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5 Tips to Help You Stop Being a People Pleaser

“One of the most freeing things we learn in life is that we don’t have to like everyone, everyone doesn’t have to like us, and it’s perfectly okay.” ~Unknown

I have a confession to make: I am a recovering people pleaser.

If I had a dollar for every time I did something that I didn’t want to do because I didn’t want people to be angry or disappointed if I said no, I would be a rich woman.

I say that I am recovering because, as with any ingrained pattern, sometimes I slip back into the tendency to put other people’s wants before myself and my needs.

When I talk about putting other people’s needs before your own as a pleaser, I don’t mean being there for someone or helping someone in a way that you want to. If you want to help someone, or you compromise with someone that you care about to come up with a solution that works for both of you, that’s healthy.

Pleaser behavior goes beyond this and becomes unhealthy when:

  • You say yes to something that you really don’t want to do just to keep someone happy and have an ‘easy’ life
  • You feel uncomfortable about a situation that you’re in but carry on regardless; for example, being asked to do something dishonest or that isn’t in line with your values
  • You feel exhausted and depleted from putting everyone else’s needs before your own and not taking the time out to practice self-care
  • If you do say no (for whatever reason) then you make excuses and spend a lot of time feeling guilty afterwards.

Luckily, there are some ways that you can start to manage your people pleaser tendencies. Here are five of the most effective actions and mindset shifts that have worked for me:

1. Make peace with the fact that not everyone is going to like you—and actually, that’s okay.

The quote at the start of this article says it all. It certainly set my own mindset shift into motion a few years ago when I decided enough was enough and that I was going to start putting myself first.

When I feel my own pleaser instincts kick in, I always take the time to remember that it’s okay for people not to like me; I don’t like everyone and everyone isn’t going to like me.

As a pleaser your main drive will be to do everything in your power to make someone like you. For me, and for many other pleasers, this comes from a place of severe low self-esteem. Basically, when people like you, you like yourself; when they don’t, your opinion of yourself drops.

The best way to lessen the need for validation from others is to start working on loving yourself and increasing your self-esteem.

As a starting point list all of the things that you love about yourself. Aim for at least ten things initially, and refer back to it and add to it regularly. Also, start treating yourself as you would a loved one or really good friend, and start connecting with people who love and accept themselves as they are. Model their behavior until it becomes your own.

2. Learn to say no in a way that feels okay to you. (No making excuses allowed!)

“No” is a word that many of us could stand to use a little more often. How many times have you said no only to go back on your decision when put under a little bit of pressure from another person?

I used to do that all the time, or I would say no and then make a number of excuses to justify my decision (many of these were white lies to make saying no more feasible).

The thing with making excuses rather than offering a firm and honest no, complete with a truthful reason that you can stick to, is that it opens up the possibility of negotiation with the other person. If that happens, your inner pleaser is likely to give in and you’ll once again find yourself doing things that you don’t want to do and putting yourself last.

So, how do you stop this behavior? Say no in a way that feels good to you, but in a way that is strong.

You don’t have to use a one-word answer, but you should be truthful; for example, “I would love to help, but unfortunately I have booked a me day that day,” or “That sounds like a great opportunity, but I think someone else would be better placed to help.”

Stick to the original answer and if someone tries to enter into negotiation them simply but firmly repeat it.

3. Accept that you will feel guilty when you say no to something the first few times.

Pleasers often feel guilty when they say no to a request. You probably feel that you are being selfish or that you have let someone down. This is misplaced guilt. You have done nothing wrong, and that person will most likely find another solution to their problem.

When you feel guilty, honor the feeling, but think about how much worse you would feel if you said yes to yet another thing that you didn’t want to do. The likelihood is that this would feel worse. Remember that the guiltily feeling will fade quickly.

If you feel that bad, grab your journal and list all the pros and cons of your decision. I bet the pros list is longer!

4. Start setting some boundaries.

It’s okay to put yourself first. In fact, you will be a happier, more productive, and more amazing person for it. The best way to do that? Set some boundaries. When we stand for nothing, we will fall for everything, as they say!

Find somewhere quiet, where you won’t be distracted or interrupted, and list all of the things that you’ve done over the past three to six months that you didn’t want to do.

Once you have your list, go through and write down the reasons that you didn’t want to do each thing. You will probably notice some recurring reasons; for example, it cut into my time with my family, it made me too tired, it wasn’t something I was comfortable doing because…

Use these reasons to start setting some boundaries for yourself. For example:

  • Getting enough sleep is important to me. If it stops me getting eight hours a night I will say no.
  • I don’t want to be around negative energy. If something is going to expose me to negative energy, I will say no.
  • If something goes against my values of honesty and integrity, I will say no.

Start by setting yourself four or five boundaries at first, and then practice upholding these over the next few months. You can then add more and gradually build up knowing what you will and will not accept in your life.

5. Let go of the people who use your people pleaser tendencies on purpose.

As with anything in this life, there are people who will try to take advantage of your good nature.

As you begin to raise your levels of self-esteem and start to assert yourself, you will begin to see those who are trying to trigger your inner people pleaser for their own benefit.

They will be the ones who deliberately try to push your buttons, no matter how many times you say no. They will continue to overstep the boundaries that you set.

The best thing to do here is to let them fall away from your life and accept the lessons that they’ve taught you about who you are and what you want in life.

If it’s not possible the let someone go completely, if they are a family member for example, simply create some healthy distance and prepare for any meetings that you may have with them by reaffirming your boundaries to yourself.

Remember, this is a process and if you slip back into old behaviors don’t be too hard on yourself. But do keep going and making progress, your life and self-esteem will be much better as a result!

About Claire Hodgson

Claire is a former people pleaser and marketer, turned business and life coach. She is the founder of Burn the Corset and Authentic Marketing – Start your love affair with marketing & grow your business. Claire works with women and female business owners, guiding them toward success through their authentic selves. Follow Claire on Twitter @Grow_Thrive_Biz and on Facebook.

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  • A completely different strategy is this: Pleasing people is one extreme. Being selfish another. The right behavior usually lies somewhere in between.

    If a person tends to the pleaser extreme, the first step is to try out the opposite one – be selfish for the sake of experiment in a safe environment. Once you’ve got the taste of that other extreme, you can take the second step – go closer to the golden middle.

    It’s like shooting: You shoot too close (please people), then too far (act selfish) and finally learn to hit the sweet spot in between.

  • Nancy Vail

    I find it a challenge. It comes from a fear of rejection but the more we do it the more often there is rejection which turns into self rejection. Horrible habit to break

  • Hey Claire,

    Great tips here. I use to listen a lot to Abraham Hicks. One thing that Abraham taught is how to say no. He showed that everyone is selfish, and if anyone tried to make you feel guilty by saying that you’re selfish then you can turn around and point out to them that they want you to keep giving into their own selfishness.

    I’ve never thought about this and this turn around is classic to me lol. But yes I really like the tip of setting boundaries which I have been doing. It definitely works and if anyone tells me I’m selfish then I pull an Abraham Hicks.

    Great share Claire! Have a good one!

  • Hi Sherman,

    So glad you liked the article. I love Abraham Hicks, I haven’t listed to his lessons on saying no….will have to look those up!

    I love the idea of turning it around – an excellent point!

    Take Care x

  • Hi Nancy,

    It is difficult and you are right, so often the fear of rejection is a key driver of pleaser behaviour.

    However, if you were to say no, what’s the absolute worst that could happen? You annoy someone, or they don’t like you, or….real worse case, they decide that they no longer want to be a part of your life (do you really want that kind of manipulation and selfishness in your life anyway?)

    Remember, rejection happens every day and in a number of forms and often it’s making way for better people or things to come into your life.

    If this is really uncomfortable, and I remember this being the case for me in the beginning, take really small steps. Say no to the movies or a dinner invitation that doesn’t light you up. Say no to a small, last minute request and then take some time to sit with how you are feeling, not just immediately after, but a few hours, and a few days after. The likelihood is that the feeling will shift from a place of panic about the status of your relationship with this person, to relief that you said no and avoided doing something that you really didn’t want to do.

    Likewise, do the same if you say yes to something that you don’t really want to do. You will probably find that feelings of relief turn into feelings of dread over time as you realise you have committed to something that you don’t want to do.

    Which set of feelings would you rather have?

    This is a process lovely, keep going with it (I know you can do it!)

    Cx

  • Hi Dmitri,

    Great comment – love it!

    We do often have to experience both extremes before we find where we are most comfortable and what behaviour suits us.

    Cx

  • Paula Ronen

    I would ad another point: (6) – Be willing to pay the price (some people will ressent you, will react with hostility, will walk away…). Believe me, it’s cheap, it’s a good deal… compared to the price you pay when you do something you don’t feel like doing… just to please others or to avoid other people’s anger or frustration. The price you pay by trying to please everyone is your self-esteem, your dignity, your ability to connect with your deep desires and needs.. Freedom is priceless -be free; loosing abusive or toxic people in the way… even if they are relatives… is, rather than “the price to pay”… a blessing-.

  • Hi Paula,

    Love everything about this comment!!

    It’s a difficult thing to accept sometimes but in the long run it’s totally worth it!

    Take Care

    Cx

  • Nancy Vail

    Yes…good advice. But the other thing I am learning about this is that it is something we do to have friends (so compromising our true self, perhaps) but the other thing that happens, too often when we get into this situation, we end up with resentments because we have allowed people to take advantage of us…so essentially, we are the cause of our own wounded feelings…maybe that is why we say no…a matter of pride of self respect.

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  • Sarah Cottrell

    If you need to compromise your true self in order to have friends, those people aren’t your friends. True friends respect when you stand up for yourself. Anyone who doesn’t respect that doesn’t deserve to be around you.

  • Sarah Cottrell

    I made the decision a few months ago to become more selfish. I’ve spent my entire life (39 years) trying to make everyone else happy. I ended up stressed out, sick, and miserable. I’m not doing it anymore. I do have slips now and then, which I regret, but overall I’m doing incredibly well. I have never been happier! I wish that I had started speaking up sooner. It’s been so freeing to stop caring what others think of me, to cease worrying that someone might get upset with me because I don’t just agree with everything they say/do/want. Who cares!?

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  • Nancy Vail

    You are right Sarah…if you compromise yourself to have friends then you are not even a friend to yourself.

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  • Hey Claire. I loved this article, plenty of actionable steps for people pleasers to get over this issue. Well Done

  • Stayce

    this should help me..

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  • Kid

    It’s interesting how it is applicable to any other areas of our lives not only here when it comes to emotional self-care. Like ANYthing you may think of, always balacing will be the best choice.

  • Laura

    I think my biggest problem is that I always feel that if I don’t ‘people please’ and make an effort with people than they just won’t bother with me. So in the end I just go along with other people for fear of being rejected or not ‘worth peoples time’ if I ask for them to do something I want. I know this issue is a self esteem issue but I don’t know how to get over this fear of rejection.. Any advice?