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How to stop being a people pleaser

by Amanda Collins

Do you find yourself trying to make people like you by changing who you are to suit them? Are you eager to agree with others because you’re scared they won’t like you if you don’t? Do you have trouble saying no to people? Do you go out of your way to please others, often at your own expense?

If you answered yes to any of these, then you may be a people pleaser.

How to get rid of the need to be a people pleaser

What does people pleasing look like?

If you are a people pleaser your people pleasing tendencies may only come out in particular circumstances and with particular people, like your partner, boss, or friend; or they may be present in every relationship that you have.

Traits of a people pleaser:

  • Quick to agree with people so that they will like you. You are scared that if you disagree, they will stop liking or loving you.
  • Scared to say no and set limits. You say yes to almost anything. If you say no, you worry that people won’t like you, that they’ll leave you, or that you’re being selfish.
  • You don’t trust your own judgement. This makes it hard for you to make your own decisions without seeking out the opinions of others.
  • Scared people will leave you. This means that you will do, say and agree with most things to avoid being left or abandoned.
  • Easily hurt. Any criticism directed at you, however small, can turn into self-hatred and bouts of depression easily.
  • You have trouble with personal goals. You find it incredibly hard to follow through on your own personal goals.
  • The opinion you have of yourself is based on what others say and think. You look for your self-worth, validation and approval from others, not from within yourself.
  • You spend your life doing things for others. This can make you tired, stressed and resentful.
  • When you are busy you feel worthwhile, but when you are not, your self-worth plummets.
  • You don’t take praise easily. Negative words and actions stick like glue to you, and you find it very hard to accept and trust compliments or praise.

Stop being a people pleaser

Where does people pleasing come from?

People pleasing comes from low self-esteem and insecurity. There are lots of reasons it can develop, including, if:

  • You have been repeatedly criticised.
  • Someone led you to believe that their love was dependent on your behaviour.
  • You were abandoned by someone you love.
  • Someone you loved passed away.
  • Your self-worth has been eroded by people and events in your life.

Realise your own worth

In order to stop being a people pleaser, you need to realise your own worth, build your self-esteem and find  validation within yourself. This is a big task, but you are completely capable of doing it.

Stop talking down to yourself

The first step to developing self-esteem is to stop all the negative chatter that goes on in your brain. Silence your inner critic! When you hear its voice pipe up telling you terrible things about yourself, stop yourself with a word or a phrase. This may be:

  • Stop!
  • No you don’t!
  • This is a lie!
  • I am not falling for this again!

Replace the negative thought with a positive thought instead. This could be something you are good at, praise for how you handled a situation, or a simple compliment for something you like about yourself.

Challenge your thoughts

Often negativity springs from distorted thinking. Common distorted thoughts include:

  • All-or-nothing thinking. Things are either all good or all bad. Example: “I didn’t get the job, I am a total failure”.
  • Mental filtering. You focus only on the negative in a situation. Example: All of your friends told you that your dress was amazing, but your partner doesn’t like the colour, so you think you look terrible and the evening is ruined.
  • Personalisation. You assume the blame for things that happen, even if they had nothing to do with you. Example: “It’s my fault that no one is having a good time, I should never have chosen this restaurant”.
  • Catastrophising. You see or assume only the worst possible outcome to events. Example: “I missed my train, I am going to get fired”.
  • Converting positives into negatives. You reject positive achievements and experiences, dismissing them as things that don’t matter. “I passed my test because it was really easy”.
  • Jumping to conclusions. You jump quickly to negative conclusions when there is no evidence to support them. Example: “He didn’t reply to the message I sent an hour ago, he must hate me”.
  • Mistaking feelings for facts. You confuse your feelings with facts. Example: “I feel like a failure, so I must be a failure”.

When your thoughts about something start to get negative, stop and ask yourself if it’s because of distorted thinking.

If the answer is yes, then you need to challenge those thoughts. Ask yourself how likely is it that what you are thinking is the truth? Is the thought realistic? What is the evidence for and against it? Are you misinterpreting the situation? What other possible interpretations are there? Now, provide yourself with a healthier alternate thought.

Read this article to find out more about distorted thinking.

How to stop being a people pleaser once and for all

List your positives

Every day, find three things you like about yourself and write them down. You could schedule some time to do this in the morning or evening, or just record them in the notes on your phone. The important thing here is to make this a daily practice.

Set small goals and achieve them

Setting goals and achieving them on your own can really boost your self-trust. Every week, set yourself a little challenge. This could be walking for 30 mins a day, writing that email you’ve been putting off or reading one chapter of a book. Set the goal, achieve it, then give yourself a big pat on the back.

Say goodbye to the perfectionist

Nothing will ever be perfect, and that’s okay. When you hold yourself to perfect standards, life becomes a struggle. Do your best, but accept “good enough” as a standard. Accept that you will make mistakes, and that’s fine, mistakes are part of the journey.

Be your own best friend

Treat yourself the way you would treat your very best friend: with love, respect and care. Whenever you go to beat yourself up, or judge yourself, ask “what advice would I give my best friend in this situation?”, and then follow that advice.

Read this article for more tips to build your self-esteem.

Stop being a people pleaser in everyday life

Embrace your own integrity

Personal integrity means that you are honest and stand by your beliefs and opinions.

Every time you say yes when you mean no, or you agree with somebody’s opinion that you don’t really believe, you are compromising your own integrity.

When you agree to do something you really don’t want to do, when you set aside your own needs for those of others, you unconsciously tell yourself that you do not matter.

This could not be further from the truth. What you think and feel matters. Don’t give that away to others, it will only make you unhappy, lonely and misunderstood in the long run. Which is the opposite of what you are after.

Work on your self-worth

Instead of compromising your integrity, embrace your self-worth. Realise that always agreeing with people and always agreeing to do things for people, will ultimately make you unhappy.

Expressing your opinion and saying no may be scary, but it’s much better than the alternative.

From now on, say what you feel and think, not what you think others would want to hear.

If you are having a really bad day, you don’t have to slap on a huge smile and say “I’m great, thanks”, instead say something like “I’m actually not having a great one, but I am planning on watching a movie later so that should cheer me up”.

When someone asks for your opinion, give it. If they want to know where you would like to eat, stop and really consider what you want to eat, not what you think they’d like.

If you are asked what movie you want to see, and you love romantic comedies but your friend likes action, tell them you want to see the latest Kate Hudson blockbuster. Supposing the person you’re with doesn’t like your choices, you can come to a compromise. If they don’t want to compromise, then maybe you’re hanging out with the wrong person!

Stop fear in its tracks

Fear is one of the root causes of people pleasing. You’re scared of rejection, of abandonment, of failure, of letting people down, of making the wrong decision. The list could go on and on.

If you let this fear rule your life you are going to end up unhappy. You need to recognise what it is that you are afraid of, get some help from a counsellor or psychologist to overcome it, and then move forward.

Don’t let your fear choose your future. As the famous quote by author Dale Carnegie says “You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. For remember, fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind”.

Let go of the need to be a people pleaser

You are not selfish

If you are a people pleaser it is likely that you are very worried about being “selfish” or being seen as “selfish”. Because of this you will say yes to doing things that you actually don’t have the time or the will to do.

The first thing you need to realise is that saying no does not make you selfish. It makes you wise. You cannot do everything and be everything for everybody. You will end up exhausted, sick and resentful.

When you are happy and healthy, you are in a position to help.

Take time for yourself. If you need an afternoon to prepare healthy meals for the week, don’t agree to babysit for a friend. At work, if someone asks for help, but you’re already swamped, simply tell the person that you would love to help, but you have too much on your plate. You could even suggest someone who may be in a better position to help.

There is nothing selfish about taking care of your needs. It’s okay to put yourself first, most people do. You will find yourself a happier, healthier and more energetic person if you do.

Learn to say no

This will be scary at first, but it is absolutely necessary for you to do. If you don’t want to do something or don’t have time to do something, say no.

You don’t have to be rude about it, but don’t make excuses either. Just be honest in a way that feels comfortable for you. You could try:

  • “I’m sorry, I make it a policy not to…..”
  • “I’d love to, but I’m actually busy.”
  • “That sounds great, I think …. would be a much better choice to help.”
  • “I would like to help, but unfortunately I’m booked up that day.”
  • “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m just not in a position to help at the moment.”

Don’t negotiate, say no and mean it. Those people that try to cajole you after you say no, are generally trying to manipulate you. You don’t need that in your life. Stick to your no, and don’t let them push you around.

Build your self esteem and stop being a people pleaser

Set some boundaries

A good way to help you to say no, is to mentally set some “do not cross” boundaries. Work out what is important to you and what you will not compromise on.

For instance, you may want to start getting enough sleep. If a favour will eat into your sleep time, you know that you definitely need to say no.

Some boundaries you may want to test out could include:

  • If something is going to affect me negatively, I will say no.
  • I will speak up when I am being treated badly.
  • If agreeing with something conflicts with my own thoughts or beliefs, I won’t.
  • I will not spend my time with people who want to control me.
  • Other people will not define me.
  • I will not stay in relationships where I am not treated with love, care, trust and respect.

Start by setting a few boundaries for yourself and sticking to them for a few months. As you get used to sticking to them, gradually add some more.

You can’t win everyone over

Not everyone in this world will like you. And that’s okay. There are plenty of people in this world that will think you are fantastic.

The key is to just be yourself. Have your own opinions. Have healthy boundaries. Doing these things, you will find that you will meet and make friends with people that genuinely like you. You won’t have to spend your time performing, or running yourself ragged to make people like you. They just will. And the ones that don’t, you don’t want or need them in your life.

When you stop caring about people who don’t like or love you, then you open time and space in your life for good friends and partners to come in.

Being yourself will free you of so much stress, fear, worry and anxiety. It’s an all-round win!

Give up being a people pleaser and meet some real friends

Say goodbye to people pleasing for good

People pleasing is exhausting, and no matter how much you do for others, no matter how much you give, ultimately it will never be enough.

You will never find what you seek by trying to please others. The only true way you can feel fully loved, worthy or accepted is by finding and building your self-worth.

You can develop your self worth by finding validation within yourself, not seeking it from others. Self worth also comes by realising that you are enough, that you are worthy and that you are a fantastic and unique individual.

As the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson so aptly put it “Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing in one’s own sunshine.”

Is it time for a life change?

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2 Responses

  1. emperno says:

    Dear Amanda,

    It is interesting that, after becoming victim of two very nasty dis-eases, and joining the PAIN 101 courses at Nambour Hospital, I have received two emails from you, the last one being very much what I have been told – relax, love and accept myself, change negative to positive thoughts (eg don’t think, ‘I don’t want this pain’ but ‘ I want to be free of pain’; even such words as DON’T are classed as negative).

    Serendipity?

    Thank you,
    Regards,
    Eleanor
    PS have included two websites I started, partly because I needed to write but mainly because I could!

    • Amanda Collins says:

      Hi Eleanor,

      Sorry to hear that you have been having a rough time with your health. It seems like you are taking some really positive steps enrolling in the Nambour Hospital pain courses. The power of positivity is an amazing thing! I wish you all the best for a speedy recovery.

      Cheers,
      Amanda.

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