s expense, completely ignoring how devastated Carol looks because her dog died.
The best (not easiest) advice if you’re in a toxic relationship is to start speaking up and calling out the other person’s behavior. If they truly care, they’ll work to change. If your relationship has progressed from toxic to abusive (a fine line indeed), it’s time to put yourself first and RUN!
A Miserable Sex Life
It’s heartbreaking to admit, but many people pleasers are uncomfortable with intimacy and their sex lives, and it’s easy to see why.
What do we know about people pleasers? They put others first, never ask for anything, and always pretend they’re happy with other people’s work. In the bedroom, that makes for a dismal experience.
If you can’t assert what you do and DON’T want, your partner doesn’t know what you need to be happy. What’s worse, you’ll find yourself backed against a wall (perhaps literally) with no desire to go forward and no voice to stop it.
One important note: No matter if you find your voice or not, you are not responsible for things people do to you without your exuberant consent. Only manipulative controllers can ignore your rigid body, downcast eyes, and apparent unhappiness and continue.
Loss of Identity and Value
Focusing solely on other people brainwashes you into forgetting who you are and what you need to be happy.
And if your worth is completely dependent on other people’s perceptions, you will always feel devalued because no one can affirm who you are more than yourself.
Are People Pleasers All Bad?
I know this post has been kind of a bummer, so let’s take a moment to acknowledge the strengths of people pleasers.
You Rock at Keeping the Peace
Because people pleasers hate confrontation, they make dynamite peacemakers. Have you ever noticed that everyone’s a little more chill around you? That you can dissipate any argument with your suave reasoning skills? Making peace is the bright side of a pleaser personality, whether people acknowledge it or not.
You’ve Developed Emotional Spidey-Senses
Because people pleasers are trying to gauge where everyone sits emotionally, they often develop fine-tuned hyper-senses about how other people feel. This makes you an amazing empathizer, sympathizer, and friend.
You Can Chillax
Ain’t nobody done said a people pleaser is pushy. And I can get away with that terrible sentence because I know my fellow people pleasers will roll with it. An easygoing personality allows you to enjoy life and not let the small things get you down. So jump into some easygoing yoga knowing you can ignore all the haters.
You’re Able to Read Between the Lines
Since people pleasers don’t ask for anything and want to know how others feel, they’re excellent listeners. And I’m not just saying you’re good at listening to people bi—er, complain, I’m saying you hear and see things people don’t even know they’re saying.
You sense the hidden grudge in Carol’s folded arms when she says Jenny’s her best friend or Jenny’s disdain for Carol when she calls her nice. This is a superpower, my friend. A powerful, powerful superpower.
Why Setting Firm Boundaries Brings Happiness to People Pleasers
Establishing clear boundaries is the best way to protect yourself from the dangers of people pleasing.
Setting firm boundaries can shrink your hulkish resentment, prevent burn out, and boost your self-esteem. Boundaries can also:
- Provide Useful Information
- Communicating your needs lets everyone know what you want so they don’t have to guess.
- Strengthen Healthy Relationships
- Speaking up about what you need in a relationship (both in and out of the bedroom) lets those who love you show it. It also invites greater equality and mutual understanding.
- Help Rediscover Yourself
- Remember that person you were before people pleasing totally crushed your aspirations? Taking time to communicate your boundaries will help bring out that inner you.
How to Become a Recovering People Pleaser and Love Yourself Again
Ready to begin a journey toward self-love and assertiveness? Check out the steps below to get your life back on track and find inner peace.
Step 1: Realize You’re Not a People Pleaser
Wait, what? Didn’t we spend the entire post talking about how you are a people pleaser?
Yes. Yes, we did. But the truth is people pleasing is something you do, not who you are. It’s a choice. Which means you have a choice. So next time you think “I’m such a people pleaser,” stop right there, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that people pleasing doesn’t have to define you.
You are so much more than a yes-man or pushover. You’re an easygoing peacemaker who listens the crap out of people.
Step 2: Stall, Stall, Stall
If someone asks you to do them a favor, you don’t have to answer right away! Saying, “let me think about it,” is much easier than “no” and gives you time to think about the answer or get the heck out of there before you cave.
Step 3: Anticipate the Worst
Often used as a coping mechanism for panic attacks, honestly asking yourself what is the worst and best that could happen can be sobering. Our imaginations can get carried away, but when we sit down and list the actual repercussions, they’re not usually as bad as they seem.
If Carol had just spoken up and told Jenny her dog died, the worst that could happen would be Jenny ignoring her and being a drama queen anyway The best would be Jenny offering Carol the comfort she needed. Most of the time, the best far outweighs the risk of the worst.
Step 4: Draw a Line in the Sand
The next step is deciding what you need to be happy. For example, if you need time to rest each week, you may decide to take Sundays off from being around others. Or if someone is draining you with their negativity, you can set a limit: 15 minutes listening to them and then you’re done. No guilt attached.
Whatever your limits are, make sure you think of specific ways you want to address them.
Step 5: Assert Yo’self
Once you know exactly what your limits are, you need to tell others. No one can help you if you fail to communicate how.
It sounds simple, but this step can be extremely difficult. Go back to your worst-case scenario. Is someone mad at you? If so, remember that you are not in charge of how they feel!
Still, learning to put your needs first can be uncomfortable. So to help with this step, a good time to assert your boundaries is before a difficult situation arises, when everyone is calm, and no one’s asking you to do anything (which can be a trigger).
Example: If a loved one often calls you last minute and asks you to drop everything for them, you need to communicate your boundaries before the next time they call.
In fact, you can do it right now. Text, email, call, whatever. Let them know that, while you love them, you can no longer drop everything for them without warning and that you will need at least X amount of advance warning to see if you can help.
Step 6: Check the Price Tag
This step is different than “What’s the worst that could happen,” because you’re not thinking about the situation itself. You’re thinking about what you will lose out on by agreeing.
For example, if you agree to watch your neighbors annoyingly yappy dogs for another weekend in a row, what will you miss out on? Family activities? Recuperation time? Your %*#@ mind?
If you did the steps in order, you’ve already set and communicated your boundaries in advance. Your neighbor knows you told them you’d only watch their dogs once every two months and they already filled that quota.
Saying yes instead of no risks your health and happiness. Also, like Adam Galinksi suggests in his TED Talk, you need to stand up for yourself or else your boundaries worthless.
Step 7: Say Your First “No!” (Or Don’t)
With your mindset improved and boundaries in place, you’re ready to answer. This can be hard, but you can do it! Remind yourself what’s at risk if you accept something you don’t want to do, and fight for yourself! Be emphatic if you must. This can give you the oomph you need to say no and will often surprise your opposition into silence.
The second part of this step is to drop the ‘because’. Giving people reasons for not doing something will only encourage manipulation.
You say to your neighbor, “Sorry, I can’t watch your dragons—I mean dogs this weekend because I have a family outing.”
This opens the door for your neighbor to bargain. “Well, Fifi and Frumpkins won’t be much trouble. You can just bring them along. They love people!”
Where does that leave you? Having to say no, again! But if you start with, “I’m so sorry, but we talked about how I need advance notice. I can’t watch them. Good luck!” they have nothing to argue with.
Conversely, if you’ve thought everything out and whatever is being asked is a) something you want to do and b) something that is healthy, then say yes! And know that you did it for you.
Step 8: Dump the Pint of Ice Cream
Not that I have anything against ice cream. What I mean here is to let go of any guilt you’re feeling about your answer so you don’t end up stress-eating and binge-watching your progress away. You did nothing wrong. In fact, you did everything right!
You took care of yourself, which is the most important thing. Whenever you feel your thoughts slipping down the ice cream-paved guilt train, think about what you gained and accomplished. Then give yourself a healthy reward by doing something you want to do, not something you feel you have to do.
And maybe that does mean rewarding yourself with ice cream. Just eat it for the right reasons.
Step 9: Chant to Yourself
I’m not talking creepy, brain-washed, The Mummy-style chanting. I’m talking about making and repeating an assertiveness mantra to remind yourself why you’re trying to change.
Try to be specific like, “I’m asserting myself so I have time for my kids,” or “to get that promotion at work,” or whatever is driving you to make this change.
Make your mantra. Use your mantra. Become one with your mantra.
Step 10: Give Up and Give In
Once you’ve started on this path, don’t stop! Give up your people-pleasing tendencies and give in to yourself. You’ll find the more you assert your boundaries, the less you actually need other people to be happy.
A Pep Talk for People Pleasers
Ready to stop being an exhaustedly miserable people pleaser and get some dang nachos? Follow these steps through to the end with every person you know so you have a clear foundation for asserting yourself going forward. In no time, you’ll be happier, healthier, and stress-free.
To begin, you can pick just one person. Start with someone easygoing or who doesn’t ask too much of you and work yourself up to the big potatoes. You know the potatoes I’m talking about. Every people pleaser has one; the person in your life who constantly sucks more from you than they give. They’re the reason you’re here.
And the thing is, you’re totally worth standing up to them.
Because you’re amazing for your own opinions, not because you agree with other people’s (even when you don’t). You have value because of who you are, not because of who you think people want you to be. And you don’t need manipulators or aggressive controllers around. So if they don’t like the assertive you, they can suck it.
That’s it! You’re ready. Go kick some boundary-setting butt and then tell me about it in the comments below or through our contact us page so I can cheer you on! Or don’t, you know, because it’s your choice. 🙂