Answers to Frequently Asked Questions by People-Pleasers

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1. What is the difference between wanting to be nice to people and people-pleasing?

There is a subtle difference between wanting to be nice and people-pleasing. Wanting to be nice to others is trying to do the right thing, being respectful and honoring others feelings. I think people-pleasers want to be nice and a lot of their behaviors are dictated by them wanting to be perceived as being nice. The problems come in when you feel a compulsion, or need to please others, without taking your own feelings, values and principles into account. Many people try and people please but are there actions actually the nice and right thing to do? If you’re basing your value and worth on how you’re perceived by others, or in fear of hurting others, you might be pleasing them but not doing the right thing for you and your relationship. For example, say you continue to date someone you aren’t that into because you feel bad about hurting their feelings. Is it really the best thing to do for you and the other person if you keep dating them because you feel bad? Probably the better, nicer, thing to do would be to let him or her down easy, even if it displeases them.

2. How do you know your people-pleasing and not being nice? What are the red flags to pay attention to that a person can spot as people-pleasing in themselves?

A big sign is if you feel resentful after you say “yes” to something. If you notice you say “yes” to things and then are kicking yourself wishing you didn’t say “yes.” If you find yourself stuck in relationships that you feel used in. If you feel burned out and taken advantage of.

3. Why do people become people-pleasers?

A lot of that has to do with their upbringing. When we are young all of us want to please our caregivers and make them proud of us. Some pleasers might have had a parental figure that was hard to please, that was very critical and/or over-reacted. So, pleasing them might have been the only way they could receive the love and acclimations they desired. Then as they got older they continued that pattern in all of their relationships as a way to give and receive love. It develops as a way for the pleaser to decrease their anxiety around criticism, and disapproval.

4. Why is people-pleasing so detrimental to a person’s health? To relationships?

Because they aren’t being true to themselves. They might not even know who they are. They are so focused on others needs and wants, they become invisible in their own lives and in their relationships. They also internalize their emotions, they don’t validate their own experiences. Research shows if we don’t learn to express ourselves, or if we aren’t aware of our internal experiences, this can lead to chronic inflammation in the body, and that leads to a lot of other health issues. People-pleasers are more susceptible to stress and anxiety because they take on the responsibilities of others, they also feel responsible for other people’s feelings. How could that not lead to burn out and stress?

It is detrimental to relationships because the pleaser isn’t showing up for the relationship. They don’t speak up when something bothers them or when a boundary is broken. Most don’t know their boundaries, so they feel stuck, resentful, underappreciated etc. Overtime, they either experience health issues, cut off from relationships or blow up. They end up feeling disconnected from themselves and their partners.

5. In your book “When It’s Never About You: Reclaiming Your Health, Happiness, and Personal Freedom” you discuss how to stop people-pleasing behaviors. Can you summarize the 8 steps that you suggest in your book?

1. Become aware of yourself. Self-awareness is important because first you have to be aware that there is an issue and how your behaviors have been contributing to those issues. It’s also important to become aware of who you are, what your likes and dislikes are, what your boundaries are, your values, principles, passions etc.
2. Realize that doing too much is hurting your relationships. Pleasers tend to over-function in their relationships. This contributes to other people’s under-functioning. Why would anyone want to do anything if you will just do it? People need to be responsible for themselves and their own tasks. If not, they aren’t growing, and you will be burned out.
3. Understand the importance of being yourself. All of us have something to offer to our relationships and to the world. You deserve to know yourself and live as an expression of you. You don’t have to please and work yourself to death to make others happy. You can be happy too, by being yourself, and living in that truth.
4. Learn to let go. Pleasers tend to hold onto a lot of negative emotions and critical voices from the past. They don’t want to displease people or make a mistake because they are scared of others reactions and they are avoiding their own self-critism. So, if we can learn to let go of the past and cut ourselves some slack then it will be easier for us when we displease someone.
5. Realize that avoiding problems doesn’t help you grow. Pleasers are big avoiders. However, if we don’t learn to face our problems, confront others and/or speak up we will never grow and mature. Yes, it is hard to speak your mind or do something that makes you anxious, if you throw yourself into situations that you’re scared of you can grow your confidence muscle and then it gets easier over time.
6. Decide whether you want to be free to love, or a prisoner of love. So, pleasers are prisoners of love, they feel an addiction to please and make others happy. They also feel like they are responsible for others. Love can feel more like confinement then freedom. If you are aware of yourself, your boundaries, can speak your mind, and know your values, love is freeing. You don’t have to be anyone but you, and you can still love and be loved.
7. Navigate through anxiety. So, when changing people pleasing patterns it is anxiety provoking. You will start changing behaviors that were first put in place to avoid your anxiety around disapproval and criticism. It is hard to say “no” and tell others things they might not want to hear. However, once you decide you want to stop being a pleaser, the real work happens when you change your behaviors.
8. Find acceptance of self. If you fully accept yourself, flaws included, you don’t worry as much as about what other people have to say. Pleasers have a hard time accepting their flaws, it makes them anxious to have imperfections. They expect more from themselves then they do from others. If they can learn to give themselves the compassion they so easily give to others, they can work on accepting all of themselves. It’s okay to have flaws, pleasers are only human.

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