How to tell if you’re a people pleaser

11 Minute Read

D o you ever find it difficult to say “no”? Are you so worried about upsetting other people that your needs go unmet? You may often feel like it’s your job to make everyone happy, even if it comes at your own expense.

Many of us have a fear of displeasing others, and this fear may be so deeply rooted that we don’t realize how harmful it can be to our health and happiness.

People pleasing is a theme that often comes up with clients in our therapy sessions. I’ve often had clients share, whether it was at work, with friends, or in romantic relationships, they would say “yes” when they really wanted to say “no.” Perhaps you can relate to this common experience. Maybe you find yourself doing things that aren’t enjoyable or healthy, just because other people expect you to, or because it makes them happy.

And let’s face facts: We all have some of this in us. However, being too nice and accommodating others can ultimately lead to burnout—and not just physical exhaustion but an emotional exhaustion due to feeling stretched too thin and underappreciated by others. If this rings true for you, maybe it’s worth taking a step back to examine some of these behaviors.

Do you know how to tell if you’re a people pleaser? In this blog post we’ll look at some key signs and behavior patterns that could indicate that you have people pleasing tendencies, and what to do about it.

Do you ever find yourself doing things that aren’t enjoyable or healthy, just because other people expect you to?
group of women sitting in front of NYC skyline

How to tell if you’re a people pleaser: common signs

 

 

1. You often feel responsible for making everyone happy, even if it comes at your own expense.

Many people feel pressure to make others happy, and for good reason. We’re living in a society where we’re encouraged to take care of each other, and that means being there when someone needs us and making sure that they feel loved and cared for. This may come in the form of obvious pressure from your boss, partner, or family members, or more subtle, unspoken norms that you feel you need to live up to.

One way to tell if you’re a people pleaser can look like an extreme preoccupation with other people’s moods. For example, instead of enjoying the party you’re hosting, perhaps you’re overly concerned about others having a good time, and spend your time hyper-focused on being the perfect host. To an extent, this is normal and may make you a great party planner and all-around conscientious person. However, if anxiety about others enjoying themselves prevents you from being present enough to enjoy your own party, it may be a sign of people pleasing.

Feeling overly responsible for others can also leave you feeling like you’re constantly on duty—you may feel like you have to be there for everyone else, all the time. And when you put so much pressure on yourself to be available for others, it can become difficult to honor your own emotions or deal with your own problems without feeling guilty or like you’re letting someone else down. 

spring cleaning grounding
People-pleasers may find it difficult to honor their emotions or deal with their own problems without feeling guilty.

2. You feel guilty when you say no.

If you often feel guilty when saying no, this is a common sign of people-pleasing. A second way to tell if you’re a people pleaser might be that you’re afraid of letting people down or disappointing them, so you often say yes when you really want to say no. If someone asks for your help with something, even if it’s not something that will benefit them in the long run and could cause stress on yourself, it can be hard to say no because of how guilty it makes you feel to set a boundary.

Can you relate to any of the following common scenarios:

  1. Agreeing to host a party even though you don’t have the time or energy.
  2. Taking on extra tasks at work, even though you already have a full workload.
  3. Saying yes to attending a social event you don’t want to go to.
  4. Saying yes to an invitation to join a project you don’t have any interest in.
  5. Agreeing to lend money to someone when you can’t really afford to do so.

You may feel guilty when you try to say no because you may feel (or you may be told by others) that you’re being selfish or not doing enough to help someone. It’s not uncommon to feel guilty because you feel you’re disappointing the other person or letting them down. Additionally, saying no or not being able to go along with the plan someone else set’s can create tension or conflict, which is unpleasant. Nobody wants to be seen as the friend who “can’t go with the flow” right?

In my sessions, something I often work on with clients who identify as people-pleasers is setting boundaries with others. When people pleasers first try to set boundaries with others after years, or even decades of giving in, they are often met with resistance by those close to them. This is because you’re changing the status quo in terms of how you behave in your relationships. It’s not unusual to also struggle to communicate your needs and feelings to others in an assertive and clear way.

All of these behaviors take time to unlearn, as you practice new ones to put in their place. Therapy is a great outlet for people who struggle to set firm boundaries with others, as guidance from a trained professional can give you support when you find it hard to enforce boundaries and stick to them.

 

When people pleasers first try to set boundaries with others after years, or even decades of giving in, they are often met with resistance by those close to them.

 

3. You often feel like you need to be liked by everyone.

It’s natural and normal to want to be liked by others. However, people pleasers often struggle with this above and beyond what’s healthy. Some people may feel like they need to be liked by everyone in order to be accepted and included in a certain group or social circle. You may feel like you must be liked by everyone because deep down, even unconsciously, you experience nagging feelings of inadequacy, or not feeling good enough as you are. 

Relying primarily on the validation and approval from others has its drawbacks however, since it can create an unhealthy reliance on other people. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, as well as feelings of guilt or shame when you don’t meet the expectations of others. Additionally, it can lead to you feeling like you can’t make decisions for yourself or that you need to please everyone. 

Here are a few ways you can shift your focus internally if you find yourself seeking external validation:

    • Take time to practice self-care and self-compassion. 

    • Remind yourself of your worth and values. 

    • Practice positive affirmations and self-talk.

    • Accept yourself as a unique individual and recognize your strengths.

    • Focus on developing meaningful relationships based on mutual respect and trust.

    • Set clear boundaries with others and be assertive when necessary.

    • Create achievable goals and celebrate accomplishments.

    • Prioritize your own needs and feelings over those of others.

4. You’re overly worried about what other people will think of you.

If you’re a people pleaser, then you’re probably concerned about what other people will think of you. You might be worried about what they’ll think of your choices and actions, or if they’ll like what you have to say. You also might feel like an impostor around certain groups or individuals because they make such an effortless impression on others–and this makes it difficult for them to see who they truly are behind their masks (or chameleons).

You aren’t your authentic self because you’re afraid you won’t be accepted for who you truly are. Furthermore, you may even find yourself going above and beyond your physical, emotional, or financial means to please others, even if it means sacrificing your own wellbeing. Do any of these things resonate with you?

As a people pleaser, it’s not uncommon to feel like an impostor around certain groups or individuals.
financial infidelity

5. You often find yourself in situations where you are over-rehearsed and overexcited, trying to make a good impression on others.

You try to be the best version of yourself for other people. You want them to like you and think that you’re interesting and fun, smart, a good person and a good listener. Again, this is normal behavior to an extent, so it’s up to you to decide where you fall in terms of people-pleasing. For example, do you find you’re often preoccupied or over-rehearsed for conversations because you want everything that comes out of your mouth to be perfect?

Relying primarily on the validation and approval from others has its drawbacks, since it can create an unhealthy reliance on other people.

Another way to tell if you’re a people pleaser may be that you find yourself rehearsing what people could ask or say next so that there is no awkward silence or confusion about what’s going on in their heads at any given moment during conversation with you.

A common example may be during a job interview. The people pleaser is so over-rehearsed and over excited that they start talking too much, giving too much detail and trying to prove their worth to the employer. Responses may seem canned and unnatural, as if the person has memorized a script versus responding authentically. They may also come across as too eager to please, agreeing to anything the employer suggests and not expressing their own opinion. Another way to tell if you’re a people pleaser could look like dressing or presenting yourself in a way that doesn’t feel authentic in order to ensure you appeal to a certain person, audience, or group of people.

How can I stop being a people pleaser and build confidence?

 

So, you identify with some (or all) of the above behavior patterns of people-pleasing. This is a positive thing! The first step to transformative behavior change is recognizing the patterns that no longer serve you. Now that you recognize some of the behaviors causing you grief, here are some positive actions you can take:

 

1. Learn how to set effective boundaries: The first step in learning how to stop being a people pleaser is to set effective boundaries. As mentioned above, this can often take a bit of practice as you learn to say no to requests and expectations that go beyond what you’re willing to do. It can be pretty comfortable at first, and that’s okay!

2. Know your values: Knowing your values will help you to make decisions that are right for you. When you know what is important to you, it will be easier to say no to those requests that don’t fit with your values. Take a moment to uncover your values and get to the heart of who you are.

3. Focus on yourself: As we touched on, people pleasing can sometimes stem from a lack of self-esteem. Focusing on your own needs and interests rather than trying to please others can help shift your focus internally. This includes learning how to acknowledge your own emotions and feelings and be mindful of them, as well as prioritizing your own needs and interests over those of others.

4. Practice self-care: Take time to focus on yourself, your feelings and needs. Creating a sustainable self-care practice you enjoy can help alleviate stress, and improve your self-esteem and confidence.

5. Build your self-confidence: Build your self-confidence by setting small goals that you can achieve and then praising yourself for your successes. Check out 9 tips for boosting your self confidence.

6. Seek support: Talking to a trusted friend or family member, and others who identify as people pleasers can help you to gain the confidence to examine your behaviors and stop people-pleasing. Read lessons learned from recovering people pleasers, and connect with like minded individuals.

7. Practice makes perfect: Visualize and practice the things that are challenging for you. For example, you might practice saying no to someone and work through what comes up. Making a game plan and practicing your approach with a trusted friend or therapist can help you gain confidence in these new skills and work through uncomfortable feelings that may arise. Check out PsychCentral’s guilt-free guide to saying no.

So, you can tell you’re a people pleaser. What’s next?

People pleasing behaviors can be hard to break out of and can impact your wellbeing, sense of self, and lead to burnout. It can take time to learn how to set healthy boundaries, build confidence, and stop looking to others for validation and approval. If this sounds like you or someone you know, you’re not alone and you don’t have to stay stuck in a pattern of behaviors that feel self-defeating. 

Therapy can help you become aware of your triggers and behavior patterns, recognize when you’re people pleasing, and work on developing and practicing healthier behaviors. With the help from a trusted professional and along with self-reflection, you can learn to become more confident, live more authentically, and foster relationships that are genuine, reciprocal and fulfilling. If you’re interested in learning more, schedule a complimentary consultation with me today.

If you’re not ready to start therapy, there are other steps you can take, too. Along with the positive behaviors outlined above, self-help books on the topic can be immensely enlightening as well. Best wishes on your journey of self-exploration, wherever it may take you. 

Your Turn: Do you identify with any of the people-pleasing qualities listed above? What’s helped you break free from behaviors that don’t serve you? Share your experience in the comments below.

Melanie Palmietto

Melanie Palmietto is a licensed mental health counselor and guest contributor on the Clarity blog. She specializes in mind-body approaches for trauma, anxiety, and depression utilizing breathwork and somatic experiencing techniques to help her clients heal. Melanie empowers individuals to cultivate resilience, find inner peace, and transform their lives.

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