People-pleasing behavior may leave you feeling like you don’t have any free time. With a few tips, you can take your life back.
Perhaps you’ve heard that people love you because they know you’ll do whatever it takes to make others happy.
It feels great to hear, but there’s a flip side: Lately, you’ve taken on every request asked of you, even when you don’t want to.
Or maybe you feel guilty every time you have to say no. Whatever the case may be, the danger of being a people-pleaser is that it can leave you feeling emotionally drained, stressed, and burned out.
There are many other traits associated with people-pleasing behavior. People-pleasers may also:
- be agreeable
- be conflict-averse
- have difficulty saying no
- be stressed or overwhelmed
- be passive aggressive
- be prone to resentment
- be hasty in taking blame
- have trouble being true to their beliefs
Research suggests that saying yes too often at work can lead to overstretched resources, reduced quality of work, and feeling overwhelmed with too many tasks.
It’s not exactly easy to stop people-pleasing behavior.
Here are a few tips that may help:
Realize that you have a choice
Though it may feel like an automatic behavior, you actually have a choice. Awareness is often the first step toward change.
Identify your priorities
Once you figure out what your priorities are and what types of people you want to be around, it becomes easier to say no to anything that doesn’t align with your life goals.
Set your boundaries
It may be helpful to think of boundaries as the outward expression of self-love.
Once you know what you’re willing to do, communicate those needs with loving-kindness.
Don’t be surprised if your relationships start to change and some connections fall away. Knowing this ahead of time can make it easier to hold the line.
“It will be scary at first to voice your true feelings because you’re so used to catering to other people and their feelings. However, those that love and support you will applaud your efforts to live an authentic life,” says Keischa Pruden, a licensed therapist in Ahoskie, North Carolina.
“Those who become defensive or angry more than likely are benefitting from your people-pleasing lifestyle and feel threatened by your newfound freedom,” she says.
“It may be time to evaluate and make changes to your support system,” Pruden adds.
Set a time limit
When you answer that call, let the other person know you’re on your way out the door. When you set up a date, let someone know you have to be home by a certain time.
Time blocking is not only helpful for productivity, it also allows you a hard stop when assisting someone. Think of it like avoiding the “give an inch, take a mile” addage.
Consider whether you’re being manipulated
Take notice of anyone in your life who uses excessive flattery to convince you to complete a task. It could be disguised as a compliment when it’s really a way to pass off something they don’t want to do themselves.
Manipulators might tell you:
“I would love to take on that project, but you’re just so much better at this topic area than me. You’ll do a way better job.”
Create a mantra
An empowering mantra posted somewhere you can see it often — on the bathroom mirror, as a background image on your phone — can act as a mini pep talk throughout each day.
Mantras to try out:
- I’m allowed to say no.
- “No” is a complete sentence.
- A “no” to them is a “yes” to me.
- Not my circus, not my monkeys.
- I don’t have to explain myself to anyone.
- I’m the guardian of my time and energy.
Say no with conviction
As a people-pleaser, it may be tempting to say “maybe” or “I don’t know” to an invitation, even though you know you’re not interested.
Instead, cut yourself loose with an effective yet polite way to decline. If the idea of saying no outright seems a bit harsh, give these a try:
- I won’t be able to make it.
- Unfortunately, I’m at capacity.
- I’ll have to pass on that project.
- I’m honored, but someone else can dedicate the time that deserves.
- I have plans that day, but thank you for thinking of me.
Ask for time
“Learn to say no by starting to delay the yes,” says Kinga Mnich, a social psychologist in Lexington, Kentucky. Mnich recommends trying the following responses:
- Let me get back to you on that.
- I don’t have my calendar with me, so let me check when I get home.
- I need to check with my [partner], I’m not sure if we have any plans that weekend.”
Sit with discomfort
For some, people-pleasing is a way to mitigate the intense discomfort of rejection, judgment, abandonment, or feeling less-than-perfect. But if you learn to sit with those feelings, they may have less power over your actions.
Don’t give a litany of excuses
The more details you give, the more people can talk you out of your decisions, especially if they have poor boundaries. Keep your no’s as general and punctual as possible.
A reminder (to yourself):
One idea to avoid rambling, making excuses, or using a tone that indicates your unsure after you decline a request is to think:
“Period, no comma. End of sentence.”
You may find it helpful to role-play with a friend, family member, or therapist. Have them ask you questions to say no to. Play with different tones, phrases, and body language.
Practice successive approximation
Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy that means “continuous improvement.” It doesn’t matter if changes are big or small, as long as you’re moving in the right direction.
Be encouraged. You’re not going to flip your script entirely overnight, but with incremental changes, you can give some leg room to your mental wellness.
Don’t apologize — if it’s not your fault
If you suggest a restaurant and your co-worker’s order comes up wrong, it may be tempting to say “I’m sorry” because you were the one who picked the restaurant, right?
There’s another way.
If it’s truly not your fault, just say: “I’m sorry that happened to you.”
Fold in positive self-talk
Reassure your inner child of how well you’re doing with this unlearning process. Say affirming things to yourself.
- “My voice matters.”
- “I am loveable for ‘being,’ not doing.”
Celebrate your progress
Overcoming people-pleasing is hard work. Many people wouldn’t be willing to do the work and get uncomfortable — but you’re doing it.
Take time to celebrate your wins.
Keep a confidence file
Start a list in your phone of all the ways you’re learning how to stop being a people-pleaser. Each time you need a boost of confidence, refer to it.
Remind yourself that you can’t be everything to everyone
No matter what you do, someone is going to disapprove. You can’t win them all over. At the end of the day, there’s one opinion of you that matters more than the others: yours.
Seek professional support
“I highly suggest trauma therapy such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR),” says Amanda Conroy, a licensed professional counselor in Denver, Colorado.
“EMDR will help someone process trauma memories that have caused the need for people-pleasing and eliminate the fear, anxiety, and guilt that comes with asking for help or saying no to someone.”
You may be wondering, “Is being a people-pleaser bad?”
Wanting to help people or make them feel good isn’t bad.
Doing it constantly, at the expense of your own mental health, is a coping mechanism — and it’s not your fault. People-pleasing is usually a behavior learned in childhood (among other adaptive behaviors) that unconsciously gets brought into adulthood.
If your caregivers had high expectations of you and punished you for making even small mistakes, people-pleasing is a natural response.
If you were pressured to perform or pushed to a high level of success, you may have learned that this success equals love.
If you had to behave a certain way in order to stay safe (emotionally, physically, or otherwise), people-pleasing may have been an effective coping mechanism.
If you saw people-pleasing behavior during childhood, you may have followed suit, even if you were conscious of the negative effects of doing so.
“Upbringing is a powerful antecedent to people-pleasing behavior,” says Pruden. “As children, we’re sponges. We take in all conscious and subconscious messages in our environment, positive or negative.”
People-pleasing behavior may leave you feeling stressed or burned out from taking care of everyone’s needs but your own.
To find out what’s at the root of this behavior, consider working with a professional. You may want to use the APA’s Psychologist Locator to get the ball rolling.
At the end of the day, know that you can’t please everyone. But those who truly love you will be glad that you’re doing something positive for your mental health.
As Dr. Seuss says, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”