• A people pleaser is someone who goes out of their way to make others happy; they put others’ needs above their own.
  • While well-intentioned, these individuals often suffer as a result of their people-pleasing behavior. 
  • Fortunately, people pleasers can learn to kick the bad habit: For starters, they should set boundaries with others, stop saying “yes,” and consider the pros vs. the cons.
  • When we stop people-pleasing, we can start putting our own needs and well-being first.

Recently, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. My doctor and I are still trying to find a long-term treatment that works for me, and there have certainly been some pain points along the way. Namely:

  • Getting medication approved by my insurance promptly
  • Communicating effectively with the team at my specialty pharmacy
  • Receiving my medication in a timely manner
  • Corresponding with my doctor about my meds, progress, etc.
  • Obtaining the right information and resources from all of the above parties

The other day, I had a telehealth appointment with my doctor — we decided it was time I try a new medication. I’ll go into the office next week to be trained on how to use it (it’s an injection) and to get some bloodwork done. Any other questions? Nope, all good.

This morning: Did the medication get approved by my insurance yet? Did the nurse reach out to my insurance for approval, like they said they would? Where is the write-up for my blood test? The doctor said the office would email it to me.

I could easily call my doctor’s office, bombard whoever picks up the phone with these questions, and get the answers that I need. But I haven’t because I’m a people pleaser.

Yes, this was my long-winded way of telling you that I am a people pleaser: someone who goes out of their way to make others happy or, on the flip side of the same coin, to not inconvenience others — but that’s not the whole story. 

If you take a closer look, the bigger picture is that my people-pleasing behavior is working against me and my health. And if you’re a people-pleaser, my guess is that your people-pleasing tendencies are hurting you, too.

The Need to Please: What Causes People-Pleasing Behavior?

I’ve always been told that I’m too nice. And I took it as a compliment until recently. Today, I wonder, “Where does my people-pleasing behavior stem from? Why do I feel the need to please?” 

Here are common causes of people-pleasing and possible explanations for your people-pleasing tendencies:

  1. You want to be liked. You please others simply because you want to be liked and/or develop friendships. It’s also likely that you feel insecure if you aren’t well-liked or don’t form that connection you’re hoping for.
  2. You’re scared of rejection. Maybe it runs even deeper than being liked – some people pleasers fear rejection if they don’t agree to help or go beyond to please their friend, boss, coworker, or family member. 
  3. You hate conflict. You say “yes” because you can’t bring yourself to say “no.” You hate conflict and want to avoid any negative interactions, at all costs. 
  4. You’ll feel guilty if you don’t help. Maybe you can’t bear the guilt that would surely come with saying “no.” You’d rather pick up the baggage that comes with prioritizing others’ needs.
  5. It’s just who you are. Another possibility is that your people-pleasing habit is ingrained in your personality. You are a genuinely compassionate, kind, and empathetic person whose natural inclination is to put others first

Your people-pleasing likely stems from more than one source. If the above were a checklist, I’d check off every single one for my own people-pleasing causes.

What’s Wrong with People-Pleasing?

You might be wondering, “What’s so bad about people-pleasing?” That’s what I used to think, too. But then I realized that it wasn’t just holding me back — it was hurting me. (Note: There is a fine line between being a caring person and engaging in people-pleasing; there is nothing wrong with the former, but the latter can take on a life of its own.)

I can’t bring myself to call my doctor’s office and get answers to questions that my physical health and mental health rely on. Why? Because I don’t want to inconvenience the person on the other end of the phone — I also want to be liked. “Nobody likes needy patients,” I’ve told myself.

Maybe you can’t relate to having a chronic illness or being thrown head-first into the healthcare system. But I bet you can relate to feeling frustrated, angry, anxious, or stressed as a result of your people-pleasing habit. And these negative feelings are just one of many negative side effects that might result from people-pleasing. Here’s a list:

  • You feel frustrated, angry, anxious, or stressed on the regular. Difficult emotions aren’t necessarily bad — but when you’re feeling frustrated, angry, anxious, or stressed 24/7 because of your desire to please others, that’s a problem. 
  • Your relationships suffer. It’s likely that you develop negative feelings toward others, too — you despise them for asking you to do things, or you resent them for taking advantage of your people-pleasing tendencies. This will take a toll on your relationships.
  • You don’t have any time or energy left for you. People pleasers put most (if not all) of their time and energy into making others happy. They’re always saying “yes,” which results in a mile-long to-do list that’s only getting longer as the days go by.
  • You neglect your needs. You don’t just struggle to fit your needs into your schedule — you neglect them altogether. You put your happiness and sometimes even your health (like in my case) on the backburner, to please others.
  • You stunt your own growth. If you aren’t meeting your needs, you certainly aren’t achieving your goals or thriving, either. 

How to Stop People-Pleasing 

Let’s be honest: You won’t be able to stop people-pleasing the second you decide you want to stop people-pleasing (take it from me). You’ll have to work at it. 

To start, have a conversation with your loved ones about your epiphany and your desire to stop people-pleasing. Let them know that you’re going to be more intentional about your time and that you’re working to prioritize your own needs. Set boundaries. This might be tough, especially if you’re scared of rejection or feel guilty when you say “no,” but you (and your mental health) will be better for it.

Also, stop saying “yes,” to every favor asked of you. If it’s too painful or difficult to say “no” right off the bat, start saying, “let me think about it,” or “let me see if I’m able to help, I’ll get back to you.” Then, you can actually think about it and see if you’re able to help. If you aren’t, you’ve got a little time to work up the courage to say “no,” and they’ve got a little time to work out a plan B.

A third step in the right direction is weighing the pros and the cons. Case in point: my personal dilemma of whether or not to call my doctor’s office. A couple of cons are that by calling, 1) I inconvenience the person on the other end of the phone who will have to hunt for the answers I need (at least in my people-pleasing mind), and 2) I come off as needy and unlikeable (again, in my tainted view). Two big pros are 1) I obtain the information I need to move forward with my treatment regimen, and 2) I ensure the new treatment starts off smoothly. In this situation, the pros definitely outweigh the cons — and demand I cast aside my people-pleasing habit.

When You Stop People-Pleasing, You Start Putting You and Your Wellbeing First

People-pleasing isn’t an easy habit to kick — most habits aren’t. But it’s also true that with the right motivation and determination, you can achieve your goal and stop people-pleasing (or at least cut back). 

When you do, you’ll realize that your people-pleasing behavior controlled your life. Until you decided to take back control. Okay, now I’ve got to go — I have a call to make.

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