How to Stop People Pleasing

Have you ever been called a “people pleaser,” “pushover,” or a “doormat”? These are not compliments. People pleasing can lead others to take advantage of you and your kind nature. Let’s look at how we can prevent that from happening. 

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Do you ever feel like you’re always putting everyone else first? That you do what other people want, rather than what makes you happy? If so, then you’re not alone.

I’ve been a people pleaser most of my life. So this subject is both personal to me and charged with emotion.

Many of us are guilty of people pleasing – a behaviour that can have negative consequences for our mental health and happiness.

In this essay, I’ll discuss the following:

Why is people-pleasing such a big problem?Why do we do itThe relationship between culture and people-pleasing behaviourSigns that you’re a people-pleaserHow to stop people-pleasing and live a happier life6 ways to cultivate internal validation (rather than seek it from others)

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to replace professional therapy or medical advice. If you are experiencing serious psychological distress, please seek help from a licensed therapist or mental health professional.

Why is people-pleasing such a big problem?

People pleasing can have several negative impacts on your life, including the following:

Anxiety and stress.Putting your own needs and wants last.Feeling like you’re not good enough or like you always have to be perfect.Unhealthy relationships with others.It can sap your energy and make you feel drained. Or even compassion fatigue. Resentment of others and yourself. Undervaluing and undercharging for your time and skills.Severe psychological consequences, including low self-esteem and depression.

Constant people-pleasing will result in a lack of fulfillment and unhappiness.

Why do we people-please?

Licensed psychotherapist Sharon Martin, wrote in Psych Central:

“Our need to please is actually more of a need to belong. And our need to belong was probably written in our DNA millions of years ago. In order to survive, pre-historic man had to form groups or tribes that offered protection from predators, pooled resources, and shared work. So, if you werent accepted by the group, there was a high probability that youd starve to death or get eaten by a saber tooth tiger.”

So it’s a survival mechanism innate to all of us.

There can also be other reasons, including:

Fear of conflict or confrontation with others. The need for approval and validation from others. Feeling like we have to be perfect and do everything right.Having a strong desire to avoid rejection or abandonment. Low self-esteem and lack of assertiveness skills.Not knowing our own boundaries and values. Unhealthy family dynamics, where people pleasing is the norm. A need for control in an uncertain world.

People-pleasing can also be a symptom of codependency or narcissistic tendencies.

If you feel like your need to please others is causing harm in your relationships and impacting your well-being, it may be helpful to seek counseling or therapy.

Now there’s one root cause of people pleasing that I’d like to spend a bit of time diving deeper into because it’s certainly influenced me personally and is rarely discussed. That’s the influence of one’s culture.

The relationship between culture and people-pleasing behaviour

Growing up in a South East Asian home, although we were living in suburban Australia, I witnessed my mother, my auntie, and later on, my sister sacrificing for others constantly.

Mum and I at the Sydney Opera House (1983)

My mother would put my father and my needs ahead of her own. My auntie would do the same for her husband and her kids. When she didn’t have kids of her own, she looked after me while my parents were at work.

I learned from decades of observation that sacrificing their happiness for others was something they’d all learned as young girls back in Laos.

I recall that one time a few years ago, my auntie’s birthday was approaching. So my cousin (Auntie’s daughter) and I planned on gifting her a nice spa treatment or something like that. When we presented this idea, Auntie simply responded, “don’t waste your money. I’ll cook for you all instead.”

I’d also witnessed times when these amazing women and role models in my life were exhausted – both physically and mentally. But “taking a day off” was not in their vocabulary.

This deep cultural programming is also echoed by Sweta Vikram when she writes:

Growing up in a South Asian home, it was ingrained in most women to sacrifice their happiness for others. Sometimes, no one expects us to put ourselves on the backburner, but habits are powerful. You assume expectations. You also set expectations.”

Nick Compton also wrote a piece for China Daily on how Pleasing your loved ones is embedded in Chinese culture.

It all comes down to one core issue… seeking external validation.

Leo Gura of Actualized.org puts it this way:

“Maybe you’ve developed this habit that you only feel love and happiness when somebody else thanks you. And then if that’s sort of a standard you’ve set for yourself in your mind. And you can only feel good about yourself when other people tell you that you’re a good person. Now, what does that mean? That means now you have to be a slave for the rest of your life to serving others, bending over backwards for others, and then collecting their thanks.”

When you rely on external validation as a reward for your happiness, you give away your power to others. And it’s a vicious cycle because the more we people please, the more we feel unworthy and need validation from others.

But here’s some good news – we can break this cycle and learn to prioritize ourselves and our happiness. How do we do that?

We start by clarifying what people-pleasing behaviours look like.

Signs that you’re a people-pleaser

So how can you tell if you’re a people pleaser? Here are some common signs:

Constantly apologizing, even when it’s not necessary. Putting others’ needs and wants before your own. Feeling guilty or uncomfortable saying “no.” Difficulty setting boundaries in relationships and with tasks at work. Frequently feeling taken advantage of or resentful towards others. Saying yes to things you don’t want to do to avoid confrontation or disappointing someone else. Feeling drained and exhausted after spending time with certain people.

How to stop people-pleasing and live a happier life

So how can we break free from the cycle of people pleasing?

We need to address the root cause – seeking external validation and feedback from others for happiness.

It takes self-awareness, practice, and commitment, but it is possible.

5 ways to stop people-pleasing:

Set clear boundaries with yourself and others. Practice self-care and prioritize your own needs. Challenge negative thought patterns about worthiness.Surround yourself with supportive, understanding people who respect your boundaries and won’t manipulate you for their own benefit. Focus on internal validation rather than seeking it from others.

“The solution is to take back control and sovereignty over your own reward mechanism and to make it completely intrinsic. Such that you give yourself the satisfaction, the love, the praise, the approval that you want.”  ~ Leo Gura, Actualized.org 

6 ways to cultivate internal validation (rather than seek it from others)

Watch a funny movie on your own, laugh because it’s funny, and don’t be in a hurry to tell anyone about it on social media or text message directly afterPut some money in an envelope, gift it to a stranger, and don’t tell anyone you’ve done it.Take yourself on a nice dinner “date,” and don’t feel the need to post about itCompliment yourself on a job well done rather than waiting for someone else’s praise.Set personal goals and celebrate achieving them, even if nobody knows about it.Take a moment every day to appreciate something about yourself, whether physical or personality-related, without seeking external validation or approval. It can be as small as “I like the way my hair looks today” or “I am proud of myself for writing that article.”

For some additional ideas on How to Be Alone, watch this awesome video:

Final thoughts

Remember: You are enough. You are worthy. And you deserve happiness. Always prioritize your own needs and wants above those of others. You are worth it.

Now here’s the amazing side-effect of you putting yourself first in this way – you will also start attracting people who respect and appreciate your boundaries and truly value you.

Those around you will also benefit from the authentic you that shows up in front of them.

So go out there and live your happiest life – without needing to please anyone else. You’ve got this!

Anfernee Chansamooth

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