Have you ever offered to help someone and immediately regretted it? Do you find yourself giving more than you receive in your relationships? Do you have a hard time telling people what you want or asking for what you need out of fear you will be rejected? These behaviors  are people pleasing tendencies. Understanding what people pleasing is and how you can overcome it will benefit you both personally and relationally. 

What is people pleasing?

People pleasing is helping others at the expense of one’s well-being. Well-being is a person’s physical, mental, spiritual, emotional and social health. Additionally, people pleasers tend to be disingenuous to who they truly are. People pleasers often sacrifice their happiness, peace, wants, needs, and desires to give other people those things. 

Providing support and services to others is not inherently bad. Relationships require sacrifice. However, people pleasers tend to be excessive givers in relationships. A balance of over giving to others and under giving to yourself is not healthy. It is not only unhealthy for the people pleaser, but it can also be harmful to the people pleaser’s relationships and the people on the receiving end. 

  • Eventually, the people pleaser will reach their limit and can grow resentful towards the people they worked hard to please. 
  • The relationship is being set up on false pretenses that aren’t sustainable – the people pleaser eventually will stop pleasing
  • The receiver may feel suffocated or confused with how to read the people pleaser. They may feel a disingenuousness and check-out or feel hurt.

Why do people do people please?        

Fear of rejection or abandonment issues– So many of us try to please others so we can be accepted or feel loved. People pleasers ask for less and accept less in relationships for these same reasons. Humans are social beings; we thrive when we are connected to other people and we are a part of a community. This need for connection is what makes rejection so painful. People pleasing behaviors are often adopted as protection from the pain of rejection. If a person has been abandoned or rejected before, the fear of reliving that painful experience can lead to people pleasing tendencies. 

Low self-esteem/self-worth– There are also some people who seek external validation and self-worth from others. People pleasing is expensive. It costs time, energy, resources, and sometimes even your health. People do it because it can feel pretty rewarding. People pleasers often receive praise for being selfless, generous, thoughtful, kind, reliable, dependable, and the list goes on. Praise says “you matter” and “you are valuable.” It is a confidence booster. Truth is, receiving praise and not receiving praise does not take away or add to a person’s worth.

People pleasers tend to connect their value as a person to their productivity or what they can do for others. It may be helpful for friends of people pleasers to remind them that they are worthy because of who they are and not what they do both through their words and their actions. Showing up for a people pleaser in a time of need is telling them they are worthy of your time. Telling them you appreciate them just because, not because they did something for you, is helpful to them to get out of people pleasing mode. 

Passivity– Assertiveness is a skill. While it comes naturally to some. For others, it must be taught and practiced regularly to become more natural. Assertiveness can feel uncomfortable to people who have been conditioned to put others needs before their own or taught to view self-advocacy in a negative light (mean, selfish, inconsiderate, etc). Truth is we all have limits and needs. Being honest about your limits and needs is an act of kindness towards Self and others. 

Not knowing self– Chronic people pleasers are usually more in tune with the needs, perspectives, and desires of others than their own desires. As a result, they are out of touch with their authentic self. People pleasing can be a symptom of anxiety, as this behavior can develop as a way to cope with anxious thoughts around one’s perception or being rejected. True freedom and peace can only be found when one is living authentically and being genuine with others. 

When is People Pleasing Good?

People pleasers are incredibly empathetic and kind people. These strengths are positive traits that can be both beneficial to people pleasers and others in relationship with them. People pleasers benefit by being liked and admired by others. Others benefit from receiving the care, support and kindness being given. People pleasing is healthy when the empathy and kindness is directed inwards first, and then outwards to others. This means the people pleaser is being kind to themself while serving the needs of others. When there is a balance between what is given, taken, and shared in a relationship, it flourishes and satisfaction increases for both parties. People with good boundaries show others that they value themselves. Healthy boundaries are not only inspiring to others but empowering for the one practicing it. 

When can People Pleasing be Harmful?

People pleasing is harmful when it is done at the expense of yourself or significant relationships. It can also be harmful to others when it enables problematic behavior. People learn and grow when they deal with the consequences of bad decisions. People pleasing without healthy boundaries can rob others of the opportunity to learn to meet their own needs and build important life skills like good decision making, time management, and accepting accountability. 

What will you notice about yourself when you are people pleasing?

Ultimately, the decision to sacrifice self and/or significant relationships often leaves people pleasers feeling miserable and unsatisfied because they have failed to meet their personal needs (due to poor boundaries around energy, resources, time, etc.) or the needs of those that matter most to them. When your people pleasing is out of hand, you will notice that you become irritated when people you want to please communicate yet another need they would like you to fulfill. You might find yourself grinding your teeth (think- grinning and bearing it) or making a fist and breathing hard. You will notice that your yeses are not joyful and full-hearted yeses but yeses that come with regret, anxiety, sadness and resentment.

How to Stop People Pleasing

The first step to solving any problem is acknowledging that it is a problem. Recognize when your people pleasing tendencies are unhelpful to you, your relationships, and the people you love. Understand that you are worthy of healthy relationships with yourself and others, and that what you are or are not able to give does not define this worth. 

Unlearn lies that say having boundaries is bad: to become a healthy people pleaser, it is important that one deprogram their minds from viewing their lack of boundaries as good, kind, or praiseworthy. It is harmful and unfair. As stated previously, true kindness is kindness to self. True friends would not want their needs met at the expense of those they care about. Setting boundaries promotes safety, protects relationships, and leads to more satisfaction in relationships.

Implement boundaries: There is nothing more freeing than the truth. Being honest about one’s own needs and personal limits is a great way to stop people pleasing and love people in a healthy way. Chronic people pleasers would benefit from taking notes from those around them that value themselves enough to communicate their wants, needs and desires. Healthy boundaries honor one’s personal capacity and authentic self. This means your yeses and nos should be in alignment with your resources, time, values, desires. It is also important to be careful that people pleasing does not enable problematic behavior. 

Create personal mantras to manage fears: Fear is often at the root of unhealthy people pleasing behavior. Creating personal mantras that affirm self-worth can help empower people pleasers to choose themselves and accept the risk of disappointing others. Some examples are: “I am allowed to honor my boundaries.” “I am worthy of love because of who I am and not what I do.” “I am worthy of being taken care of.” “I deserve more than people who love me for their own benefits.” 

Do a values exploration exercise and create an authenticity board: Becoming more aware of self and the needs of self can be helpful for chronic people pleasers who feel disconnected to their true self. A values exploration exercise can help you connect to your true self. Specifically with the want, needs, values and desires of your true self. With this awareness, you can begin taking steps to create more satisfaction in your life by allowing your values to guide you. An authenticity board is like a vision board but includes images, phrases, and things that are meaningful and spark joy for your true self. 

How to Identify your Core Values

One way to find your values is to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Who do I admire most?
    1. Personal values are sometimes reflected in the people who we look up to and admire. Typically, the qualities we admire in others are qualities we value ourselves. You can get a better understanding of your values by listing 5-7 people you admire. These can be family members, friends, or people you do not know personally but you consider heroes. What values do these people embody? Are they compassionate, creative, optimistic, resilient? These may be things that are important to you.
  2. What was the best moment of your life?
    1. Examining the best moment of your life could shine a light on principles that matter to you. For example, if the best moment of your life was coaching your local high school basketball team into a winning season, you may value fun, mentorship or leadership.
  3. What was the most painful moment of your life?
    1. In the same way, our best moments can highlight our values. Our most painful moments can also teach us what is important to us. For example, a painful experience of betrayal may teach you that loyalty or honesty are things you value.
  4. What are general principles, standards of behaviors or beliefs that you think are important to have in life? Try to list 7-10. Here is a link for a list of common values people have: Common Core Values

Now that you have a list of different qualities that are meaningful to you. Try to organize the lists in groups by identifying central themes or connections between different qualities. This will help you narrow your list down so you can identify your core values. Rather than letting fears guide your decisions and behaviors, making decisions and acting in alignment with personal values will lead to more contentment in life. 


In conclusion, while wanting to make others happy is normal, excessive people pleasing is unhealthy. These behaviors can develop in a person’s life for a variety of reasons. There is hope for managing pleasing people’s behaviors. Recovery starts with identifying the lies that fuel these behaviors, and challenging them through truth-telling and accountability. If you’d like help understanding where your people pleasing tendencies come from and how to break out of them, call us today at 267-495-4951 to set up an appointment with one of our trained therapists. 

Meet The Author:

Hilda “Madequor” Tetteh-Ocloo, MA, MFT

Hilda “Madequor” Tetteh-Ocloo, MA, MFT

Marriage and Family Therapist

Hilda "Madequor" Tetteh-Ocloo, MA, MFT, a Marriage and Family Therapist, employs a systemic approach, viewing clients within their broader environmental contexts. She emphasizes healing through empathy, understanding, and accountability. Hilda utilizes contextual and narrative therapy models to help clients overcome relational issues and reframe self-dialogues. As a Ghanaian-American, she advocates for ethnic minorities, particularly in African Diasporic communities, and addresses the stigma of mental illness. Her clinical training at Drexel University emphasized social justice and cultural responsiveness. Hilda holds a B.A. from the University of North Carolina and an M.A. in Couples and Family Therapy from Drexel University. She enjoys reading, writing, volunteering, and dance.

Learn more about Hilda “Madequor” Tetteh-Ocloo ⇒

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