Table of Contents
- What Is a People Pleaser?
- Signs and Behaviors of People Pleasers
- Examples of People Pleasers in Different Situations
- People Pleasing vs. Kindness and Contributing
- Why Some People Lack Assertiveness and Boundaries
- Risks of Putting Yourself Last
- Types of People Who Take Advantage of People Pleasers
- How People-Pleasing and Codependency Overlap
- How to Advocate for Yourself and Stop People Pleasing
- Respect Yourself So That Others Respect You
As the name implies, a “people pleaser” is someone who has a strong desire to please others. Of course, wanting to make others happy in and of itself is not a bad thing. However, people pleasers lack balance and boundaries in their approach to being caring, and this self-neglect can lead to resentment and burnout.
If you or someone you know strongly avoids conflict, fails to speak up when necessary, and seeks validation by never disagreeing or saying “no,” chances are you’re witnessing a people-pleaser in action.
While caring involves genuine acts of kindness and compassion, people-pleasing is often driven by underlying fears or insecurities. Despite being constantly surrounded by people, a lack of genuine connections, plus the suppression of one’s true self, can lead people pleasers to feel lonely and unappreciated. As author Elizabeth Parker once said, “The only thing wrong with trying to please everyone is that there’s always at least one person who will remain unhappy. You.”
In this article, find out why people pleasers can benefit from learning how to communicate better and stand up for themselves to meet their own needs and build authentic relationships.
- People pleasers can appear to be selfless and supportive, yet they often lack authenticity, boundaries, and self-respect.
- Research shows that people-pleasing tendencies tend to be used to compensate for poor self-esteem and internal feelings of inadequacy.
- It’s important for self-sacrificing people to build their self-worth, establish boundaries, and advocate for themselves to avoid toxic relationship dynamics.
What Is a People Pleaser?
A people pleaser is someone who consistently goes out of their way to make others happy or satisfied, often at the expense of their own needs and feelings. People pleasers believe it’s their duty to “keep the peace” and ensure everyone is content, so they fail to express their own feelings or opinions out of fear that it will lead to disagreements.
People pleasers tend to lack confidence and assertiveness and instead seek validation by being overly agreeable and self-sacrificing. Some also fish for compliments and overcommit themselves to gain praise and reassurance.
Signs and Behaviors of People Pleasers
“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”Aristotle
People pleasers suppress their true feelings to ensure they are seen in a favorable light, according to Natalie Lue, author of The Joy of Saying No. This is why they sometimes find themselves in one-sided relationships where they are constantly giving, and the other party is constantly taking. In Lue’s opinion, “They do it to avoid conflict, criticism, additional stress, disappointments, loss, rejection and . . . abandonment.”
Below are common signs of people-pleasing behaviors:
- Avoidance of conflict: They might not express their own feelings or opinions if they believe it will lead to disagreements or disappointments.
- Feeling responsible for others’ happiness: They act as if it’s their job to ensure everyone is taken care of, even when their efforts and favors are not returned.
- Seeking validation: They might constantly seek reassurance or overpraise other people in hopes of them returning the favor.
- Difficulty expressing personal needs: They lack boundaries and often suppress their own desires or needs to prioritize others.
- Difficulty saying “no”: They agree to things they don’t really want to do or don’t have the capacity for because they don’t want to disappoint or upset someone. They might constantly say “yes” to requests, even if it’s detrimental to their well-being or goes against their desires.
- Overcommitting: They may take on too many responsibilities and “pick up the slack” for others because they want to help or be liked.
- Apologizing frequently: Even when they’ve done nothing wrong, they might apologize just to smooth things over.
Examples of People Pleasers in Different Situations
Here are examples of people-pleasing behaviors at work and in relationships:
People Pleasers At Work
- They avoid confrontation: A people pleaser might avoid expressing disagreement with a colleague or supervisor even if they believe a different approach would be beneficial.
- They take on extra tasks: They might continuously volunteer or accept additional responsibilities, even when they’re already overwhelmed with their workload.
- They’re reluctant to delegate or seek help: Even in managerial positions, a people pleaser might take on tasks themselves rather than delegating, fearing they might burden others.
- They constantly seek praise: They might frequently seek feedback to ensure their work meets or exceeds every expectation so they won’t be criticized.
- They don’t like to negotiate: Whether it’s for salary, project resources, or timelines, a people pleaser might find it challenging to push for what they need, fearing it might upset the balance or be seen as confrontational.
People Pleasers In Relationships
- They fail to communicate: Rather than communicating when they’re hurt or upset, they might suppress their feelings and act as if everything is okay.
- They avoid difficult conversations: Rather than discussing significant issues affecting the relationship, a people pleaser might avoid them entirely or concede quickly to avoid extended confrontation.
- They always take the blame: Even when they haven’t done anything wrong, they might frequently apologize just to keep the peace or out of fear that they’ve unintentionally upset their partner.
- They don’t balance both partners’ needs: They might consistently prioritize their partner’s desires and needs, often at the expense of their well-being or happiness.
- They overextend themselves because they aren’t honest: Whether it’s attending events they’re not interested in or taking on too many tasks around the house, they take on too much to make their partner happy.
People Pleasing vs. Kindness and Contributing
“Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world. Don’t let anything stand in the way of the light that shines through this form. Risk being seen in all of your glory.”Jim Carrey
Being caring and being a people pleaser can sometimes appear similar on the surface, but different motivations drive them and can manifest differently in actions and consequences.
Authentic acts of care are built on mutual respect and understanding. On the other hand, people-pleasing is based on the need to be liked and involves emotional suppression.
Here are the differences between being caring and people-pleasing:
- Motivated to help: Genuine concern for another person’s well-being or happiness is the primary drive. Acts of kindness or assistance come from an authentic place of wanting to help or uplift someone.
- Boundaries: Caring individuals can set healthy boundaries. They understand the importance of self-care and recognize that they cannot assist others effectively if they neglect their own needs.
- Mutual respect: While caring people don’t necessarily help with the expectation of something in return, they often engage in relationships where there is mutual respect and understanding.
- Emotional balance: Being caring doesn’t mean constantly sacrificing one’s own emotions or well-being. There’s a balance between being there for others and being there for oneself.
- Recognition of standards and limits: Caring individuals are usually self-aware. They recognize their limits, understand their motivations, and can communicate their needs effectively.
Being a People Pleaser:
- Feared-based: The primary drive is often fear-based, which could be fear of rejection, conflict, or negative judgment. The need to be liked or the desire for approval often fuels their actions rather than a genuine concern for the other person’s well-being.
- Concealing true feelings: Opinions or concerns may be hidden to prevent arguments or interference in other people’s schedules and lives.
- Lack of self-awareness: Some people pleasers aren’t aware of their tendencies because it’s the way they were brought up and have acted their whole lives.
- Struggles with self-worth and self-expression: Caring people can be considerate but still speak up, but people-pleasers struggle to strike the same balance.
Why Some People Lack Assertiveness and Boundaries
“Being a people-pleaser isn’t a diagnosis, and it’s not considered a mental health condition. But many experts say that a people-pleasing personality is related to a psychological trait called sociotropy, which causes people to place too much importance on their relationships.”HOPE/American Society of Addiction Medicine
Insecurities, low self-worth, and poor mental health can all contribute to attention-seeking and people-pleasing tendencies. Experts believe that someone is at risk for being neglectful of their own needs if they’ve dealt with these factors and situations:
- Difficult childhood upbringing: Some people grow up in environments where they were praised for putting others first or where they felt the need to mediate familial conflicts.
- Low self-esteem: They might look for external validation to compensate for internal feelings of inadequacy.
- Fear of rejection: Pleasing others can be a way to feel accepted and avoid potential rejection. This may be a common cause among people with social anxiety who hide their “real selves” to fit in and be accepted.
- Past trauma or abuse: They might’ve learned to be hypervigilant to others’ needs as a survival mechanism.
- Mental health issues: Emotional dysregulation, such as due to bipolar disorder, can contribute to low self-esteem and toxic relationships.
Risks of Putting Yourself Last
“There’s a price to be paid for being too nice. You spend so much time taking care of others that you run yourself ragged, neglect your own wants and needs, and lose your sense of self. Fear of rejection forces you to meet everyone else’s expectations. But what about you? What are you missing out on when you’re stuck being Mr. Nice Guy.”Sharon Martin, LCSW
Being a people pleaser can have both positive and negative implications. On the one hand, it’s natural to want to make others happy and to foster harmonious relationships. However, when this desire becomes compulsive or stems from fear of rejection or conflict, it can have negative effects on the people pleaser’s mental health and self-worth.
People pleasers are at risk for experiencing mental health issues and problems in relationships, including:
- Lack of self-identity: Constantly catering to others’ wants and needs can blur the lines of one’s own desires and beliefs. Over time, this can result in a diminished sense of self-worth and a loss of personal identity. Habitually seeking validation from others can erode one’s self-confidence, leading to increased reliance on external validation for self-worth.
- Resentment and burnout: Continually putting others first can lead to feelings of resentment, especially if the effort is not reciprocated. Overextending oneself can also lead to emotional and physical burnout.
- Increased stress and anxiety: Constantly trying to please others can lead to chronic worrying, especially if the individual fears disappointing or upsetting someone. The fear of letting others down increases stress and anxiety levels. Suppressing one’s needs, associated with Type C and Type D personality types, can also contribute to feelings of hopelessness and sadness.
- Developing poor habits: A study from Case Western Reserve University found that individuals who aim to please others are more likely to eat unwanted foods in social situations to make others feel comfortable. Being susceptible to external pressures causes people pleasers to neglect their own health and happiness.
- Increased health risks: According to experts, people who are highly agreeable (a trait common in people pleasers) might face certain health risks because they suppress their feelings, avoid confrontation, or neglect their own needs for the sake of others. Continual stress and emotional exhaustion can manifest as symptoms, including physical fatigue, tension, and heart-related problems.
- Relationship challenges: Studies have shown that an excessive need for approval can lead to challenges in personal relationships, including increased chances of staying in unhealthy relationships due to fear of upsetting or leaving the other person. For example, “echoists,” the opposite of narcissists, are more prone to being mistreated and staying in dysfunctional situations longer than necessary.
- Unhealthy workplace dynamics: Research has indicated that overly agreeable individuals might be at a disadvantage in the workplace, particularly when it comes to negotiations or advocating for their interests.
Being considerate of others does have its advantages.
Researchers often categorize people pleasers as being high in the personality trait of “agreeableness.” On the upside, people with high agreeableness have been found in some studies to have more extensive and more supportive social networks. Their propensity for kindness, empathy, and consideration can create positive social bonds as long as they aren’t afraid to voice their concerns or opinions when needed.
Types of People Who Take Advantage of People Pleasers
Because people pleasers can have difficulty asserting themselves, they may end up in “toxic” relationships where they’re manipulated or treated poorly, explains Marci Payne, LCP. It’s particularly important for highly-agreeable people to be careful about becoming involved with the following types of aggressive and self-centered people:
- Narcissists: People with narcissistic tendencies may seek out people pleasers because they’re more likely to provide the attention and admiration they crave.
- Manipulators: Those who like to control or manipulate situations for their benefit can exploit a people pleaser’s inability to set boundaries.
- “Takers”: Some people are always looking to get more for themselves, whether it’s emotional support, physical resources, or other forms of assistance. They might be attracted to people pleasers who often give without expecting anything in return.
- Bullies: Recognizing someone’s aversion to conflict or confrontation, bullies might target people pleasers as they’re less likely to stand up for themselves.
- Co-dependents: Those with co-dependent tendencies might find people pleasers appealing, as they can rely on them for constant support and affirmation.
How People-Pleasing and Codependency Overlap
The concepts of people-pleasing and “codependency” often overlap in many ways, although there are some differences.
Codependency is a relational dynamic where one person sacrifices their own needs and well-being to take care of another person, often enabling that person’s unhealthy or self-destructive behaviors. It’s a pattern that can be seen in relationships where one person might be dealing with an addiction, for example. Codependent individuals might feel a sense of responsibility for the feelings, actions, needs, and well-being of others, even to their own detriment, which does make many codependents “people pleasers.”
Here’s the main difference: a person might be a people pleaser because they have been conditioned to believe that their worth is tied to how much they can do for others, but they might not necessarily be in a codependent relationship where they enable someone’s self-destructive behaviors.
How to Advocate for Yourself and Stop People Pleasing
“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.”Lao Tzu
In order to lead an authentic and satisfying life, it’s essential to “have your own back” and live according to your own values, despite what others think. Like any other behavioral pattern, with effort and support, it’s possible for people pleasers to find balance and lead a life that respects both themselves and others.
Here’s how to stop people-pleasing and instead form mutually beneficial relationships:
1. Strengthen Your Self-Worth
- Build your self-esteem: Appreciate all of your strengths, kindness, and talents without seeking external validation. Journal about moments that have made you proud, your accomplishments, and your unique traits.
- Become more self-aware: Recognize and admit to yourself that you have a tendency to people-please. Reflect on why you do it.
- Celebrate your achievements: It’s not about being boastful but recognizing and rewarding yourself for your hard work and accomplishments.
- Trust your instincts: You have an intuition for a reason. Trusting in your feelings and instincts reinforces that you value your own perspective.
- Seek support: Find people who support your needs and build you up, whether it’s through a friend group, therapy or counseling. Talking to a professional can also help you explore the roots of your people-pleasing tendencies and develop strategies to counteract them. Once you stand up for yourself, “Don’t be surprised if your relationships start to change and some connections fall away. Those who become defensive or angry more than likely are benefitting from your people-pleasing lifestyle and feel threatened by your newfound freedom,” says Keischa Pruden, a licensed therapist.
2. Learn to Say “No” and Establish Boundaries
- Start small: Begin by declining unimportant requests or offers if they don’t align with your needs or capacities. Then speak up about more significant requests and responsibilities when you feel ready.
- Clearly define your standards: Show others what you’re willing to accept and what you’re not. It’s okay to say no and practice assertive communication, and it’s important to recognize when you’re being taken advantage of.
- Take your time to make decisions: Whenever someone asks you for a favor, stall so you give yourself time to think things through, suggests James Madison University’s counseling center. This gives you the opportunity to consider if you can commit to helping them.
- Prioritize self-care: It’s important to value and take care of your own needs, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Find time to focus on yourself in addition to everyone else. This could mean engaging in regular exercise, setting aside time for hobbies, or seeking professional therapy.
3. Improve Your Communication Skills and Assertiveness
- Express your feelings: Begin sharing your feelings and thoughts more openly, even if they’re different from those of others.
- Practice assertiveness: This doesn’t mean being aggressive but standing up for your own rights in a respectful manner.
- Pursue continuous growth: Commit to lifelong learning and self-improvement, including finding ways to speak with others and authentically showcase who you are. This shows you value yourself enough to invest time and effort in your growth.
Respect Yourself So That Others Respect You
“Our relationship with ourselves forms the blueprint for all the relationships in our life.”Susyn Reeve
It’s not wrong to want to make others happy or to be considerate. In fact, contributing positively to other people’s lives is one of the best ways to make the most of your own life and to find purpose and meaning. The problem arises when making others feel good comes at the expense of your own well-being, desires, and needs.
Respecting yourself is integral to pursuing personal growth and reaching your potential. Here are some ways to cultivate self-respect:
- Forgive yourself: Everyone makes mistakes. Recognize your faults, learn from them, and then forgive yourself. Holding onto past mistakes won’t allow you to move forward.
- Avoid negative self-talk: Monitor your internal dialogue. Challenge and reframe negative thoughts. Speak to yourself the same way you’d speak to a close friend—with kindness and understanding.
- Repeat affirmations: Use positive affirmations to reinforce your self-worth. Repeating statements like “I am worthy of love and respect” can help rewire negative thought patterns.
- Take Responsibility: Own up to your actions, both good and bad. Taking responsibility can empower you and increase the respect you have for yourself.
Want to learn more about how to resolve conflicts in a respectful, mature way? Check out this article:
Leaders Media has established sourcing guidelines and relies on relevant, and credible sources for the data, facts, and expert insights and analysis we reference. You can learn more about our mission, ethics, and how we cite sources in our editorial policy.
- Good Reads. Elizabeth Parker Quotes. https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/5053782.Elizabeth_Parker
- How to Stop Being a People Pleaser. A Place of Hope. https://www.aplaceofhope.com/how-to-stop-being-a-people-pleaser/
- (2022, June 15). How to know if you’re a people-pleaser and what to do about it. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wellness/2022/06/15/people-pleaser-personality-psychology/
- How to stop being a people pleaser. A Place of Hope. https://www.aplaceofhope.com/how-to-stop-being-a-people-pleaser/
- Lemos M, Vásquez AM, Román-Calderón JP. Potential Therapeutic Targets in People with Emotional Dependency. Int J Psychol Res (Medellin). 2019 Jan-Jun;12(1):18-27. doi: 10.21500/20112084.3627. PMID: 32612784; PMCID: PMC7110170.
- Martin, S. (2017). 14 quotes to inspire you to ditch your people-pleasing ways. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/blog/imperfect/2017/03/14-quotes-to-inspire-you-to-ditch-your-people-pleasing-ways#1
- Where people-pleasing comes from. GoodTherapy. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/where-people-pleasing-comes-from/
- Understanding and overcoming people-pleasing behaviors. James Madison University Counseling Center. https://www.jmu.edu/counselingctr/self-help/relationships/people-pleasing.shtml
- Self-respect quotes. Social Self. https://socialself.com/blog/self-respect-quotes/
- People Pleaser. Science of People. https://www.scienceofpeople.com/people-pleaser/
- People Pleaser. Choosing Therapy. https://www.choosingtherapy.com/people-pleaser/