Menu
Announcement: Wish you could change the past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!

You Don’t Have to Adjust Who You Are to Please Others

Six Faces

“If you are busy pleasing everyone, you are not being true to yourself.” ~Jocelyn Murray

Do you say yes to things only to keep people happy?

Do you fear saying and doing what you actually want?

I know how that feels.

From a young age, I was the polite, good girl. I rarely rebelled. I wanted to keep everyone happy. I thought that if I was honest I’d be rejected. That those closest to me wouldn’t love me. I thought I’d end up alone.

At friends’ houses, asked what I’d like to drink or eat, I would always respond with “Whatever’s easiest.” I never wanted to be a burden.

At twenty-one I met my boyfriend’s parents. Dinner was fresh sardines complete with tiny bones. I was vegetarian and hated fish, yet I said nothing and ate away.

I fought the urge to be sick. I followed each revolting bite with a gulp of water. I should have spoken up, but I feared disapproval.

After college, the desire to keep everyone happy led me into jobs I thought people would approve of. By my mid-twenties I had a job in management. I was successful. But inside I was miserable.

Living my life according to the word “should” was gruelling. When I finally stopped, I felt empty and unsure of who I was.

One day it became too much. I didn’t want to get out of bed. Everything was an effort and I spent hours sobbing.

I looked in the mirror. I was disgusted by my reflection. I’d roll my hand into a fist and hit myself around the head. I thought I deserved to suffer.

I knew I needed help, so I reached out to a doctor. He put me on antidepressants and I started to talk to a counselor.

After I started to understand my motivations and explored my values, I started to believe I was enough. I didn’t need to hide who I was to gain people’s approval. I started to feel less depressed.

I still have my days when I worry what others think, but I don’t feel the urge to adjust who I am, or to follow paths that aren’t right for me.

This process didn’t happen instantly, but looking back I see the steps I followed.

1. Start with the root.

It’s tempting to ignore people pleasing. You feel in control. You feel comfortable .

But until you start to examine the root of your behavior, it’s likely that you’ll continue to constantly want to please others. This comes at a cost to your own happiness.

Instead, take some time to explore the motivations behind your people pleasing.

How does it benefit you? What belief does it show that you hold about yourself?

I believed that by not speaking up, people would love and accept me. This all stemmed from the root belief that to be accepted and loved I needed to be someone else.

As a small child, there was a lot going on in my parents’ lives. They were loving and caring but they were young, new parents with a lot of financial pressure on their shoulders. Life was busy.

I didn’t want to be another thing that they needed to worry about. If I was polite and kept everyone happy I thought this would create less stress for them.

So that’s what I did. Over the years, it became an ingrained habit that showed up in all areas of my life. I associated being loved with people pleasing and the truth as rejection.

2. Ask yourself these two questions.

Letting go of the belief that lies at the root of your people pleasing can seem impossible. It’s scary to step away from something you have held onto for so long.

One way to make it easier is so examine your belief further.

I find these two simple questions help:

Can you absolutely know that it’s true?

In Katie Byron’s The Work, she suggests we use this question to investigate our beliefs. When I first read this question, I struggled with it.

My people pleasing was so ingrained that the belief that I needed to be someone else to be loved felt so real. Of course it was true.

What helped me was to consider the word “absolutely.” It implied there was no room for doubt. So I searched my brain for examples that would 100 percent prove this belief.

There weren’t any concrete examples. I realized I had created the belief myself. There was no way I could know that it was absolutely true.

Is it helpful?

We often pursue harmful behaviors and beliefs because we believe they offer us something. In reality, they drain us of time and energy.

So ask yourself is my root belief helpful? Does it help me move further toward my life goals?

When I asked myself these two questions, I realized that my belief was neither absolutely true nor helpful. This made it easier to let go and to move onto something new.

3. Get to know yourself.

When your life has been full of people pleasing, it’s hard to know what to replace it with. It can be tempting to let the habit creep back in. To fill the space it left.

I felt this way. At first, it was painful to confront the fear that perhaps I didn’t know who I was. It felt like I was moving closer to a trap door about to take a peek inside. What if there was only darkness?

I fought the urge to run the other way. Instead, I slowly started to take note of my reactions to things. I let my intuition guide me.

As I did I started to rediscover things about myself, things I had known but had remained hidden beneath the trap door.

I remembered my love of helping and supporting people. My curiosity for different cultures. The draw toward acting and improvisation.

I realized I would never be happy in my job, stuck behind my desk working with data rather than people.

4. Sow new seeds.

Giving up people pleasing is challenging. It can seem overwhelming. Instead of thinking of it as planting acres of maize, think of it as sowing a seed. One small seed. That’s all.

What’s one tiny thing you could do to take yourself away from people pleasing and closer to authenticity?

Could you express your true opinion about something?

Could you be honest that you don’t want to go to that social event?

As you start to sew a new seed and nourish it with action, new shoots and roots will appear. Yes, you may feel guilty for being honest at first, but it will get easier.

As you practice, the old root and belief will naturally start to wither. You’ll feel more assured and confident.

Constantly trying to please others is exhausting, particularly when it leads you to live a life based on what you think you should do rather than what you want to do. But taking small steps to understand this part of you can have dramatic effects on your life.

Imagine not having to constantly adjust who you are to please others.

Imagine feeling more confident in expressing who you are.

Start with step one. It doesn’t mean you have to give up doing things for others. It does mean giving up a toxic habit.

Adjust less to others. Listen more to yourself.

Six faces image via Shutterstock

Profile photo of Charlotte Hosier

About Charlotte Hosier

Charlotte Hosier is a passionate Educator and Storyteller. She helps individuals unlock their story and create a life that matters to them. Visit quarterlifecrusader.com to download a copy of her free ebook “6 Steps to Owning Your Story.”

See a typo, an inaccuracy, or something offensive? Please contact us so we can fix it!
Announcement: Tired of feeling stuck? Learn to let go of the past and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Gary

    I am an “old guy” and I am new to this site. This is so refreshing and encouraging! At my age (65), I feel as if I am just now starting to know who I might be….great journey….seems a late start…LOL…again thanks for a wonderful site…. Gary

  • Erica Lombard

    I just have to say “Thank You!” For the any blogs of inspiration! I was recently let go from a job after 10+ years of being absolutely dedicated to this company even though it was at the expense f both my happiness and in turn my health; but in reading many of the recent blogs have helped me realize that no one is as important as my very an happiness! Thank you again and any blessings to all!

  • Bullyinglte

    One of our big problems is that we spend so much time with everyone, but ourselves. What you are saying is so important. Having a strong self-esteem opens up so many doors, but it is a scary idea for many people. Once you realize the only person that can make you happy is you, then your life can be so much easier. Treat yourself well and do the same for others. Then you can truly be your authentic self and realize the life you want to live, instead of living for others lives. Sounds selfish, but it is not. We still have so much to learn. Thanks for sharing.

  • Kathleen Malloy

    This is a great post – I often wonder what people would say or do if they knew the “real” me. I’ve been trying very hard since my divorce (after 33 years) to just be myself, but still beat myself up for not being more “polished” or just basically, playing a phoney. Thanks for sharing and giving others a hand up!

  • Susan

    i ONLY READ GARY’S COMMENT…IT MADE ME LAUGH. I AM ALMOST THE SAME AGE! I FEEL LIKE I HAVE WASTED MOST OF MY LIFE (THUS FAR), BUT NO LONGER, FOR A RELIGION THAT IS PLAIN CREEPY AND CRAZY! IT’S JUST PEOPLE WANTING TO PLEASE OTHER PEOPLE, WHICH IS GOOD, BUT NEEDS BOUDARIES. I LOVE TINY BUDDHA ~ SO MANY UPLIFTING AND SENSIBLE ARTICLES. THANK YOU LITTLE BUDDHA. YOU MAKE MY DAYS HAPPY 🙂

  • @bullyinglte:disqus – Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes – treating yourself well is not selfish. When you are kind to yourself, you have more capacity to be kind to others. What one thing could we do today to show kindness to ourselves and others ?

  • @krzkatie:disqus – Thank you for reading and commenting. Being yourself takes time when you are used to conforming to fit into roles or trying to be someone else. Don’t be too harsh on yourself. Meaningful change takes time. Much Love.

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    Age is just a number & shouldnt detriment any of us from pursuing things we feel passionate about, esp something as ‘self-discovery.’ Reading your comment was encouraging to me…thank you for sharing! 🙂

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    In all fairness to religion(s), the core values in almost all major religions are quite beautiful & meaningful. However, its the dogma — blind faith & fanaticism that seems to divide and harm people…

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    Smile more often! 🙂

  • Abi

    Wow! Thank you for sharing your experience – it’s so on point that I felt like I could have written this article myself! This part especially resonated with me: “As a small child, there was a lot going on in my parents’ lives. They were loving and caring but they were young, new parents with a lot of financial pressure on their shoulders. Life was busy. I didn’t want to be another thing that they needed to worry about. If I was polite and kept everyone happy I thought this would create less stress for them”

    As far as creating less stress for them, it wasn’t the case. And in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have been exposed to so much of the personal drama in their lives. I consequently felt I needed to adjust in order to deserve love & attention. I thought that, if I made their lives as simple as possible until I became an adult, my life would reap the benefits somehow. Instead, I’ve found myself unsure of who I am and the load of requests & guilt trips constantly increasing.

    I feel like I’ve made strides recently, but still find myself feeling guilty and shaming myself for trying to take my life back. I ultimately feel responsible for how other people feel about me & my actions. So much so that I’ve denied myself basic necessities in the past – like skipping meals or depriving myself of sleep to help or appease others.

    Now that I have a little one, I am dedicated to making a change for the better, and I hope I don’t ingrain the same kind of feelings into her.

  • Chris McGregor

    What a great post!

    I really struggle with this myself. There’s this person I tell myself I am, the person that enjoys helping others, and yet, many times I struggle to even take care of myself.

  • darren white

    Thank you for this great article

  • Hi Abi. Thank you so much for reading. You sound to me like a courageous women, aware of what has harmed you in the past and intent on trying to change it. I’ve always found changing habits so tricky, that it doesn’t happen overnight. What one thing could you do ( one small thing) that would have a big impact on how you felt about yourself ? Much Love, Charlotte xxx

  • ‘yet many times I struggle to even take care of myself’ – me too Chris. What helped me was realising that when I take care of myself, I’m better able to help people. I try to remind myself of that when I struggle. It often works but not always. It’s constant work.

  • Thank you Darren and thank you so much for reading.

  • Yes so true. I believe if you are happy in yourself then you are more able to help others and make a difference to the world. Thanks for reading and commenting Erica. Good luck on your journey and I would love to know where the next steps take you. Much Love, Charlotte.

  • Love this 🙂

  • I agree. Thank you so much for commenting. The best place to start is where you are. Much Love, Charlotte

  • Thank you for the article, I still struggle with this. I think “niceness” syndrome is simply a lack of self-love. You value the thoughts and feelings of others over your own and this leads to extreme unhappiness. I like to think of it like this: if you value others more than yourself you get walked on. If you value yourself more than others, you walk on others. If you value yourself as equal to others then you walk with friends. 🙂