5 Lessons from a Recovering People Pleaser

Mind Your Party Manners

I grew up hearing the reminder to remember my “party manners” every time I left the house, even when I joined the soccer practice carpool. My politeness and concern for how others perceived my behaviors is a marker of my Midwestern upbringing. The phrase “Minnesota Nice” is more than a little accurate when describing those of us from that part of the country! If you are like me, you learned people pleasing when you were young.

Me on Minnesota Nice!

When I worried about other peoples’ emotions and reactions, I assumed I was empathetic and sensitive. Next, I said yes to work or social obligations I didn’t actually want to take on. Surely this meant I was a good team player and unselfish friend. And when I routinely put others’ needs in front of my own, I thought I was a generous partner or family member. Over time though, I felt resentful, anxious, and tired rather than fulfilled and satisfied with my relationships and life.

Why does people pleasing happen?

People pleasing behaviors are a product of experiences in which our emotional needs weren’t met, our boundaries were ignored, or we felt as though we were burdens. In those situations, we might have felt responsible for our caretakers’, or partners’ emotional needs. And then, we developed coping mechanisms, keeping ourselves safe. The result? We subconsciously try to prove our worth and value by meeting other people’s needs regarding our behavior or actions.

What can people pleasing look like?

  • Conflict avoidance
  • Apologizing often or unnecessarily
  • Feeling responsible for others’ emotions and reactions
  • Difficulty saying “no”
  • Offering to do things you don’t want to do
  • Not maintaining boundaries due to fear of rejection
  • Crowdsourcing opinions rather than trusting intuition

Awareness led to change

Once I became aware of these behaviors, I realized I was exhausted by squelching my own emotions in my intimate relationships. I wasn’t being true to myself. I no longer wanted guilt and nerves to wage World War III in my stomach when I turned down an invitation to a social event. I tired of apologizing for having an opinion or even just for taking up space in a grocery store aisle. These realizations helped me start recovering from my own chronic people-pleasing.

Here are some of the valuable lessons I learned along the way:

  1. People-pleasing is a form of self abandonment.

Sometimes we act in ways that don’t align with our needs and core values. We think we will gain others’ approval or make others happy when we align to them. By doing that, though, we dismiss and invalidate our own needs and feelings.

  1. People-pleasing might hinder connection in our most meaningful relationships.

Not expressing your true feelings and desires, limits others from knowing your true and authentic self. Deeply knowing another is what intimacy is all about.

  1. It may feel awkward, cruel, or selfish to set boundaries and take up space, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

A certain amount of discomfort always comes with changing behaviors, disrupting patterns, and trying something new. For a helpful reframe, consider this: anxiety is an affirmation of personal growth. New behavior is an act of growth.

  1. Disappointing others is a part of life and will happen even in the most intimate of relationships.

We are all humans living in relationship with one another, and we are bound to let others down at one point or another! We can’t be everything to everyone in our lives.

  1. Your worth and sense of self don’t come from approval from others.

YOU are the best judge of yourself. What’s more, your needs are important. The more you can take care of them, the more you are able to show up for yourself and others with compassion and authenticity.

How to stop people pleasing

  • Be aware of your patterns and triggers.
  • Pause before saying “yes” to things. Give yourself time to think about what you do and do not want to commit to.
  • Establish boundaries and recognize your limits.
  • Practice emotional regulation. Learning to sit with difficult emotions is healing!
  • Use positive self talk.
  • Set your own goals, identify your own values, and explore your own preferences.
  • Get help! Talking to a therapist or coach can help you identify behaviors, strategize solutions, and support your people-pleasing recovery.