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Signs You May Be A People Pleaser And How To Fix It

Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, MA, NCC, LPC 

Do you find that you say “yes” when you want to say “no”? Do you often play Devil’s Advocate? Do you tend to go with the flow, not offering your own opinion? Do you often get referred to as “generous”, “kind,” or “helpful”? You may be a people pleaser. When we think of pleasing those around us, this might not sound so bad. Most of us have an innate need for community and connection. But when caring for and tending to the wants and needs of others comes at the expense of meeting our own wants and needs, it can be problematic. 

People pleasers are often in tune with how everyone around them is feeling and while this may seem like a positive trait, it can actually be quite draining. People-pleasing often requires a form of self-neglect or self-sacrifice simply to make others around them happy. Those who people please may find that they have trouble expressing their honest opinions and instead agree with what others are saying. This can lead to low self-esteem and even a lack of personal identity.  People pleasing can also cause increased stress, as the individual might have little free time for their own errands or self-care as a result of giving their time and energy to others. 

How might I differentiate between being kind and being a people pleaser? 

Well, this is a great question. When helping, assisting, or caring for another, it may be helpful to reflect on the following points. If you are hoping to get some form of validation or approval as a result of your efforts or if you are extrinsically motivated, this may indicate people-pleasing as opposed to simple kindness. Furthermore, if you find that your help or generosity does not have boundaries or limitations (I.e., you always say “yes” despite not feeling up to it, you feel guilty about turning people down), you may in fact be people-pleasing. Finally, if you find that you apologize for things that are not actually your fault or responsibility and agree with what others are saying despite having a different opinion… Well, you get the gist. 

Signs you might be a people pleaser:

  • Low self-esteem or self-worth
  • Neglects their own needs
  • Goes with the flow as is dictated by others
  • Is overly agreeable
  • Struggles to communicate their own wants and needs 
  • Rarely says no
  • Feels validated and appreciated by giving others what they want 
  • Values praise
  • Apologizes even when something is not their responsibility

If this resonates with you, do not panic. It is never too late to stop neglecting yourself in favor of others and begin prioritizing your own needs. Two of the most important components to help balance your own needs with those of others include boundary setting and assertive communication. If you are a lifelong people-pleaser, you may be wholly unfamiliar with boundaries so let’s take this opportunity to break them down. A boundary marks the end of your responsibility and the start of the other person’s. For example, if a colleague asks that you complete overtime work that is ultimately not your responsibility or part of your job description, you can draw a boundary by politely and respectfully saying something like, “Unfortunately I do not have time to take this on.” A boundary lets the other person know that you are not comfortable with something or that you are not emotionally or physically available to engage in a chore, task, conversation, or event. 

Assertive communication is also an important means of meeting one’s own needs. If you often find that you let others make decisions or you tend to go with the flow despite wanting or preferring something different, open and assertive communication can help. When we learn to speak up for ourselves when we disagree, feel taken advantage of, or simply do not want to do something that someone has asked of us, we begin to re-establish our independence and self-efficacy. An example of assertive communication might look like, “I appreciate you asking, but unfortunately, I am unavailable,” “I can respect your opinion, but I disagree,” or “I understand that you are frustrated, but I do not feel comfortable participating in a conversation where I am being yelled at.” 

If you or someone you know struggles with pleasing people and would like to learn how to set firm boundaries, please contact the intake specialists at Symmetry Counseling today! They can match you with a Chicago counselor who can help you in your journey. 

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