When we try to please everyone, we end up pleasing no one, least of all ourselves”
The phrase “people pleaser” may sound like a good thing. Sort of like how you might play a “crowd pleasers” playlist at a party to make everybody happy.
But the reality is, being a chronic people pleaser can be a serious problem, one that can leave you feeling anxious, frustrated, resentful, burnt out, and isolated.
This article will explore exactly what people pleasing is and why we do it, and show you examples of what happens if you don’t address this issue. Throughout the article, we’ll provide resources and tips to help you deal with your people-pleasing problems head-on.
What is a people pleaser?
A people pleaser is an individual who is concerned about making other people happy, typically at the expense of their own well-being.
That last part is key, because pretty much everyone has some people-pleasing tendencies. It’s not a bad thing to want people to like you, and to care for the happiness of your friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers.
People pleasers run into problems when they view the needs of others (or what they perceive others’ needs to be) as more important than their own mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual needs.
Here are some examples of behaviors you might be familiar with, to help you flesh out your people pleaser definition:
- Saying yes to social events, even when you’re exhausted and want to rest, because you don’t want to disappoint others
- Taking on more work than you can handle (or are paid to do) to avoid upsetting your boss
- Spending far too much of your own money on gifts for someone else, to the point where you’re in financial distress
- Refusing to speak up about something that bothers you or compromises your morals, because you don’t want to rock the boat
- Always volunteering to take the less comfortable seat on an airplane or the worse room in a shared vacation rental, despite sharing costs
- Eating foods you don’t like or don’t want, because you want others to think you like it
- Putting off your own dreams/aspirations for what you think others want you to do (like going to college because your parents want to, even though alternatives to college are much more appealing)
When you meet a people pleaser, they may (at first) seem like a person who is easy-going and rolls with the punches.
But actually, the opposite is true. Though people pleasers might say they are “down for whatever,” they aren’t saying this becaues they are relaxed—they’re saying it because they’re overly anxious about hurting others’ feelings or being perceived as unlikeable.
People who truly know how to be cool don’t worry about what others think of them, but people pleasers are intensely focused on the thoughts of others. Unfortunately, they often get their perceptions of other people’s thoughts and feelings wrong for two reasons:
First, it’s impossible to read minds, so knowing others’ true thoughts and feelings is virtually impossible, especially if you don’t know how to be an active listener and pick up on coded language.
Second, people pleasing behavior is typically rooted in self-consciousness or low self-esteem. A chronic people pleaser doesn’t know how to love themself first, and actually may harbor very negative feelings about themselves. They will let these negative thoughts color their perception of what others are thinking and feeling.
The life of a people pleaser is like a funhouse mirror. They are constantly seeking validation from others, without seeking it themselves. And as a result, who they really are, and what they really want in life, gets distorted.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Being a people pleaser has major knock-on effects the longer it goes unaddressed.
The Consequences of Being a People Pleaser
1. People will walk all over you
When you become a people pleaser, you have a difficult time setting boundaries. Because you want other people to like you so badly, you’ll do things you don’t want to do for the sake of approval. It’s important to understand human nature. If you give someone an inch, they’ll take a mile.
If you’re the person who is known for saying yes to every request and obligation, people around you will keep coming to you with more and more requests because they know you won’t say no. Some people don’t mean to take advantage of you, but they will if you allow them to. We all naturally test each other’s boundaries, sometimes not even at a conscious level.
If you let people cross yours in the hopes of winning them over, you might come to resent them because they may not appreciate how much you bend over backward for them. And even if it’s just on a subconscious level, people will lose respect for you if you fail to set boundaries with them. We all have an intuitive sense of this.
Does this mean you can’t help a friend in need? Of course not. Does this mean you have to be abrupt and rude to people? Not at all. You can tactfully and politely learn how to use the word “no.” There’s only so much time available to you. You have to prioritize your time and let others know that sometimes you just can’t make their request a priority right now.
2. You’ll turn people off who would have otherwise liked you
People-pleasing behavior can turn other people off and make them like you less. You can actually drive away people who might have liked you just the way you are.
People who pretend to be overly nice usually have a motive behind it. When you’re a people pleaser, you make a contract in your head with the people you’re being nice to. This contract basically says that if you’re “nice” and do good deeds for other people, in exchange they’ll give you what you want from them—friendship, a romantic relationship, love, approval, status, etc.
This turns people off because they get the sense that you don’t feel worthy of love just because you are you. It shows a lack of confidence in yourself and it makes people wonder what sort of insecurities you’re trying to mask with your people-pleasing behavior. In short, they see through the charade.
Being a people pleaser might get some people to like you, but it will probably turn off a lot of people who could have and would have ended up being a part of your life because you were real with them.
3. You’ll attract the wrong people into your life
In addition to turning off good-hearted people who would like to be part of your life, you’ll develop the tendency to draw people into your life who use you intentionally. Maybe you won’t even notice it on a conscious level, but you’ll feel the feeling of being used. And on some level, you’ll be okay with it even though you’re not okay with it.
You’ll do this because you don’t understand your own worth. Since using people-pleasing is your primary way of getting people into your life, even if they’re not good people, you’ll double down on it and continue to attract people who aren’t good for you.
People who pretend to be your friends but leave your life the moment you stop being useful to them. Your romantic relationships will suffer because you’ll end up in lopsided and codependent relationships where you use your people-pleasing behaviors to keep the other person around. You can end up with partners who use you, cross your boundaries, and even become abusive to you.
Have you ever noticed in yourself, or in others, the tendency to get into the same exact type of negative relationships over and over again, even though they always end badly?
This is the pattern you create when you enter relationships with the need to get validation from another person instead of from yourself.
It sends a signal to people who regularly take advantage of others. And this creates a never-ending cycle of bringing toxic relationships into your life—people who only see the value in what you can do for them and not your value as a person.
4. People-pleasing will make you feel like a fraud
Like I said earlier, being a people pleaser can help others warm up to you early on, but they won’t like you. They will like the caricature of yourself you built for their approval.
You’ll end up in a never-ending cycle. You’ll use people-pleasing behaviors to draw others in, and they’ll like the fake version of you instead of the real you. This will exacerbate your insecurities, which will just make you double down on your people-pleasing behaviors. In your goal of trying to win people’s favor, you’ll just grow less and less confident over time.
The remedy to this is the remedy to all of these behaviors: Stop doing things based on whether or not you think XYZ will make people like you. Start doing things because you want to do them.
Decide to be your true self and have a take it or leave it attitude. Don’t pretend to have opinions you don’t have. Don’t try to fit in if there are aspects of your personality that stand out.
Understand that real confidence comes from your ability to be okay with people not liking you. That’s it. You will turn some people off by being yourself, but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, you should lead with the aspects of yourself that are a little bit out there so you give people a clear picture of who you are right away. Let them take it or leave it.
When you behave in an authentic way, you’ll have an upward spiral of confidence. People will like you for the real you. This will make you feel good about yourself and grow more confident and unapologetic. The more confident and unapologetic you become, the more attractive you become.
5. You’ll grow frustrated with the world and other people
When you’re a chronic people pleaser, you’ll start to develop this growing sense of overall frustration with not just the people around you but life in general. You’ll feel like you give so much only to get so little in return.
There’s a great analogy for this when it comes to dating. Often many men fall into the trap of thinking they should get more dates because they are “nice guys.” But they often fail in romantic relationships and it has nothing to do with their inherent self-worth.
Instead, this “nice guy” facade becomes a play that women recognize and turn away from, which causes the guy to get resentful and frustrated with women instead of understanding that it’s their own behavior causing the issue, not the women.
This is an analogy you can use for anyone who tries to attract what they want from the world. You become like the “nice guy” who just doesn’t get why he can’t get a date. You’ll be the nice person that doesn’t understand why you can’t get the right people to like you.
And you’ll end up spending most of your life frustrated when you don’t have to be. This can lead to excess stress, depression, anxiety, and many other psychological and emotional issues that could’ve been avoided.
At least when you bite the bullet and start being your authentic self, you have a chance to improve your overall confidence, satisfaction, and well-being. In the short term, it will be difficult because you’ll have to wrestle with issues like lack of self-esteem and fear of rejection, which can cause psychological pain, too. But, in the long run, you actually have a shot at getting what you want.
6. Other people will grow frustrated with you
Neediness can annoy other people. When you go out of your way to be overly nice, it can become annoying because people can tell you’re only doing it to get along instead of being genuine.
In short, pretending to be someone you’re not and feigning niceness is like telling an actual lie to other people. Nobody likes being lied to. Over time, some people will get the sense that you’re being dishonest with them and they’ll want you to just cut out the act and be real.
You have probably met someone in your life who apologizes for things that aren’t actually their fault. Maybe you tell them to stop saying sorry and then they say sorry for being sorry. Perhaps you don’t suffer from people-pleasing behavior as much as the person in this example, but you can end up giving off a similar vibe in varying degrees.
People don’t like to feel like you want something from them. In the same way you get upset by the feeling of being used, others may sense ulterior motives from your behavior—and assume you’re trying to take respect and friendship from them instead of just letting them freely give it to you.
This leads to a situation where both parties are now frustrated and it puts strain on the relationship as a whole. There’s a difference between apologizing when you’re wrong and being apologetic all the time. There’s a difference between doing a kind deed for the sake of doing it or doing it with a motive. People can tell, so do your best to recognize and avoid these behaviors.
7. Being a People Pleaser prevents you from living an authentic life
In general, if you spend your whole time on this Earth as a people pleaser, you’ll never get to feel what it’s like to live an abundant life full of a bunch of genuine relationships. You won’t get to experience the joy of being able to freely express yourself without fear of what other people will think. You won’t get to enjoy all of the opportunities you could have had, had you just been your real self.
People-pleasing behavior holds you back in many arenas from friendships to romantic relationships, to your career, and to your overall sense of meaning and purpose in this life. Living an authentic life means you pursue the goals and relationships you want without having to pretend to be something you’re not.
When you live your life this way, you get much closer to the life you really want to live because you’re not wasting tons of time and energy trying to please other people or keep people in your life who don’t deserve to be there. You’ll know what real confidence means and what it feels like.
Confidence comes from knowing that you’re able to handle any situation in life just by being yourself. You know who you are. You know what you want. And you know which type of people would be a good fit for that journey. When you know those three things, it’s much easier to navigate life.
When you live an inauthentic life, you’ll continue to wonder what your life would be like if you finally just dropped the act. You’ll have these dreams about what you want to accomplish that just won’t come true because you’re too afraid of conflict, rejection, and people not liking you. You’ll never come anywhere near close to reaching your full potential and you’ll know it.
Turn down your people pleaser ways
There’s no magic remedy to overcome people-pleasing, but it is certainly something you can work on and improve with time and effort.
You may recall that at the top of this article, I said self-esteem issues are typically what cause someone to be a people pleaser. While that’s true, the reasons why people feel insecure are vast and varied, and often come down to one’s personal history, personality, and chemistry.
You’ll need to do more reflection to answer the question: “Why am I a people pleaser?” A professional counselor can be a great ally in finding the answer to that question.
You can also use the power of mindflulness to catch your people-pleasing behaviors when they start acting up. And don’t forget, there are lots of resources throughout this article that you may have missed while reading, so go back through and bookmark any that you think might help.
Once you’re able to recognize the root causes of your people pleasing ways and how it manifests in you day to day, you’ll be able to start pushing back against it.
It will take time, but soon you’ll learn how to say no when you need to, how to put your own needs first, and how to drop the facade and become a more authentic person. And as you do, you’ll start to reap all the benefits that come when you unlearn how to be a people pleaser.