How to Free Yourself from People-Pleasing Behaviour

People-pleasing sounds like it might be a positive characteristic, right? After all, what’s wrong with wanting to make others happy and helping them out?

But this behaviour generally goes beyond simple kindness and consideration. It involves ignoring your own wants and needs for the sake of another person’s feelings or reactions.


What is so Bad about People Pleasing?

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with doing good deeds for others. Having relationships with others naturally involves taking their wants, needs, and feelings into consideration.

However, losing perspective about how much and how often you give tips the balance away from what is ‘healthy giving’ towards behaviour that is causing you harm.  When you need to please everyone all the time, you know it is time to make some changes. Especially when it is with people you barely know and it is to the detriment of your own wellbeing

“The only thing wrong with trying to please everyone is that there’s always at least one person who will remain unhappy. You.” – Elizabeth Parker.

When you repeatedly prioritize the comfort of others and put your own needs on the backburner, it creates a cycle of overwhelm and exhaustion. Constantly placing other people’s wants and needs above your own is a dangerous mindset. It will hold you back from feeling happy and fulfilled in life.

Frequently taking on more than you can handle for others means you lose out on time for yourself and the things you need to do. To get the essentials taken care of, you might end up working longer hours or going without sleep. This leads to feelings of overwhelm and stress.

Some people will take advantage of your people-pleasing nature, perhaps without even realising they are doing it. All they know is that you are always available to help and frequently make their own lives easier. In those circumstances, it is easy to see why they ask you for more and more.


How Do I Know if I’m a People Pleaser?

Do you ever find yourself over-committing to doing things for others that you don’t really have the time or desire for? Or perhaps you constantly feel like you put your own interests and needs behind everybody else’s?  Do you go out of your way to avoid conflicts and disagreements? Even saying things you don’t truly believe just so you don’t go against the grain? If so, you may be a people pleaser.

To stop being a people-pleaser, it’s important to understand some of the reasons why you might be engaging in this kind of behaviour.

Examples of people-pleasing behaviour

  1. Finding it hard to say no – If someone asks a favour of you, you find it hard to refuse, even if it is something you don’t want to do. You often agree to things without stopping to think if you want to do them, only to regret it later.

2. Apologizing too often – do you automatically say sorry for things that aren’t your fault? Do you feel responsibility or guilt if other people are sad or angry, even if you haven’t done anything to cause it?

3. Worrying what others think of you – the idea of someone thinking badly of you bothers you greatly. You try your best to make sure others think of you as a kind, considerate, and helpful person.

4. Avoiding conflict –  You would rather go along with what other people want than cause a disagreement.

5. You overcommit to things – Saying no to invitations or favour requests is hard for you.

6. Trouble identifying your own wants and needs – people-pleasers frequently skip thinking about their own desires, as they’re so conditioned to think about everybody else’s first. The result is a loss of personal identity and finding it hard to pinpoint what it is you want.

7. Feeling unappreciated and resentful – You feel taken advantage of because others do not show appreciation for your good deeds and instead keep asking for more from you, ignoring your boundaries because they know you’ll always do what they want anyway.

8. You can’t handle criticism – let’s be clear, nobody likes being criticised! But people-pleasers take it deeply to heart. They will dwell on it for a long time, seeing it as proof of their failings.


Why am I a People Pleaser and How Can I Stop?

To stop being a people-pleaser, it’s important to understand some of the reasons why you might be engaging in this kind of behaviour.

People’s pleasing behaviour is often rooted in low self-esteem. You are not secure in how you feel about yourself,  so you seek validation from others that you are a good, kind, and thoughtful person.

You might try to please others because they worry that other people won’t like you if you don’t go above and beyond to make them happy.

Oftentimes, the need to please people is a habit that starts in childhood. If affection from a parent is conditional on pleasing behaviours, a child can quickly learn to adapt their behaviour to receive the positive responses they crave.

This pattern of behaviour can be difficult to break, but it is entirely possible! If you want to break the pattern of people-pleasing, recognising yourself in the behaviours outlined above is the first step. By increasing your awareness of the ways, you tend to people-please, you will be able to start making changes.

The next thing to do is think of yourself. Although this sounds simple, it will probably take some practice, as you have become so used to putting others first, that it may be a reflexive instinct. Simply, whatever you do, always pause to ask yourself what you want.

The next time someone asks for help, stop, and ask yourself:

  • How do I feel about doing this? Is it something you want to do, or are you dreading it?
  • Will I have time to fulfil my own needs first? Will you have to postpone a necessary task? Will helping mean your own free time is impacted?
  • How will help make me feel? Will it make you feel happy or resentful and/or overwhelmed?

Putting your own needs first isn’t selfish, it’s healthy. Remember: you have the right to say ‘no’ to things, without feeling guilty.


The Bottom Line

People-pleasing might sound like a nice thing, but it is causing you real harm and is holding you back from reaching your full potential and being truly happy.

If you have low self-esteem, it can feel unnatural to accept that your own happiness is as equally important as everyone else’s. It’s not always easy to break long-standing patterns by yourself, especially ones that form in childhood or because of trauma.

A therapist or a mentor can help you explore what’s behind your need to keep other people happy. Even if there doesn’t seem to be a clear cause, there are strategies to address specific ways you people-please. Neurolinguistic Programming is a proven technique that helps people understand the thought processes that underlie their behaviours and teaches ways to change patterns of thinking and behaviour for the better.

It is possible to learn techniques that will direct your decisions, thoughts, actions, and interactions with others in a healthier, more positive way that isn’t to your own disadvantage.

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