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4 Minutes Read

3 Signs That You Are A People Pleaser

Many of my clients who seek therapy with me start the conversation by sharing that they often feel sad and anxious, but they just don’t know why. As we explore together further, one answer seems to come up quickly again and again, even though before starting therapy, it was never noticed. 

In a world that demands little from people of privilege and everything from those with the least power, people pleasing is often normalized, and therefore invisible. And yet, this dynamic of relating to others inevitably damages your mental health.

Here are three signs that you might be a people pleaser, and explainers on how it might be affecting you.

1. You can’t say no

You’re too worried about what others will think of you to say no to that extra project, that drink you know is one too many, or that room that’s way smaller than all the other ones in the apartment.

You feel overly responsible for other people’s problems, which sets you up for having people overlook your needs or take advantage of you. Even though you’re immunocompromised, you didn’t say no when your boss asked you to come back into the office full time, because you know he’s had such a hard time improving morale. You didn’t say no when your sister asked you to start babysitting her kids for free, because you feel like it’s on you to make sure she gets her life together. 

As a result of struggling to say no, you don’t have time for yourself or space for what you need. You feel frustrated with other people for crossing your boundaries, although you haven’t actually enforced them.

2. You’re constantly apologizing

Nothing is more intolerable than conflict. When it comes up, you’d do anything to make it go away, so you frequently find yourself apologizing for anything and everything just so the discomfort will stop.

You really need other people to like you and approve of you, and you just can’t risk a conflict that might put that in jeopardy. If people were upset with you or didn’t approve of you in some way, you fear it would be a big blow to your self-esteem. 

But, at the end of the day, moving through the world with the constant assumption that you’ve done something wrong and need to apologize is just creating more low self-esteem.

People don’t know the “real” you.

You avoid sharing your feelings with others, even people who consider you a close friend, because you feel like your emotions are an inconvenience. You always agree with other people’s opinions and preferences, even if they’re not your own, because you think it will help you be liked. You don’t express emotional needs or speak up about things that have been bothering you, because you’re afraid of seeming “selfish”.

Using these strategies, you may have successfully created an image of yourself as cool, collected, easygoing, and agreeable. But on the inside, you feel lonely and unsupported. Your authentic self has been buried under your efforts to appear nice.

3. You expect life to be perfect

You can’t accept being less than perfect in anything you do, because being less than perfect risks disappointing others. Because you’re so critical of yourself, you can’t accept compliments or praise — a habit that people often find grating, prompting you to redouble your efforts to be perfect.

You’re uncomfortable when life isn’t perfect. When someone you know is feeling angry, sad, or upset, you feel a strong need to “fix” it. This often leads down one of two paths: creating a toxic caretaking dynamic, where the person takes less and less responsibility for their life and their emotions as you pick up that responsibility more and more, or making the person feel like you aren’t able to support them, because you can’t stand to bear witness to the truth of their difficult feelings.

Ultimately, imperfection is inescapable and as a result, you feel tense and anxious all the time.

Break free from people pleasing

If you recognize yourself in these signs, I have great news: people pleasing is learned behavior, and it can also be unlearned. Discover how to healthily balance yourself and others, set firm boundaries, and come more into life, in all its messiness. Therapy can help — click the button below to set up a free phone consultation, and I can tell you more about how this support can help you build a new lifestyle.


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