Considering other people’s feelings and treating them with kindness and generosity is something we should all strive to do. But sacrificing our own wellbeing in order to make others happy is not.
Sometimes there’s a fine line between doing things for others and behaving like their doormat.
When you compromise who you are and what you need, people-pleasing has crossed the line from kind and generous to self-abandonment – not being your authentic, imperfect self because you’re afraid others will disapprove, criticize, or reject you.
Are you too nice for your own good?
15 Signs you’re a people-pleaser
- You want everyone to like you and worry about hurting people’s feelings.
- You crave validation.
- You let people take advantage of you.
- You feel guilty when you set boundaries.
- You’re afraid of conflict.
- You’ve always been a good girl or guy, a rule follower.
- You think self-care is optional.
- You get sick a lot.
- You feel tense, anxious, or on-edge.
- You expect yourself to be perfect and hold yourself to high standards.
- You put yourself last and don’t know how to ask for what you need.
- You’re sensitive to criticism.
- You think your opinions and ideas aren’t important.
- You’re a “fixer”; you hate to see anyone hurt, afraid, sad or uncomfortable.
- You resent always being asked to do more, and wish people would consider your feelings and needs.
How many signs of people-pleasing do you recognize in yourself?
When you’re feeling resentful, taken advantage of, and exhausted, it’s a strong indicator that your people-pleasing is no longer a good thing – because it’s causing you harm. The solution is to rebalance your thinking and actions so that you’re considering what you need and what other people need.
Like all change, it takes practice and persistence to learn how to set boundaries and be more assertive. Here are some tips to help you.
4 Essential truths that will help you reduce people-pleasing
1) Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish
I know you‘ve heard it before, but keep reminding yourself that self-care is a necessity, not a luxury. It’s not something you do if you have time or if you deserve it. Taking care of your emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical needs keeps you healthy – without it, you’ll get sick, overtired, stressed, and irritable.
Practical tip: Be sure to schedule routine self-care (exercise, socializing, recreation, religious services, rest, etc.) to reflect that it’s a priority in your life. Also, try to check-in with yourself at least once each day and ask yourself, “How am I feeling? What do I need?” These questions and taking time to reflect will help you remember that everyone has needs and self-care is a healthy way for you to meet your needs.
2) Not everyone’s opinion matters
One of the big mistakes people-pleasers make is acting as if everyone’s opinion matters equally; we try to make everyone happy all the time without differentiating whose opinion matters most and whose opinion we can dismiss.
Generally, the closer the relationship you have with someone, the more you’ll value their opinion and want to please them. All healthy relationships involve compromise and it’s natural to want to do things to make your loved ones happy. However, you don’t have to treat everyone equally; you don’t need to consistently go out of your way to please acquaintances in the same way that you might with your spouse.
Another important distinction between people-pleasing and healthy relationships is that compromise and acts of service are mutual (you should not be the only one giving and making concessions), and you don’t have to violate your values and principles to make others happy.
Practical tip: When making a compromise or doing something to please another, ask yourself these questions: “Why am I compromising? Is it out of love? Habit? Fear of conflict, disappointing people, or being disliked? How much does my relationship with this person mean to me? Are we both making compromises or am I the only one?” These questions should help you clarify whether you’re working too hard to please people.
3) Conflict is inevitable, but don’t be afraid of it
In order to avoid conflict, you have to suppress your feelings, wants, and needs. You have to stay quiet and be passive. This causes you to become disconnected from yourself and from others (you can’t be emotionally intimate when you’re not expressing your feelings). So, the more we try to avoid conflict, the more we lose touch with ourselves (our interests, hobbies, friends, goals, and so on), which is why we often feel like we don’t even know what we want or like.
Suppressing our feelings doesn’t make them go away. Instead, we grow resentful, snappish, and our bodies show physical signs of stress (aches and pains, insomnia, etc.). And, of course, in the end, it’s not possible to avoid conflict and we may literally make ourselves sick when we try.
In contrast, a healthy conflict – one in which both parties can respectfully express their opinions – can result in greater understanding and changes that will ultimately strengthen the relationship. This is very different than the unhealthy conflicts that many of us have experienced, which is why conflict feels so scary. Conflict doesn’t have to involve name-calling, yelling, or threats. Our goal is to express differing opinions respectfully and be open to what other people have to say.
Practical tip: “I statements” (which you can learn about here) are an effective form of assertive communication. Try practicing them with one or two safe people – people you have a strong relationship with and who tend to remain calm.
4) Your feelings, opinions, ideas, and goals matter
As I mentioned, as a result of years of suppressing their feelings and needs, many people-pleasers lose some of their identity. And when you don’t have a strong sense of who you are and what matters to you, it’s easy to discount your feelings, opinions, ideas, and goals, and let other people’s take priority. When you do this, you’re essentially saying, “Other people are more important than me.”
This belief is often based on negative and inaccurate messages that we got as children and then internalized and repeated time and again to ourselves. Since these beliefs are strong, it does take consistent work to replace them with more accurate beliefs (ones that reflect our strengths and accepts our shortcomings and imperfections) about ourselves.
Practical tip: Try repeating a mantra such as, “My feelings and opinions matter,” on a regular basis to help establish this belief. In addition, when you notice a self-critical thought, be curious about it, don’t just accept it as fact. You might start asking yourself questions such as, “Where did this belief come from? How do I know it’s true?” It’s also important to start treating yourself like a valuable person. If you’re not sure how to do that, think about how you treat people who you value, and then do the same for yourself.
I hope this post helps you identify symptoms of people-pleasing, recognize how it can be detrimental to your health and wellbeing, and gives you some ideas to begin making changes.