People pleasing is not a ‘problem’ that we tend to seek out help for. As a resilience coach it’s not something that my clients bring to the table. Instead, it usually tends to emerge during the coaching process as something that is keeping someone trapped or restricting their interactions with others.

I think that, when asked if we are people pleasers, most of us would instinctively reply not. People pleasing seems like the habit of those who are hiding something or who don’t have the backbone to say no or be different. Which sounds harsh but tends to be the way we view this approach to life. It’s also not the way that any of us wants to see ourselves – as that person who is essentially like one of those little fish that clings to the back of a shark or a whale. We’re just tagging along on the fins of others because we’re too scared to swim. We want to imagine that we are brave and individual and that we have our own agency. People pleasing doesn’t factor anywhere in that. 

Are you a people pleaser without even realising it?

So, you’ve read the first paragraph of this blog and you’ve concluded that people pleasing isn’t something that you do. But wait because this isn’t just about being a “yes” man, women or person. It is a lot broader than that. For example, people pleasing could manifest as:

  • Low self-esteem. You draw your perception of yourself almost entirely from what others think or feel about you – or what you think they are thinking or feeling. 
  • You struggle to say no. This is something we are more likely to attribute to being “too nice” and those that we are unable to say no too rarely encourage us to think twice about it. If you don’t want to say no to people then you’re putting their wants and wishes ahead of your own to avoid what might happen if you don’t. That’s people pleasing 101. 
  • Sorry is your favourite word. Even if it’s not your fault you’ll apologise – and sometimes you’ll do this when you’re not actually sorry. 
  • “Agree!” Is your second favourite word. Like sorry it’s a word that has no meaning for you other than in being a tool to help avoid rejection. You can agree with people verbally when deep down you heartily disagree. Sometimes you may even use it when you haven’t even thought about where you stand on an issue i.e., whether you agree or not. 
  • Authenticity is not your favourite word. Whether as a result of putting other people’s needs before your own or doing anything possible to avoid rejection, being authentic is not something you find very easy to do. Half the time you’ve pushed your own needs aside or haven’t worked out what you actually want or need and the result is that you find it hard to be you because you don’t know who that really is. 

Being a people pleaser is hard

Being around a people pleaser doesn’t sound too bad does it – they will always agree and apologise and they’re unlikely to say no. However, the reality is that what you’re seeing on the outside with a people pleaser isn’t aligned with what exists on the inside and this can set up a whole load of conflict.  It’s also very hard if people pleasing has become a habit for you – living constantly in this state of disconnection from yourself can leave you feeling:

  • Resentful because you feel like you do so much for others and no one ever does anything for you 
  • Taken advantage of by other people 
  • Dissatisfied in friendships and relationships 
  • Stressed because you’ve taken on more than you can handle
  • Exhausted because you’re constantly trying to avoid rejection
  • Afraid of slipping up and revealing the real you

Another consequence is that you may find the people in your life get frustrated or drift away. Real connections come from vulnerability, which means being yourself regardless of whether people are going to like that or not. It’s hard to truly understand or connect with someone who is keeping most of themselves hidden. 

Getting past the people pleasing habit

If you’ve developed people pleasing habits then it’s likely that somewhere in your life someone has told you that it wasn’t ok to be you. That’s hard. I’m sorry you’ve had to go through that. It’s a tough narrative to get past. But it’s not impossible. If you’re keen to examine why you do this, and where this has come from, then some sessions with a therapist can be a great place to start. Working with a resilience coach like me involves a slightly different type of work:

  • Developing an awareness of when you’re people pleasing
  • Identifying the areas of your life where this is having the most impact
  • Finding opportunities to do things differently and create new habits
  • Getting to know yourself and becoming comfortable with being yourself
  • Setting goals about who, and how, you want to be going forward

People pleasing is something that we all do from time to time but it can also become a bad habit. Overcoming it all starts with being your authentic self, working out who you are and how you feel, what you want and what you don’t want, and then learning to express that. You can’t please all the people all the time and if you don’t learn this lesson you could burn out trying.

Share this post