Are your efforts always focused on making other people happy rather than yourself? Even if it’s detrimental to your own happiness? I have some news. You might be a people-pleaser. And it’s likely doing you more harm than good. 

The term ‘people-pleaser’ is often used to describe someone who has a hard time saying “no” and agrees with others’ opinions without resistance. 

In the media, they might be shown as the obnoxious teacher’s pet or as the mean girl’s obliging BFF. In reality, we all people please to varying degrees. But it becomes a problem when the behaviour starts to dictate our interactions and how we feel about ourselves. 

So, what is people pleasing exactly, and why do people do it? Keep reading to find out. 

What is people-pleasing?

Essentially, it is putting other people’s wants and needs before your own. 

Now, you might be wondering if that’s a problem. Surely that’s just being a nice, considerate person, right? Yes, but only to an extent. 

There is a big difference between being nice and being a people-pleaser. And it largely comes down to motive: Are you behaving this way because it makes you feel good and you want to help? Or are you being driven by a desire to be liked and a compulsion to make others happy? 

That’s not to say people-pleasers are all bad! They are often naturally empathic and generous people. But it’s a pattern of behaviour that will leave you drained, disconnected from yourself and even worse off than if you did honestly express yourself.  

And herein lies the problem. People-pleasers have trouble self-advocating, explaining their views and asking for what they want and need. 

Because of this, they often sacrifice a lot of their time and energy in pursuit of making others happy. In other words, they’re not showing up as their authentic selves and they suffer for it. 

Signs you’re a people-pleaser

1. You battle with low self-esteem

If you’re overly concerned with other people’s approval and need praise to feel worthy, you’re likely in an ongoing battle with low self-esteem. You might seek external validation by doing things for people or going above and beyond both academically and in your career. 

2. You want others to like you 

Everyone wants to be liked (though some are more concerned with this than others), but people-pleasers feel this desire deeply. 

Wanting to be liked usually stems from a fear of being rejected, so you may do or say things in order to win affection from your friends and family, making others happy before yourself. 

3. You’re conflict avoidant

You’re always the first person to apologise, even if you’re not the one at fault. Conflict, or even the potential for conflict, causes you a lot of stress. You feel like it’s your job to keep the peace. 

4. You’re always agreeable (even if you feel differently)

Because you want to be liked by everyone, you’ll outwardly and automatically agree with plans and opinions you don’t actually agree with. You struggle to say no and be upfront with your feelings. 

5. You’re always doing things for others 

Because saying “no” makes you feel guilty (and you’re scared of being disliked), you end up taking on more responsibilities than you can handle. You might also go out of your way to do things for others, hoping they’ll feel positively towards you because of your thoughtfulness. 

Why we can be people-pleasers 

The reasons why we people-please are vast, but it’s likely something you learned to do in your childhood to counteract the fear, guilt and anxiety you were feeling. People-pleasing is a coping mechanism, and in cases of trauma, one we use to secure our safety. 

When we’re faced with a threat, we either fight, flee or freeze. But have you heard of fawning? It’s a fourth response that is demonstrated by survivors of abuse or trauma. 

Fawning is an extreme version of people-pleasing. We fawn to please or keep someone who is threatening us happy. This behaviour keeps us out of harm’s way, at least in the short term. 

You could also have learned to people-please by watching an influential figure in your life exhibit this behaviour when you were growing up. Perhaps being perceived as selfless is considered a virtue in your home and you were socialised to behave this way. 

Your parents may have only given you affection when you performed well, leading to your need to earn praise. Or, maybe, your parents were strict and you learned to do, say or act a certain way even when you didn’t feel like it. 

People-pleasing could also be an indication of a mental health condition or a sign of codependency. 

If you feel like you need the support of a friendly professional to talk about your unique circumstances, I’d be more than happy to chat with you to see if counselling is a solution you may benefit from. 

You can book a free chat with me here.