Posted on Nov 01, 2022

“When you say yes to others, make sure you aren’t saying no to yourself.” – Paulo Coehlo

Why It Hurts You When You Tend to Everyone Else First. (A Deeper Dive into People Pleasing)

Does any of the following sound familiar to you?

  • You drop everything when your partner wants to vent after a frustrating day at work and all you really want to do is put your feet up and watch your favorite show.
  • You say “yes” to birthday celebrations way out of your budget to make sure your friends know you care. 
  • You find yourself wondering why you agreed to an additional responsibility at work when you are already stressed and overworked.
  • You give up your workout because you need to clear out your email inbox and don't have time to workout.

I’ve been there too–a LOT. If you can relate, you could be a classic People Pleaser. (And you're NOT broken, btw. But here's why people-pleasing can harm YOU, and how to shift out of it.) When you’re in the habit of putting others first, it’s easy (and likely feels safe to your nervous system) to fall into behaviors that seem safe for your relationships, but neglectful towards yourself. 

In this recent article, I shared how to build self-worth, and today I'll  go into a deeper dive into why you may people-please and the impact it can have on your self-worth. I will also share behaviors that are often overlooked as normal behavior in relationships, or what you may chalk up to "just part of your personality."  I'll help you build awareness of some of your safety strategies and what signs to look out for to get people-pleasing habits down to a healthier balance and not sacrifice your own needs.

Why do we People-Please in the First Place? 

At first glance, people-pleasing seems harmless. You tell yourself that it’s what you do to preserve a relationship–that you care so much about the other person and pleasing them is how you show it. Logically, you may think it's your way of being kind and compassionate. 

When the pattern is more than simply helping others and it comes at the expense of your own needs and desires, it is a compensatory pattern and was likely adopted in childhood.  This means that it is biologically appropriate and kept you safe when you needed it to.

You might have developed this pattern out of necessity as a child. This could have come from a variety of different situations, such as:

  • You had a parent that needed a lot of validation from you.
  • You were "parentified" and had the unspoken responsibility of managing a parents feelings.
  • You felt ignored by your parents as a kid and needed to earn their attention by entertaining them or achieving relentlessly.
  • You felt that you had to be the peacemaker if there was a lot of fighting.
  • You had to be adaptable to avoid bullying or getting picked on.

When we fear rejection, abandonment, or a lack of care, we often resort to pleasing others to ensure those (very human) needs get met. 

When we have a record of continually putting others first, we might not realize how much we have lost touch with our own preferences, desires, and needs. All we might know are others’ preferences.  We don’t know where THEY stop and WE start.

The first step to pleasing yourself without guilt or fear is to become aware of when you drop everything for someone else—no matter what it costs you.  Awareness precedes choice.

Signs of People Pleasing (and how they undo your progress toward self-worth) 

Once you start paying attention, you might be surprised at how you engage in people-pleasing (and how often you do it). 

It could be that you over-apologize, need everyone to like you and think that you’re amazing, act like those around you (even when it goes against your values), or always say yes (even when you want to say no.) 

Each of these forms has its own consequences and it’s important, as subtle as some might be, to be kind to yourself as you shift your habits around them. Putting others first can detract you from knowing who you really are and living at our fullest potential. Let’s shift you out of that mindset! 

Read on to learn about some common people-pleasing behaviors and remedies for them. Pay special attention to the ones that make you say “Oh, that’s me for sure.” If any of these sound like you, be sure to check out this article about the power of "NO."

  1. You always say “yes” (even when you don’t mean it)–This is a common and seemingly innocent trait for people-pleasers. It could be as simple as agreeing to bake cookies for your kid’s class because people love your baking–when you have zero time in your schedule. Or taking a work project because your boss says you’d be great at it when you know you’re overcapacity. 
    • When you’re feeling doubt about saying “yes” to something, say this instead: “Let me get back to you after I check my schedule.” Give yourself time to respond. This might help you break your kneejerk “yes” response, and answer more honestly without guilt.
  2. You apologize often (even when it’s unnecessary)–When you constantly apologize, you can discredit yourself–even when you’ve thought carefully about a decision or response and even when there is nothing to be sorry for.  
    • If you have a tendency to apologize by default (whether it’s because you do not want to attend a gathering or don’t want to drink though everyone else is), ask yourself if there’s a sincere reason to apologize for the situation at hand. There’s a high probability you just need new phrases to respond with. Try developing phrases that honor what you need and let people into who you are. Like “I would love to go to your birthday party but I just came back from a long weekend with in-laws and need some downtime.” (See? No apology needed there.)
    • This is a big one--If your response for not replying to an email or text within seconds is "sorry," consider "thank you for your patience with my reply."
  3. You avoid any and all conflict and find it hard to speak up–First off, let’s remind ourselves that most people do not want conflict. It’s uncomfortable to be so vulnerable. But when you hold back all the time, you don’t get to use your voice or enjoy acting on the values you hold dear.
    • To get comfortable with disagreement, make more of your own choices. It sounds easy, but many of us have catered to others for so long that we aren’t aware of what we want. Try starting with tiny decisions such as what to eat, or what to do after work. Eventually, my hope is that you take ownership of what you prefer and value (and be proud of these preferences, it makes you YOU). 

Being honest with yourself and others can be scary, because it may mean conflict and pushback. 

But ultimately, when you practice with small choices and preferences, you’ll see that you can still be kind and compassionate AND get what you truly want. And you’ll feel way more generous and authentic about saying “yes”---because you REALLY mean it. 

Making Room for you, your Quirks, and your Needs  

When you put others’ needs in front of yours at all times, you inevitably allow anxiety, self-neglect, and resentment into your life.  It’s exhausting to be a constant chameleon or take on more than you have the capacity to deliver–just for the sake of being liked or praised.

The good news is that people-pleasing is a coping mechanism and it does not define who you are.  Just as you’ve learned to put others first, you can learn to put yourself first and make room for your preferences.

It will take time and consistent practice, but it is possible to reclaim your power—one “no” at a time. 

If you’d like guidance and accountability on your self-love journey, consider joining me in my self-worth workshop , where we work on rewiring how we see and talk about ourselves. Stop by our website to enroll

Be well,