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People pleasing

People-pleasers are known for doing whatever it takes to make other people happy. I know that I have fitted into this group of people all my adult life. While being kind and helpful is generally a good thing, going too far to please others can leave you feeling emotionally depleted, stressed, and anxious. 

People-pleasing involves putting someone else's needs ahead of your own. As a parent this often is a by-product of parenting your children. People-pleasers are highly attuned to others and are often seen as agreeable, helpful, and kind. However, people-pleasers may have trouble advocating for themselves, which can lead to a harmful pattern of self-sacrifice or self-neglect. Does this sound familiar to any of you?

What are the Signs You Might Be a People-Pleaser?

There are a number of characteristics that people-pleasers tend to share. Here are some signs that you might be a people-pleaser:

  • You have a difficult time saying "no."
  • You are preoccupied with what other people might think.
  • You fear that turning people down will make them think you are mean or selfish.
  • You agree to things you don’t like or do things you don’t want to do.
  • You struggle with feelings of low-self esteem.
  • You want people to like you and feel that doing things for them will earn their approval.
  • You take the blame even when something isn’t your fault.
  • You never have any free time because you are always doing things for other people.
  • You neglect your own needs in order to do things for others.

As a people pleaser you are also generally empathetic, thoughtful, and caring. Now as you know I have been a nurse all my working life and as a nurse we are all of these. It is part and parcel of our jobs. However, these positive qualities may also come with a poor self-image, need to take control, or tendency to overachieve.  I know I have experienced all of these things ☹

People-pleasing isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Being a concerned and caring person is an important part of maintaining healthy relationships with loved ones. It becomes a problem, however, if you are trying to win approval in order to shore up weak self-esteem or if you are pursuing the happiness of others at the expense of your own emotional well-being. Fortunately, there are some steps that you can take to stop being a people-pleaser and learn how to balance your desire to make others happy without sacrificing your own.

Establish Boundaries

It's important to know your limits, establish clear boundaries, and then communicate those limits. I know I harp on about this often because I know how important it is to live the life you want to live. Be clear and specific about what you're willing to take on. If it seems like someone is asking for too much, let them know that it's over the bounds of what you are willing to do and that you won't be able to help.

There are also other ways to create boundaries in your life to help reign in your people-pleasing tendencies. For example, you might only take phone calls at certain times to set limits on when you are able to talk. You might also explain that you are only available for a specific period of time. This can be helpful because it ensures that you have control of not only what you are willing to do, but also when you are willing to do it.

Start Small

It can be hard to make a sudden change, so it is often easier to begin by asserting yourself in small ways. In many cases, you not only have to retrain yourself—but you also have to work on teaching the people around you to understand your new limits. Because of this, it can be helpful to start with small steps that help you work your way to being less of a people-pleaser. Start by saying no to smaller requests, try expressing your opinion about something small, or ask for something that you need.

For example, try saying no to a text request. Then work your way up to telling people "no" in person. Practice in different settings or situations such as when talking to salespeople, ordering at a restaurant, or even when dealing with co-workers.

Set Goals and Priorities

Consider where you want to spend your time. Who do you want to help? What goals are you trying to accomplish? Knowing your priorities can help you determine whether or not you have the time and energy to devote to something. If something is sapping your energy or taking too much of your time, take steps to address the problem. As you practice setting those boundaries and saying no to things you don't really want to do, you'll find that you have more time to devote to the things that are really important to you.

Stall for Time – Take a moment

When someone asks for a favour, tell them you need some time to think about it. Saying "yes" right away can leave you feeling obligated and overcommitted so taking your time to respond to a request can give you the time to evaluate it and decide if it's something you really want to do. Before you make a decision, ask yourself:

  • How much time will this take?
  • Is this something I really want to do?
  • Do I have time to do it?
  • How stressed am I going to be if I say "yes?"

Research has also found that even a short pause before making a choice increases decision-making accuracy. By giving yourself a moment, you'll be better able to accurately decide if it is something you have the desire and time to take on.

Help When You Want to Help

You don’t need to give up being kind and thoughtful. Those are desirable qualities that can contribute to strong, lasting relationships. The key is to examine your motivations and intentions. Don’t do things only because you fear rejection or want the approval of others. Keep doing good things, but on your own terms. Kindness doesn’t demand attention or rewards—it simply requires a desire to make things better for another person.

Try Positive Self-Talk

If you start to feel overwhelmed or tempted to cave, build up your resolve with positive self-talk. Remind yourself that you deserve to have time for yourself. Your goals are important, and you shouldn’t feel obligated to give away your time and energy on things that don’t bring you joy.


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