• People pleasers are those who never say “no.” They’re the people who have adapted to sacrificing their own needs in order to help others, to their own detriment.
  • If you yourself are a people pleaser, the good news is that you can get out of this harmful pattern and the grips of those who take advantage of you (purposefully or not).
  • First, you need to recognize that there is a problem with putting your needs on the back burner and bringing others’ needs to the forefront.
  • Once you’ve made this important realization, you can then work on getting to the root of the problem: why do you have people-pleasing tendencies?
  • Finally, you can set your boundaries and work at maintaining those boundaries: do what you need and want to be doing, and then consider what you can/want to do for others.

My brother shakes his head and sighs, “You’re too nice. It’s going to get you into trouble one day.” I’ve heard this one too many times. I know that I’m a people pleaser, but I’ve always struggled to see the flaw in that… until recently.

After exhausting myself, taking on task after task for my friends and family — watching Emma’s dog, picking up dinner for my dad, getting in touch with my sister for my brother — I took a pause. In an innocent effort to keep my loved ones happy, I failed to keep myself happy. My friends and family members were taking advantage of me, whether they realized it or not. I told myself I had to make a change. And I did.

I make it sound easy, but it was anything but. I had to really work at prioritizing myself and saying no when something didn’t serve me. I had to first understand why I had these people-pleasing tendencies (causes can range from wanting to be liked to fearing rejection, despising conflict, feeling guilty if you don’t help, and more). And then I had to work at countering those tendencies to prioritize my own well-being. 

Now, if you identify all too well with the term, “people pleaser,” don’t worry: you can change, too. Below are a few steps for making this lifestyle change and taking control of your life again.

1) Acknowledge there is a problem.

First and foremost, you need to understand that there is, indeed, a problem in sacrificing your own happiness and well-being for others. If you’ve ever flown on a plane, you’ve heard a flight attendant explain the need for putting on your own oxygen mask first, before helping others. It’s the same idea. It’s vital you take care of yourself first. If you don’t, you’ll suffer the consequences. 

Always being the one that is called on to step in, help out, or get the job done, can leave you feeling used, resentful, and overwhelmed,” Mabel Yiu, marriage and family therapist, explains. “I am talking about being that person who never says ‘no’: the people pleaser.”

Again, you don’t have to continue living your life this way. And you’re already on the way to improvement, in that you’re recognizing the need for change: “The good news is you don’t have to go on like this. You can establish boundaries and teach the people around you how you want to be treated. You can learn to say ‘no,’ to do the things that make you happy and turn down the things that do not,” says Yiu.

2) Get to the root of the problem.

Now that you’ve recognized there is a problem, you need to figure out where that problem stems from. In other words, you need to understand why you have people-pleasing tendencies. What is it? Are you driven by pride, devotion, or something else?

“First thing’s first, you should ask yourself why you feel like you need to please others,” Yiu says. “What drives you to never say ‘no’? Does it have to do with your self-confidence, or wanting to be liked/respected? Are you trying to compete with others around you or prove something to yourself or others? Whatever it is, come to terms with it. Taking on all these things and being ‘walked’ on is not good for you. You are worthy of your time. Your time is important.”

3) Build your fence.

The next step is to start building your fence or, in other words, setting your boundaries. Just as a physical fence keeps what’s inside safe, your boundaries will keep you safe. “Be firm but permeable,” Yiu advises. “I am not telling you to shut out the world and turn down everything. I am encouraging you to figure out the things you would like to be doing and do those things. It will do wonders for the relationships in your life because you feel better about how you are spending your days. You won’t feel the resentment you have felt.”

Yiu puts these boundaries into perspective: “For example, if you have a friend or family member who is always expecting you to run errands or always wants to borrow money from you, let them know that ends now. Tell them nicely yet firmly that you are not comfortable helping in this way anymore. They may get mad for a little while, but eventually, they will learn to respect your time and energy.”

4) Seek support in therapy.

Finally, get support from a trained professional — therapists help people manage or overcome their unique challenges. They can help you take all of the steps we’ve discussed above: acknowledging that people-pleasing is a problem, understanding where your people-pleasing tendencies come from, and then setting boundaries with those around you. 

The Moral of the Story

You are important, and you must put yourself first. Yiu broadens the scope: “You need to take care of you before you can fully take care of anyone else. You need to create your own happiness. Put your foot down where needed and get back to doing the things that leave you going to bed with a smile on your face.” You’ll be happy you did — take it from a former people pleaser herself.