The Detriments of People Pleasing

12 Signs You're a Chronic People Pleaser & How to Find Your Self-Worth

by Tiffany Walking Eagle | 8-minute read


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I rolled over in bed, barely able to keep my eyes open, but my thoughts were racing a million miles an hour trying to formulate a plan to get through the next day. Okay. So I just finished that job for Sarah, and I have to be at the office by 8:00 a.m. First I have to water Trisha’s entire plant jungle and feed her dogs and make sure they pee, and then I have to drive 30 minutes across town to feed Clara’s pets. It’s 1:00 a.m. right now, and I’ll probably need to get up by 5:00 a.m. to get all that done before work. But then I have to come straight back after work because Trisha doesn’t like her dogs to be lonely, and I still have to finish that file for Anna and babysit the neighbors’ kids… I facepalm myself in disgust and proceed to mentally rake myself over the coals for allowing unnecessary stresses to take over my days. Why did I agree to all this? How come I can’t say no to people?!?

This is one of many silly situations I’ve found myself in over the years, saying yes to commitments I didn’t have time for, running myself ragged for the convenience of others. Maybe your particular pickles haven’t involved furbabies or plant watering, but do you often find yourself bending over backwards to make others happy? If so, you might be suffering from a chronic case of PPS: People Pleasing Syndrome.

12 sure signs you’re a people pleaser:

  • You constantly say you’re sorry.

  • You’re always trying to make others happy.

  • You feel a sense of responsibility or guilt for others emotions.

  • Saying no feels impossible….and you’ll say yes, even if it pretty much kills you.

  • You can’t handle others being upset with you.

  • You go along with things you don’t agree with for fear of negative reactions or what others will think.

  • Rejection feels like death.

  • You feel like you don’t measure up, and you’re always trying to earn the approval of others.

  • You beat yourself up when you feel like you’ve failed someone, and you lack self-compassion.

  • You struggle to accept criticism, constructive or not.

  • You’re extremely worried about coming off as rude or strange in any way, and you replay interactions in your head when you think you may have been perceived that way.

  • You have low self-worth and put others before yourself constantly.

Sound familiar?

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Why Being a People Pleaser Isn’t Healthy

You allow yourself to be taken advantage of.

Your fear of letting people down often leads you to accept responsibilities or tasks that you’re not comfortable with or barely have time for. Avoiding conflict at all cost, you agree to just about anything; people learn they can depend on you, and they come to you for help with almost everything. That feeling of approval and making someone else happy motivates your decisions, but always being there for everyone else’s needs is mentally taxing. Plus, you’ll start to neglect your own needs.

Your self-worth dwindles.

People pleasers often wind up in one-way friendships. Though you’re there for everyone else, there aren’t many people in your life who are there for you when you need help or times get tough. It’s way too easy to start feeling like you’re everybody’s listening ear, pack mule, or shoulder to lean on; you may wind up with low self-esteem, since people with healthy levels of self-respect don’t let everyone else walk all over them.

You repress your true feelings.

As a people pleaser, you are constantly trying to earn the approval of those around you. Since no one agrees on everything, at some point, it’s likely you’ll compromise your own opinions or values simply to avoid rocking the boat. Maybe once in a while something hurts or offends you, but you wouldn’t dare express your feelings at the risk of being disliked or upsetting someone else. This type is self-repression can wear away at your very identity and lead to feelings of resentment.

You lack self-identity.

When your sense of self-worth stems from what others think of you and how happy you’ve made those around you, your own identity can start to slip through the cracks, and it’s far too easy to lose sight of who you are. Trust me, I’ve been in a place where I’ve let those in my life manipulate me to the point of losing sight of my true thoughts and feelings. Losing touch with who you really are is terrifying.

Others may take up your valuable time.

Your time often isn’t your own. Maybe you’re so in need of a little time alone to relax, but you still wouldn’t hesitate to do your friend a favor when they ask. Perhaps you often find yourself agreeing to so many social activities or obligations you have trouble fitting them all into your schedule. (Ahem, I’m very guilty of this one. I overbook myself far too often.) Time is so valuable, and if you don’t leave enough for yourself, you’re going to wind up stressed and emotionally drained.

Building authentic relationships is difficult.

Another danger of people pleasing is you often don’t let your true self be known. You prefer to remain agreeable and easygoing. You stay quiet when something comes up you don’t agree with…and you’re always down to help others out. Do people like the real you, or the you that agrees with them? It’s difficult to be true to yourself when you can’t stand up for your thoughts, beliefs, fears, and desires for fear of others’ opinions or a potentially negative reaction.

It’s harder to reach your own goals.

How in the world will it be possible to reach your own goals when you barely make time for your priorities? Do you even know what your priorities are? (Emphasis on “your” because it’s easy to let other people’s priorities take precedence over your own when you’re a people pleaser.) If you continue your people-pleasing ways of prioritizing others' goals for you over your own, you’re going to end up dissatisfied with your life and—you guessed it—bitter and resentful.

The pressure of trying to please everyone is suffocating.

It’s an age-old cliche, but it’s true: you simply can’t please everyone. As a tried-and-true people pleaser, you’ll wear yourself out trying to, and the burden of attempting to please everyone weighs heavy. When you feel like you’re failing those around you, it’s easy for anxiety and even depression to take over.

Your emotional, mental, and even physical health can suffer.

It’s pretty hard to deny the mental and emotional side effects of constantly aiming to please, but those stresses can take a toll on your physical health as well. Common physical side effects of stress include muscle tightness, headaches, fatigue, stomach issues, racing heart, decreased libido, chest pain, and more. The repercussions of long-term stress are even scarier, including obesity, heart problems, skin issues, and gastrointestinal dysfunction. People pleasing should come with a warning label because it’s hazardous to your health.

How Can You Stop?

Learn to say no.

It’s going to feel awkward, even terrifying. But I promise you, the world won’t implode when you do, and if the person you’re saying no isn’t understanding or respectful of your decision, you may want to consider whether it’s a healthy relationship. What I’m about to write is extremely important. Saying no does NOT make you selfish. Again, saying no does NOT make you selfish! It is imperative that you say no when you need to, and doing so does not make you a horrible person!

Here are a few helpful tips for learning how to say no that you’ll probably need if you’re a member of the People Pleasing Club:

  • Say “maybe.” Instead of immediately saying yes, make your initial response “maybe” or “let me get back to you.” It won’t feel as scary as no, and it gives you some time to take a breath, think about it, and work up the courage to say no.

  • Remember that rejection and refusal are separate actions. I hated being told no as a child, not because I was ornery, but because I felt utterly rejected when I was reprimanded. As people pleasers, we tend to equate refusal with rejection, but saying no doesn’t mean you’re rejecting a person! Declining the requests (or demands) of others and rejecting people are two separate, unrelated actions.

  • Check in with yourself. Before you agree to anything, make it a habit to take a bit of time to check in with yourself. Have you had a crazy week? Did you have fun plans that would be foiled by saying yes? How do you truly feel about the situation? Ask yourself these questions, and be honest.

  • Think of healthier compromises. Maybe your boss asks if you could start working Saturday shifts; you could use the extra cash, but you don’t want to give up a full day off every week. Instead of feeling obligated to say yes, say you’re available for every other Saturday. Perhaps a friend asks if you can help them move for a few hours, but you know this particular pal tends to take advantage of your time. Say “I’m available from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., and I have somewhere to be at 5:30.” (Or just say no, because we all know how pushy friends like that can be!) The point is, if you still want to help out and are able to do so, it’s okay to offer your help without sacrificing your valuable time and effort.

Do you struggle with people pleasing? Leave questions or share your story in the comments.