How to Stop Being a People Pleaser

happy people

A happy group of people | Source: iStock

Do you have a hard time saying “no” to people? Are you always putting the needs of others ahead of your own even if meeting their needs significantly inconveniences you? It’s possible you could be a people pleaser. Doing nice things for others is great, but if your actions affect you negatively and your well-being is starting to suffer, something has to change.

In The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say it—and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever, Susan Newman said:

“Yes.” “Sure.” “No problem.” The words are out of your mouth before the reality or the enormity of the commitment you make registers. You realize too late that you don’t want or don’t have the time to do what you’ve taken on. You neither wish to babysit a friend or sibling’s difficult or delightful children, nor do you have time to walk someone’s pesky dog. You wonder how you got roped into an extra office assignment or the arrangements for a co-worker’s farewell party. “How does this happen to me so often?” you ask. If you’re not wondering, maybe you should.

Here are some ways to stop being a people pleaser so you can start living the life you were meant to live.

Realize what you are doing

Many people pleasers continue the cycle because they are not aware of what they’re doing. However, over time, people pleasing doesn’t feel good anymore. It wears on you and becomes burdensome. When your needs go unmet for too long, you’ll start to feel the effects. It’s like the weight of the world is resting on your shoulders, and you’ll soon begin to realize that you’re not happy living this way. This feeling is an indication that you need to be aware of the behavior that is causing you to feel this way. Awareness is the first step toward making a change.

“When you say yes consistently to another person, and when you accept any form of abuse as part of any of your relationships, you are essentially teaching the other people that it is all right for them to treat you that way. Although you might not be aware of it, you actually do have as much power and control as the other person does, because all of us can really only control ourselves,” said therapist Candace Plattor.

Monitor your behavior

Once you have developed an awareness of your people-pleasing behavior, make an effort to keep track of how often you say “yes,” when you should actually be saying “no.” Newman suggests monitoring yourself for at least one week. She said:

For so many people, saying yes is a pattern that they would like to—and can—break. If you start keeping track of the times you agree over a week, you’ll begin to realize the need to say no more often. How frequently have you wished you could simply blurt out, “no” to someone requesting your time, your talent, your energy, your muscle, your money, your thoughts, your support, or merely your presence? The mind and body can take only so much stress. Doing endlessly for others taxes and compromises your health.

Build confidence

Happy businessman in a black suit

A confident man | Source: iStock

Another reason for people pleasing is a deep need to be liked and feel good about oneself. One way to reduce the need for validation from others is to work on building your self-esteem. Learn to validate yourself. You can do this by learning to accept your imperfections and embracing who you are.

“Low self-esteem can really put the beaks on our ability to enjoy life to the full. And those brakes can further stoke the fire of low self-esteem and start a crazy downward cycle of low self-worth. Without a healthy level of self-esteem, we’d be deemed to a life of mediocrity or worse, failure,” said author Peter Kaplan.

Get comfortable with fact that not everyone is going to like you

There is no way you can go through life without letting someone down. Although you want people to like you and you want to make others happy, you cannot do this all of the time. Someone is eventually going to be disappointed. Don’t subject yourself to the burden of being everyone’s savior. It is not your responsibility to make everyone happy.

Tackle fear

Plattor says people pleasers consistently put the needs of others first because they desire to avoid conflict and they fear the negative consequences that may result from disappointing someone. However, consistently making unreasonable sacrifices for others will only hurt you in the long-run as you continue to live in fear and deplete your resources (that could be time, money, emotional support, or whatever it is that you are giving too much of). Plattor said:

When you say yes (especially when you really want to say NO), you are actually protecting yourself from having to face the potentially painful consequences that can result when someone is angry or disappointed with you for not agreeing to do what they want you to do. Even though you are really trying to look out for yourself by side-stepping these negative outcomes, which could be seen as a self-caring intention, it is unfortunately not a healthy form of self-care when it is done out of resistance to unpleasantness.

Remember that you have needs, too

Don’t forget that at the end of the day you have to do what is best for you. Take good care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating well, and remembering to address your needs. Life coach Hannah Braime said:

No one is going to take care of us—it’s down to us and us alone. Although it’s not always conscious, many of us yearn for someone to come along and take care of us, to assume a nurturing parent role, and to meet our unmet needs. While we’re waiting for that unspecified (and nonexistent) person to come along, we’re neglecting our needs. Taking responsibility for our own self-care allows us to enter into mutually beneficial relationships to meet our needs, rather than being dependent on someone else.

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