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People Pleasers: Please Thyself!

shutterstock_180170765To thine own self be true–it’s good advice.  But it’s hard to follow if you’ve got strong people-pleasing tendencies.

To be clear, I’m defining a people pleaser as someone who consistently sets their needs aside in favor of doing what other people want, regardless of whether those wants are healthy or fair, or even how important the relationship is to the people pleaser; it’s that the people pleaser can’t help themselves, they just want to avoid all conflict and be seen in a positive light.

So here are some ideas of how to stop putting others first all the time.  1)  Recognize that you’re doing it, in all situations.

For many people pleasers, it’s an automatic behavior.  That means it goes unregistered a lot of the time.  It simply feels like the right thing to do.

2)  Realize the difference between what feels right and what’s actually healthy.

In many cases, the reason it feels right is because you grew up in a family where your needs were constantly sacrificed to the needs of others.  Maybe you experienced neglect, or maybe you were a middle child, or an unexpected last child in a family where the parents thought they were done already.  Maybe you had a narcissistic parent.

The origins of people pleasing are often found in childhood because that’s the time when we’re establishing our sense of self in relation to others.  If you learned that it was less important to have a self and more important to satisfy others’ desires and not make waves, then it’s time to reexamine that conditioning and make a change.

3)  Consider all the relationships where people are used to getting their way.

Some might be casual, some might be intimate.  But name them all for yourself.

It’s probably easier to practice your assertiveness in the more casual relationships.  You can practice it in small ways: Someone wants to cut in front of you in the grocery store and you say, “Sorry, I’m in a rush myself.”

What’s the worst that’ll happen? They think you’re self-involved?

For right now, take that as a compliment.  It means you’re doing the work you need to do on yourself.  Because sometimes, people are going to be unhappy with you if you do what you want and not what they want.

4)  Tell the people in your life that you’ve embarked on this project, and that you’d like their help.

By telling them what you’re doing and why, you enlist them as supporters.  They can help you notice the times you’re saying, “No, that’s fine, don’t worry about me.”  They can question whether it’s really fine or you’re just saying that automatically.  It’s easier to stand up for yourself if the person you’re standing up to wants that to happen, because they want the best for you.

Sometimes people who love you haven’t even realized you’re doing the people pleasing; they just think you’re a mellow, easygoing person.  That’s probably what you’ve wanted them to think, because your self-esteem on some level depends on their regard.

If  they can show you high regard for doing the opposite (as in, for telling them no, thus changing long-ingrained habits–that’s hard to do!), then you can meet your need in a healthy  way.  Finally.

5)  Think what to do about people who don’t support you (i.e. who WANT you to keep putting them first, even once it’s pointed out.)

These are not healthy relationships.  These are not people who want the best for you.  Because if they did, they’d want a more balanced relationship in which you are heard and happy.

Hopefully, this will be a wake-up call to exit any relationship where people are really taking advantage of you, and your people-pleasing ways.  Take care of yourself, and find people who want that for you, too.

Umbrella image available from Shutterstock.

People Pleasers: Please Thyself!

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2014). People Pleasers: Please Thyself!. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 Nov 2014
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