Updated: Apr 20
I am becoming more careful about labelling myself these days. You will often see me refer to myself as a recovering this or a former that. People pleaser has been a hat I have worn for a very long time, and it has taken me almost as long to come to terms with where it came from, how it shows up for me and its effect on those around me.
On first consideration it sounds quite nice doesn’t it? I like to please people. But in fact, I have found it not only to be hugely detrimental to myself, my growth and development, but also to the relationships around me.
What is a people pleaser?
Shirzad Chamine’s Positive Intelligence  defines the people pleaser as someone who “indirectly tries to gain acceptance and affection by helping, pleasing, rescuing, or flattering others … [someone who] ..loses sight of [their] own needs and becomes resentful as a result.
When I first read this, I remember getting that hot prickly feeling of indignation. Hitherto I had seen my people pleasing as something that may be detrimental to me but was something that others certainly gained from. It felt altruistic, I certainly felt the world would be a better place if we could all stop being so selfish and be a bit more, dare I say it… like me. Eugh, that was tough to admit to, and I squirm in my seat as I type it. I now start to recognise my arrogance in the belief that I was the person in the right.
It’s a smack in the face then to become aware, as I have, that this is just another fear-based belief that I had embraced which convinced me that I must always put others ahead of myself and that the most sure-fire way to fit in and be accepted, to be a good person, was to seek ways to please everyone else and that I should, and did, come second (or third, or fourth, or not at all actually..).
9 ways to tell if you are a people pleaser and what’s the problem anyway?
I could have done ten, but I felt like rebelling and not fitting in with what’s expected... one of the many small ways I try to keep myself in discomfort and practicing my non people pleasing ways!
1. You worry about what others think to a level of preoccupation – why did I say that? How did they take it? Do they hate me now? Is everyone talking about me? I bet they think I am an idiot. I regularly used to (and still do infrequently) wake up in the early hours with the whirring brain on this one – catastrophising to the nth degree. And you also think about others when there is a decision to be made – a decision for you- what will they think if I do /don’t do this?
2. You find saying no very uncomfortable – to the point you try to avoid it. Invitations to events and functions you don’t want to go to, requests to take on another project, work late, be the messenger of someone else’s feedback/news, to just “help out”. Yes, is just easier, you will just make time somehow.
3. Your sense of personal responsibility sees you often overworked in comparison to your colleagues – you may label this as going the extra mile – if you are honest, it’s a difficulty in letting go. You believe that you are the lynch pin – things will either succeed or fail solely on you and your efforts, or lack of them. You will keep slogging because this is yours to make work. And then you often feel resentful at being taken for granted by those same colleagues that trip off home “early” ... also known as a reasonable (!) finishing time.
4. You fear being rejected, left behind, abandoned – you just want to be liked. If you say what you want and what you need you may drive others away. It’s selfish to get what I want.
5. You apologise A LOT and make yourself small: sorry to interrupt… I just wanted to ask… sorry but… ooh you just trod on my foot – I’m sorry! Would you mind if I just…
6. You pretend to agree with people to avoid rocking the boat – really listening to other people’s opinions, especially when they do not fit with your own, is a wonderful skill to have. But so too is then being able to say you don’t agree and say why. If you surround yourself with people who are not for you, whose values are not aligned with your own, there is the road to disenchantment.
7. You go out of your way to avoid conflict – closely aligned to agreeing with people for the sake of it. Here you additionally sidestep difficult conversations. Need to deliver firm and frank feedback to a work colleague? Are you clear, because clear is kind , or do you water it down and make excuses in your head justifying the fudged version you do deliver?
8. You feel responsible for how other people feel. If someone is sad, angry, upset then you see it as your mission to solve this for them. It’s a way to be important and can create a dependency which validates your approach. Here’s the powerful lesson I got on this one, which stopped me in my tracks. By taking responsibility for how someone feels, you are sending them the message that they can’t cope, that somehow, they are lacking because you need to fix this, or them. See their feelings, acknowledge them, and then let them know that you have confidence in them, that they have the power to move through this themselves, and that you are there to walk with them. Feel the difference?
9. You don’t tell someone if they have upset you. They didn’t mean it. It’s my fault /problem not theirs. Or… you call them every name under the sun in your head and perhaps to your nearest and dearest, but never, ever let on you are mad as hell with them.
Have a watch of Salma Hindy talking about “why people pleasing is hurting you” .. the co-dependency piece is insightful https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55HERZnmHT8
So, are there any advantages to being a people pleaser?
Good question. Shirzad Chamine says no, absolutely not, he is firm in his view that all inner critics or saboteurs (of which the people pleaser is one) have nothing positive to offer at all. I have a softer view to my critics, which we have touched on before; I believe they are trying to support me but are rather wide of the mark with their strategies. In the instance of the pleasing, it feels now rather a childish approach, somewhat needy and cloying, which of course is exactly what all saboteurs are.
And I hear some of my clients continuing to defend the pleasing, and I’m not immune I promise, my own thoughts can still stray off in this direction too. Do any of these sound familiar?
· It helps me be in tune with others, I can mix/work/get on with anyone
· I’m a nice(r) person because of it
· It makes me more intuitive and empathetic
· It makes me work hard, achieve more
Tough one, these still sound quite appealing to me, but I would challenge you to dismantle each of these for yourself and understand the driver behind each one, where is this coming from? What’s your goal behind each of them and crucially, how does it leave you feeling?
Because the aforementioned resentment became all-pervading for me. For many years I cruised along with my pleasing, wrapped in my smugness of helpfulness, but the older I got, the more experienced and senior in my role, the more it began to grate. I became more cynical and to those around me, I became more noticeably irritable, angry and frustrated. I was not a fun person to be around. Not only did I start to become bitter at my circumstances, but it also surfaced in the form of overwhelm, burnout and actually, in my case, depression. No one thing led to this phenomenon for me, lets be clear on that. Me being a people pleaser did not lead me to being depressed, but it was one of the cogs that wove itself into that rather complex mechanism.
How do you stop being a people pleaser?
Million-pound question! I am really clear about all inner critics and saboteurs – I do not believe we can ever be fully rid of them. This may not be a popular stance, but it’s what I believe. BUT I also believe that we can, absolutely can, get a handle on them and turn their volume down.
Start small. Start simply by naming when you feel you are pleasing, it can be after the fact for now and as you get more practiced you can begin to bring your attention to the present moment of pleasing.
Practice saying no – set yourself a challenge. I will say no five times today, this week... make it easy and inconsequential while you get to grips. In the same way you start to learn anything new with something simple.
Think of something you are passionate about, something you really believe in... and tell someone! Begin to become familiar with stating your opinions, as opposed to always riding along on someone else’s.
Ever broken a habit before? Stopped smoking? Cut down or out alcohol, sugar, caffeine… Ever learnt something new? How to drive, to ski, to play an instrument, to speak another language (however clunky!)? You have, we all have. The fact that you are reading this, proves you have... you have learnt to read. And to stop or rather turn down the volume on your people pleasing tendencies is no different; it’s awareness and practice. It takes time and repetition, be kind to yourself, make effort to please yourself and begin to see how those around you react. My experience is that people are attracted not repelled, by someone who knows their own worth.
If you are curious about how I can work with you, you can speak to me directly, you can book a free initial 30 minute coaching session with me here
You can learn more about me on YouTube https://youtu.be/B9EiOo-N7qI
And I am on Instagram and Facebook @start2thrive where I post nuggets I hope are of help 😊
 Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind. Brene Brown https://brenebrown.com/articles/2018/10/15/clear-is-kind-unclear-is-unkind/