What Is People Pleasing 

Our friends at Merriam-Webster define people pleaser (peepul pleezur) as “a person who has an emotional need to please others often at the expense of his or her own needs or desires.” 

The underlying urge to make others happy and to be positively regarded is quite natural. We are social beings and part of that unspoken contract is paying attention to others’ needs and feelings. Those who fall into the trap of people pleasing tend to dive too deeply into the spirit of being in-tune with others’ needs. 

Somewhere along the way, people pleasers decide that everyone else’s needs are more pressing than their own. They put themselves on the back burner in their own lives, and then end up feeling resentful, dissatisfied and depressed. 

Book Recommendations 

There are solutions to break free from the habit of people pleasing. One example comes from a book on the topic that encourages liberation from the mindset of people pleasing. In the excerpt below, the author urges pleasers to run through a battery of questions before saying “yes” to others. 

  • Do I care deeply about this task?
  • Am I honoring someone or something I love by saying yes?
  • Am I feeling pressured to say yes because of a fear of angering or upsetting someone?
  • Are there others who can do this, besides me?
  • Do I have time to do this?
  • Do I have interest in doing this?
  • Do I have energy for it?
  • Will I end up resenting myself or someone else if I take on this task right now?

Those who people please often end up experiencing dissatisfaction in their relationships. Often this is a result of pleasers struggling with self-advocacy and having a difficult time speaking up about needs. As pleasers strive to push through these feelings to self-advocate, there are some affirmations that can be helpful reminders.

  • My needs are as important as anyone else’s.
  • I care about myself enough to speak up about what is best for me.
  • Other people benefit from me being open about my needs.
  • I can ask for help and I deserve to get my needs met. 
  • I am not being selfish when I self-advocate; I am expressing my humanness. 

People-pleasing habits can be reversed with practice and a change in mindset.

 A crucial part of moving out of people pleasing mode is noticing when and why you do it. Often it can become an automatic behavior, as if one’s purpose is to serve the needs of others, even if it hurts. 

This can be a result of how one is raised, or it can be a socially driven construct in which a person is reliant on the approval of others to feel worthy. When people pleasers recognize the traps they set for themselves, it becomes easier to avoid those old habits in favor of new ones. 

One of the most self-betraying traps of people pleasing is the separation from one’s genuine sense of self

When someone is subservient to the needs and goals of others it reinforces a sense that their own needs aren’t worthy. If you don’t believe your own needs are important enough, who will? 

Pleasers who learn to move beyond these self-sacrificing behaviors can begin to appreciate their own place in the world and the unique benefits of being true to oneself. A truly ironic aspect of people pleasing is the fact that often, pleasers just want to connect with others, yet that overzealous urge to please gets in the way of genuine connection. 

Can you trust someone who only says “yes” and tells you what you want to hear rather than what you need to hear? In this way, people pleasing creates distance from others and sets up a dynamic of falsehood. Even though pleasers’ underlying goal is to connect, the very behavior they engage in perpetuates a lack of genuine connection because it’s based on one-sided relationship satisfaction and dishonesty. 

When people pleasers learn to respect their own needs and challenge the underlying core belief that they are unworthy, true growth and connection with others can happen. Relationships with others become meaningful when one has a healthy relationship with themselves. 


Cookson, Paula LCSW. “The Liberated Self: A People Pleaser’s Guide to Better Relationships.”Amazon.com, accessed March 6, 2020.

Lancer, Darlene, JD, MFT. “Are You a People-Pleaser?” PsychCentral, October 8, 2018. Accessed March 6, 2020.

Lancer, Darlene, JD, MFT. “Are You a People-Pleaser?” Whatiscodependency.com, 2014. Accessed March 6, 2020. 


  • Dr. Teyhou Smyth

    Performance Coach, Adjunct Professor of Psychology, Keynote Speaker, Licensed Therapist (#115137)

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