People pleasing

People Pleasing – What’s the big deal?


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Written by Elena Bishop

Social Worker

30 Mar, 2022

When you mention people-pleasing sometimes people may not understand why this can be problematic; but they’re supporting their mates, keeping the peace and helping out… Yes, you are right, but it’s not just saying yes and helping people out when you have the fear of saying no, feeling guilty when you don’t volunteer to help, ignoring your own emotions and needs (including anger and resentment at others) being so worried about what others want and how to make them happy. Essentially it is putting other people’s needs above your own.

For women typically it can look like the mother who does everything for everyone else. All. The. Time. And for males it can be that constant Mr Fix it even when the person says “no thanks”, the man helps out & does it anyways. Translation: always looking for approval and validation from others – what their opinion of you, means more than what you think of yourself.

How does people-pleasing begin?

To get down to the nitty-gritty, people-pleasing can begin as a child with Parent Pleasing, (want to make their parents happy to avoid conflict & punishment while suppressing their own needs) so this learned behaviour of people-pleasing can be an adaptive coping mechanism or even an automatic compulsion; they will only love me when I am good, teachers are only proud of me when I get good grades. As an adult, you get your worth from good deeds, trying to make everyone happy. This is all motivated by wanting to be liked & accepted because you may have a fear of abandonment or rejection. Ouch. To be fair, no one likes rejection.

Effects of people-pleasing

Do you know what this ultimately means? That you have learned that certain aspects of your personality or behaviour are more important than others, that people will only love me when I do good and make others happy. It can lead to lower self-esteem and staying in relationships (romantic or platonic) because it's better to be with someone than alone. Being in this constant state of putting others above yourself and constantly anticipating what others want can be anxiety-provoking, trying to guess if you’ve done the right thing according to their mood, and then tendencies of perfectionism and control to help ease anxiety. Trauma may be a factor. Yes, you may experience trauma when going to war, but you can also get a trauma response from emotional abuse or neglect from childhood. Trauma can happen when we realise we are alone in the world, so we make ourselves needed.

Resolving people-pleasing behaviour

All too familiar? Now lets help resolve this learned People Pleasing behaviour. Understand why you have developed people-pleasing as a coping style to psychologically keep yourself emotionally safe. Anger is healthy. Anger is good. Learning how to get angry in a productive way rather than suppressing it until you get into a ‘rage haze’ and explode or ruminate into a depression spiral. Practice saying out loud your thoughts, people don’t mind readers so if they don’t know what you’re thinking, they won’t understand why you’re hurt. Think logically - Time versus capacity; if you do not have the spare time, then you technically aren’t lying which can reduce guilt. Remember the saying “if you are saying yes for approval, you are saying no to your wellbeing”.

As always, self-love is to understand what we want & how to make ourselves happy without craving others' acceptance (understanding our emotions and needs) which can be very, very hard if you have never done it before. Bonus tip: when you master self-compassion, you can meet your own needs so you don’t rely on others to make you happy! Believe you are good enough, constantly pumping yourself up as you would do to others. Understanding your attachment and how it has contributed to your unconscious people-pleasing behaviour (speak with a therapist like myself if you want to learn more). Recognising when & why you may be in denial or ‘feeling numb’ (trauma mindfulness & introspection can help).


Boundaries! Explore what they are and how to use them without fear of rejection. Yes, it is nice to be loved, but if it comes at the expense of your wellness and mental wellbeing… it is not authentic love. So, start practising saying no or putting up boundaries under your terms. Perhaps a ‘compliment sandwich’ could be a good way to deliver that awkward anxiety-provoking conversation. Try saying “let me check my schedule and I'll get back to you” so it reduces the pressure to say ‘Yes’. All of these strategies take time, if you are a genuine people pleaser personality type, this article will be anxiety-provoking so thank you for sticking around. Please, take your time, make achievable goals so you are proud of yourself when you achieve them & not the self-sabotaging goals you know you will fail. Your ultimate purpose is your wellbeing, it can take time and will be hard, but your happiness (not others) is worth it.

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If you like Elena's article you can book a session with her.

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Elena Bishop

Social Worker

Elena Bishop is a social worker with qualifications in psychology and social work. She specialises in anxiety, self esteem and women's issues.

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