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Highly Sensitive People: breaking the habit of being a people-pleaser

Are you a die-hard “yes” person? So welcome to the people-pleaser club. You are one of the people who want at all costs to be loved and who thrive on the joy of others. Is this evil in itself? No. Admirable? Certainly. Healthy? Not necessarily. It's one thing to like to bring joy to those around you, but sometimes that goes too far, so far as to go against our own desires.

people pleaser

Why do you try to please others too much? Find out what are the signs that indicate such an attitude and how to deal with it.

Some people may try to please others too much. In these cases, people may be called "people pleasers" because they try to speak and behave to satisfy the needs of others rather than their own. But why does this happen and how can we deal with it?

What is a “people pleaser”?

When we talk about someone who is a people pleaser, we are talking about someone who generally puts the needs of others before their own. This type of person tries at all costs to be pleasant, helpful, and kind to those around them, even if it means putting their personal desires or goals first. Additionally, this type of attitude also means that they have difficulty defending themselves or establishing boundaries with others, which can end up causing difficulties in their relationships and in their own self-esteem.

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Signs that you are a people pleaser

There is a set of attitudes that people who try to please others tend to share. The most common are:

  • Not knowing how to say “no”: one of the signs that may indicate that you have this need to please others is having a lot of difficulty saying no to others. This may be because you think that if you refuse to do something, you risk losing the love or affection of others.

  • Not knowing how to set boundaries or feeling guilty: People pleasers tend to not know how to set boundaries for others. This might mean ending up doing things that actually hurt you or resenting someone very close to you.

  • Apologizing for things that are not their responsibility: These people tend to feel responsible for the feelings and reactions of others. This way, they can be very insistent on apologizing, even for things that really have nothing to do with them.

  • Constant need for approval: A person who is always accommodating towards others often needs to try to feel accepted by those around them. This may involve constantly questioning others or simply trying to please those around you at all costs.

  • Low self-esteem: This may mean they are trying to seek external validation to fill the holes within themselves that need work and internal validation. As a result, this can lead to emotional health issues such as anxiety or depression.

  • Neglecting your own needs: Indeed, by always saying yes to others, these people end up neglecting their own needs since they spend too much time doing things for others instead of devoting this time to themselves.

These are some signs that may indicate someone is constantly trying to please others or "people pleaser."

Why do you try to please others?

  • To try to stop being a people pleaser and stop pleasing others, it is important to understand some of the reasons why you might exhibit this type of behavior. Some of the most common reasons why you may have this attitude are:

  • Low self-esteem: In many cases, people may engage in this type of behavior simply because they do not value themselves. For this reason, they may push themselves aside, which has even more effects on their self-esteem.

  • Personal insecurity: People may try to please others because they fear that not doing so will contribute to worse treatment or a poor relationship with them.

  • Perfectionism: Excessive perfectionism can lead people to want to be too accommodating to others.

  • Past experiences: Traumatic or painful experiences can cause people to develop this personality type. Especially in the case of people who have suffered abuse, they may end up trying to please others or being too nice to avoid going through a very similar situation again.

Why is it wrong to try to please people?

Trying to please everyone can cause many problems for our mental health. For example, trying to increase our self-esteem by being accommodating to others can end up affecting us even more. On the other hand, putting the happiness of others before our own emotional well-being can prevent us from taking care of our own needs. In fact, research shows that being a people pleaser can have a very significant impact on our mental health. For example, it is linked to a greater likelihood of experiencing feelings of anxiety and stress. 

Spending more time with others also means a greater propensity to suffer from burnout.

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Issues Associated with People Pleasing 

  • ​Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Conflict avoidance 

  • Codependence; losing oneself in relationships

  • Insecure attachment

  • Self-esteem issues

  • Self-worth issues

  • Self-criticism

  • Perfectionism

  • Overachievement

  • Compulsive helping

  • Stress for helping professionals

  • Caregiver stress

  • Disproportionate load of family caregiving

  • Motherhood stress 

  • Burnout 

  • Compassion fatigue

  • Exhaustion

Of course, these issues can also be a problem for non-people-pleasers. Still, they tend to look in a specific way for people-pleasers. (For more on how anxiety and depression look specifically for people pleasers, see my next service pages).

So now that we've looked at the whole array of issues that people pleasing tends to go along with, let's clarify what people pleasing itself actually looks like. Here are some of the "symptoms", or common presentations.

People-Pleasing: The "Symptoms" 

  • Difficulty saying no, setting limits, setting boundaries

  • Difficulty asking for what you want, even for small things

  • Excessively worried about what others think

  • Not feeling "good enough" as you are

  • Not feeling safe enough to be "real," to be authentic; to show your "true self."

  • Fear of others getting angry

  • Fear of one's own anger; anger suppression (which leads to building resentment and, ultimately, explosive anger)  

  • Fear of rejection and abandonment (this is a core issue) 

  • Giving more than receiving in relationships

  • Feeling insecure in relationships

  • Feeling exhausted and burned out caring for others

  • Taking too much responsibility for others' pain. 

  • Difficulty asking for help; discomfort with expressing vulnerability

  • Self-sacrificing; self-neglecting; viewing self-care as "selfish"

  • Excessive feelings of guilt, shame, and fear

  • Shrinking oneself; not wanting to take up space 

  • Self-silencing; silencing one's own feelings and needs to stay "safe", to make others feel comfortable. 

People Pleaser Strengths 

It's not all bad news! People pleasers tend to have the following strengths:

  • Highly sensitive, "superfeeler" 

  • Very caring; high capacity for empathy

  • Very responsible

  • Conscientious; hard working;

  • Very devoted to other people, communities, or social causes. 

  • Able to understand and even anticipate the feelings and needs of others

How to stop wanting to please others?

If you feel like you don't know how to stop this attitude, we recommend that you keep the following in mind:

  • Practice saying “no”: Learning to say “no” can be difficult in different contexts. Therefore, one way to stop being complacent towards others is precisely to try to practice this type of response. You can challenge yourself to learn to do this first with people very close to you.

  • Give yourself time to make decisions: a very common characteristic of “people pleasers” is precisely that they don't wait to say yes when someone offers them something. Try to take time to think before giving an answer. This will help you understand when you are not prioritizing yourself.

  • Schedule and respect time for yourself: Another step you can take to make more time for yourself is precisely to set aside time to be alone so that you can take care of your own needs. In these cases, it can be very beneficial to plan it and, above all, to commit to making it happen.

  • Don't apologize for reasons that aren't your responsibility: that should be something you commit to. Apologizing when you are not responsible for anything can affect your self-esteem and you can especially try to compensate for this “responsibility”.

  • Work on yourself: It is very important to take time to work on yourself. Above all, you should try to understand why you have these tendencies and start being more aware of what you need to be better about yourself.

  • Start setting boundaries: Learning to set boundaries is essential to respecting and taking care of yourself. In fact, saying them will improve your relationships.

  • Get help: It can be very difficult to deal with this type of attitude because it can affect you in many ways. Going to therapy will help you understand why you do it and how to deal with it.

Although it can sometimes seem difficult to combat this type of behavior, there are many ways to become aware of our habits and combat them. With time and especially with effort, people can come to respect each other.

If you're ready to begin healing from people pleasing, to reclaim yourself as the center of your own life, while learning to help and connect with others in a more balanced, authentic way, reach out!


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