Mallory Welsh, LCSW

I work with many clients who struggle with being a people pleaser. My job as their clinical therapist is to help the client understand possible reasons why they struggle with the need of wanting to please other people and then possible coping strategies on how to start saying “no” to others.

I recently read an article from Fast Company that touched on this very topic, “How to stop your people-pleasing behavior from limiting your success” by author Lisa Evans. Evans discusses that it is normal to want to be liked and validated by others, but when doing that takes away from your own needs and wants, that is when it can be very unhealthy both for your mental and physical health.

Dr. Jeff Nalin, a clinical psychologist and the founder and chief clinical officer of Paradigm Malibu Treatment Center claims it is almost like an addiction for people pleasers to constantly say “yes” to others without considering what is best for them. People who fall in the category of being a people pleaser fear not being liked or validated by others and tend to have an automatic response of “yes” when asked to do something for someone else, whether it is in their personal or professional life. People who get stuck with pleasing other people all day long rarely have any time to please themselves at the end of the day.

Evans describes 4 simple tips on how to get unstuck from being a people pleaser.

  • Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries! Boundaries are a very effective way to gain control back in your life. Dr. Nalin states it can be helpful to identify the tasks you do daily and see which ones are your energy drainers. Also, it can be helpful to ask yourself which tasks have a positive or negative impact on your life. When examining both of those things, it may be helpful to structure your day accordingly, which can help you gain more control over your day and schedule. It is important to express your priorities to others in order to gain more control over your day.
  • Practice makes perfect. Practice saying “no”. People pleasers have trouble with saying “no” to others. Dr. Nalin says it can be helpful to practice saying “no” to people you may not know or feel connected to, such as a waitress who asks if you would like a side of sweet potato fries. When practicing saying “no” at a restaurant, it can help you feel better overtime and build yourself up to saying “no” to a friend’s invitation to a dinner you prefer not to attend. Be prepared that some of your friends or family may give you a bit of pushback when you say “no” to them at first, especially if you have gotten them so used to you constantly saying “yes” to them. Overtime, they will likely begin to understand your priorities and it is okay to say “no”. I even encourage my clients that if saying “no” is too challenging, maybe internally saying “yes to yourself” feels better. For example, saying no to a dinner invitation is actually saying yes to much needed you time.
  • It’s not selfish. Remember that saying “no” to others is not being selfish. In actuality, it is showing yourself self-compassion and self-love. Sometimes, we all just need some time to ourselves, and that needs to be okay with others. It also doesn’t mean you simply stop doing kind things for others, it just means you stop doing things for others when you feel like you are doing it for validation or fear of not being liked by them. Before answering “yes” or “no” to a request from someone, ask yourself if it aligns with your values and your schedule.
  • Internal satisfaction. While we all want to be liked by others, make sure to also like yourself. The core of letting go of being a people pleaser is simply to look at your inner validation about yourself as opposed to validation from others. I have encouraged clients to simply meditate or journal about things they admire about themselves. Most times they report it was an uncomfortable reflection exercise, but that it did make them feel better!

If you are currently struggling with being a people pleaser, it may be a good idea to connect with one of our skilled counselors at Symmetry Counseling today. You can contact them at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment.