What is People Pleasing: Exploring the Why, How, and Tips to Address It

This blog post, written by a licensed Calgary therapist, explores what people pleasing is, how it develops, why it may be helpful to work on it, how it relates to anxiety and tips to combat it.


Kaylee Procter

2/7/20244 min read

a women learning how to find balance in life and break free from people pleasing, as she is walking
a women learning how to find balance in life and break free from people pleasing, as she is walking

Today, let's dive into a topic that many of us can relate to - people pleasing. As a licensed therapist here in Calgary, I've seen firsthand how this tendency can impact individuals' mental well-being. So, grab your favourite cozy beverage, settle in, and let's chat about what people pleasing is, how it sneaks into our lives, why it might not be as harmless as it seems, and some practical tips to break free from its grip.

What is People Pleasing?

People pleasing is a behavioural pattern where an individual consistently seeks approval and validation from others. It involves putting other people's needs and desires above their own, often at the expense of their own well-being and happiness.

People pleasers have an innate desire to be liked and accepted, and they will go to great lengths to avoid conflict or disappointment. They tend to say "yes" to every request, even if it means sacrificing their own time, energy, and personal boundaries.

It's like throwing a never-ending party where you're the host, and everyone else's happiness is the priority. Doesn't it sound exhausting?

How Do You Become a People Pleaser?

People pleasing behaviour typically develops in childhood, often as a response to certain family dynamics or societal expectations. For example, growing up in an environment where one's worth is measured by their ability to please others can shape a person into becoming a people pleaser.

Additionally, individuals who have experienced rejection or criticism in the past may develop a strong need for external validation, leading them to overcompensate by adopting people pleasing behaviours as a way to avoid further pain or rejection.

Lastly, people pleasing can develop when trauma or neglect is experienced in childhood. Often times when these adverse childhood experiences are present, pleasing others becomes a way to ensure safety - both physically and emotionally. When this association is learned at a young age, it's often carried into adulthood, even though it may no longer be needed.

What's Wrong with Being a People Pleaser?

While it may seem noble to prioritize the happiness of others, being a chronic people pleaser can have detrimental effects on one's mental and emotional well-being.

Firstly, constantly putting others' needs before your own can lead to feelings of resentment and burnout. It's essential to remember that self-care and self-compassion are crucial for maintaining a healthy balance in life.

Secondly, people pleasing often stems from a fear of rejection or disapproval. This fear can prevent individuals from expressing their true thoughts, feelings, and opinions, leading to a lack of authenticity and a loss of personal identity.

Thirdly, people pleasers tend to have difficulty setting boundaries and saying "no" when necessary. This can result in overcommitment, feeling overwhelmed, and being taken advantage of by others.

Lastly, people pleasing typically stems from an inability to cope with the difficult emotions that arise when others are upset or conflict arises. This inability to cope with difficult emotions can transfer into a range of other mental health and physical concerns that are associated with a suppression of emotions. It's worth learning the skills to feel your feelings in a way that isn't overwhelming in order to prioritize your health!

How Does People Pleasing Relate to Anxiety?

People pleasing and anxiety often go hand in hand. The constant need for external validation and fear of disapproval can create a significant amount of anxiety in a person's life.

The anxiety stems from the pressure to meet everyone's expectations, the fear of making mistakes, and the worry of being judged. This constant state of anxiety can have a significant impact on one's mental health, leading to increased stress, decreased self-esteem, and even the development of anxiety disorders.

Tips to Combat People Pleasing

Now that we understand the pitfalls of people pleasing, let's explore some practical tips to break free from this pattern and cultivate a healthier mindset:

  1. Self-reflection: Take some time to reflect on your own needs, values, and desires. Understand that it's okay to prioritize yourself and set boundaries. Ask yourself, if no ones needs mattered, how would you be living? What would you do in that moment? This can help to determine what your true needs and desires are.

  2. Practice saying "no": Start small by saying "no" to minor requests or tasks that you genuinely don't want to do. Gradually build up your assertiveness and learn to prioritize your own well-being.

  3. Seek support: If you're having a difficult time working through your people pleasing, professional support can help you navigate/heal the origins of your people pleasing and developing skills to work through it.

  4. Notice rigid rules maintaining your people pleasing: Identify and notice without judgement any rigid rules or thoughts that contribute to your people pleasing tendencies. Thank your mind for trying to keep you safe (re: how do you become a people pleaser section) and acknowledge that his behaviour is no longer serving you; remind yourself of your values and why you want to prioritize your own needs; and respond/plan a behaviour that honours your needs.

  5. Practice self-care: Prioritize self-care activities that bring you joy and relaxation. This could include activities such as exercise, meditation, journaling, or pursuing hobbies.

  6. Set realistic expectations: Understand that you cannot please everyone all the time. Focus on setting realistic expectations for yourself and others, and remember that it's okay to prioritize your own needs.

Breaking free from the cycle of people pleasing is a journey that requires self-reflection, courage, and a commitment to your own well-being. By recognizing the negative impacts of people pleasing and implementing these tips, you can reclaim your authenticity, reduce anxiety, and cultivate healthier relationships based on mutual respect and genuine connection.

Remember, you deserve to live a life that is true to yourself, free from the constraints of people pleasing. Embrace your uniqueness, set boundaries, and prioritize your own happiness. You've got this!

Addressing your people pleasing tendencies is a huge feat to do on your own. I offer a complimentary introductory call to discuss your counselling needs and see how I can help. It's okay to ask for support.