Do you take care of everyone else before yourself? Do you say “yes” when you mean “no” and end up doing things you don’t want to do? If you routinely take care of others’ needs before your own, then you may have people-pleasing tendencies.

Codependent behaviour is often disguised as a willingness to adapt to others’ needs. It can also be seen as a selfless desire to help, so it can be tricky to identify. Sooner or later, however, it can lead to relationships that are unfulfilling and dishonest, and you may begin to feel resentful and empty. Take a look at London-based life coaches KlearMinds, they have several useful resources surrounding relationships and self-care.

What Is People Pleasing?

People pleasing is more than just being nice; it’s a complex psychological pattern where an individual’s actions are heavily influenced by a desire to be liked or to avoid conflict. This behaviour often stems from fear—fear of rejection, fear of failure, or even fear of one’s feelings. People pleasers typically find it hard to express their true desires and often end up feeling overwhelmed, resentful, and undervalued. Understanding this behaviour is crucial as it affects not only personal well-being but also interpersonal relationships.

Characteristics of a People Pleaser

A people pleaser is often easy to spot. They are the ones who always say yes, regardless of their own needs or desires. They tend to apologize excessively, even when they’re not at fault and often feel responsible for others’ happiness. A deep fear of rejection drives them to avoid conflict at all costs. This behaviour can lead to a lack of genuine personal relationships, as their actions are more about seeking approval than about true connection. Recognizing these traits is the first step in addressing and modifying this behaviour.

The Neuroscience Behind People Pleasing

Recent studies in neuroscience have shed light on the brain mechanisms involved in people-pleasing. This behaviour is closely linked to the brain’s reward system. When a people pleaser receives approval or avoids conflict, their brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. This creates a reinforcing cycle, where the individual continues to engage in people-pleasing behaviours to experience these positive feelings. Understanding this biological basis is key to developing strategies to overcome excessive people-pleasing tendencies.

Why Do People Please?

The reasons behind people pleasing are as varied as the individuals themselves. For many, it’s a learned behaviour from childhood, where they might have been rewarded for putting others first. For others, it’s a coping mechanism to deal with low self-esteem or anxiety. People pleasers often believe that their worth is tied to how much they are liked or needed by others. This belief can lead to a perpetual cycle of seeking validation through pleasing others, often at the expense of their well-being.

Kindness Vs. People Pleasing

Kindness and people-pleasing can look similar, but their motivations are different. Mostly, kindness is driven by genuine compassion and empathy, with no expectation of something in return. In contrast, people pleasing is often motivated by fear—fear of rejection, fear of not being liked, or fear of conflict. While kindness is empowering and fulfilling, people-pleasing can be draining and detrimental to one’s sense of self-worth.

Identifying a People Pleaser

Identifying a people pleaser isn’t always straightforward, as their actions can often be mistaken for genuine kindness. However, key indicators include a reluctance to express personal needs, discomfort with receiving help or compliments, and a tendency to overcommit. They often exhibit signs of stress or burnout due to their inability to set healthy boundaries. Understanding these signs can help in recognizing people-pleasing behaviours in oneself and others.

Interacting with a People Pleaser

When interacting with a people pleaser, it’s important to encourage honest communication and reassure them that their needs and opinions are valued. Avoid taking advantage of their willingness to help. Instead, encourage them to express their true feelings and desires. It’s also helpful to gently confront their people-pleasing behaviours and offer support in setting healthy boundaries.

Curbing Your People-Pleasing Tendencies

For people-pleasers, self-help starts with self-awareness. Recognizing and accepting your people-pleasing tendencies is the first step towards change. Begin by practising saying no in low-stakes situations and gradually work up to more significant decisions. Reflect on your motivations for pleasing others and challenge the belief that your worth is dependent on others’ approval. Self-compassion and self-affirmation exercises can also be beneficial.

Strategies for People Pleasers

People pleasers can adopt several strategies to overcome their tendencies. Learning to set boundaries is crucial; start small and gradually build up to more significant limits. Mindfulness and meditation can help in understanding and managing the anxiety that often accompanies people-pleasing behaviours. Seeking therapy or joining support groups can provide additional tools and perspectives. Remember, the goal is not to stop being kind and helpful, but to ensure that these qualities come from a place of genuine self-expression and choice.

If you want to curb your people-pleasing tendencies, here are some tips on striking a balance between helping others and finding time to take care of yourself.

1. Importance of self-care

People with codependent tendencies try so hard to please others that their own needs often get pushed to the side. When we focus on trying to meet the needs of others before taking care of ourselves, we can lose our identity and power. It is important to recognize and value your own needs and treat yourself with love and compassion. Being able to balance caring for yourself with caring for others is an essential part of living a healthy, happy life.

2. Set boundaries

People pleasers often allow themselves to be manipulated, shamed or coerced into doing things they don’t want to do because they have difficulty setting boundaries. Having healthy boundaries allows you to determine how you will be treated by others. You can begin to develop healthier boundaries by learning to say, “No” and setting limits with others. Learning to set healthy boundaries takes practice and determination, so set them in your time frame.

3. Other people’s problems are not your responsibility

Everyone needs help sometimes. But when you feel personally responsible for another person’s problems and well-being, you strip them of the opportunity to solve their problems and create their well-being. You can give support by being an empathetic listener and providing encouragement. On the other hand, swooping in and solving problems for other people, when they are capable of solving them themselves, is not your responsibility. The next time you’re asked for help, before you automatically say yes, slow down. Ask yourself if this is your responsibility and how would helping them affect you.

4. Speak your mind

People pleasers are often indirect and don’t say what they mean. They find it hard to get to the point and ask for their rights, as they think they’re undeserving or believe their opinions don’t matter. It takes courage to express your feelings and opinions and risk contradicting someone else’s viewpoint. But there’s nothing wrong with saying what you think or asking for what you need. Taking responsibility for communicating and speaking your mind (without judging yourself) is an extremely liberating and useful skill, and can benefit your career, relationships, and sense of well-being.

5. Get professional help if needed

If you would like some assistance with overcoming your people-pleasing tendencies, seek the advice of a professional counsellor or psychotherapist. Working with a professional can help you better understand the people pleaser within. They may also help you see things about your relationship dynamics and your own beliefs and thought processes that you would never see on your own. It might be useful to have someone like that in your corner.