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The People Pleasing Paradox: Break the Cycle of Self-Sacrifice with these 6 Tips

chess board with one piece down

Many of us have a natural inclination to please others. This desire can be a powerful force for good, motivating acts of kindness and generosity. However, for some individuals, this desire can morph into a pervasive and unhealthy pattern known as people-pleasing. This article explores the complexities of people-pleasing behavior, its underlying causes, and the crucial steps individuals can take to reclaim their well-being and foster healthier relationships.

What is people pleasing?

People-pleasers are individuals who consistently prioritize the needs and desires of others above their own, often to the point of self-sacrifice. 

  • Chronic "Yes-saying": People-pleasers find it extremely difficult to decline requests, even when they are overloaded or uncomfortable.

  • Fear of rejection and disapproval: They are highly sensitive to the opinions of others and fear being seen as unhelpful or disliked.

  • Low self-esteem: They often struggle with self-worth and seek validation through the approval of others.

  • Overcommitment: They tend to take on too much, leading to stress, burnout, and resentment.

  • Difficulty expressing needs and feelings: They prioritize the emotional well-being of others while neglecting their own, leading to suppressed emotions and inner turmoil.

Where does people pleasing come from?

There are several factors that can contribute to the development of people-pleasing tendencies.

  • Childhood experiences: Growing up in environments where approval was contingent upon certain behaviors or where conflict was avoided.

  • Personality traits: Individuals with high anxiety or neuroticism may be more susceptible to people-pleasing, as they tend to be more sensitive to the opinions and emotions of others.

  • Social norms and cultural values: Our society often emphasizes the importance of selflessness and prioritizing the needs of others, which can contribute to people-pleasing behaviors.

Stay away from the Dark Side

Darth Vader

While initially appearing as a harmless, even laudable trait, people-pleasing can have detrimental consequences on an individual's well-being and relationships.

  • Loss of self: The constant focus on satisfying others can lead to a disconnect from one's own needs and desires, hindering self-discovery and personal growth.

  • Resentment and anger: Feeling unheard and disregarded can breed resentment towards those who take advantage of their selflessness, jeopardizing relationships.

  • Chronic stress and anxiety: The pressure to constantly please others can lead to chronic stress and anxiety, impacting mental and physical health.

  • Superficial connections: People-pleasing behaviors can create superficial relationships that lack genuine intimacy and reciprocity.

man runnig
Ttakhwiri, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Breaking free

Breaking free from the cycle of people-pleasing requires self-awareness, commitment, and consistent effort.

  1. Recognize your patterns: Pay close attention to situations that trigger your people-pleasing tendencies and identify the underlying thoughts and emotions that drive them. I suggest you keep a journal of these instances and circumstances.

  2. Define your needs and values: Reflect on what truly matters to you and what you need to feel happy and fulfilled. Prioritize these needs and values in your decision-making. Again, jorurnal these.

  3. Set and enforce boundaries: Learn to say "No" politely but assertively, and practice declining requests that don't align with your priorities. Start small with just one behavior and as soon as that has been mastered move on to other people pleasing instances.

  4. Develop self-compassion: Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you extend to others. Forgive yourself for mistakes and prioritize self-care.

  5. Practice healthy coping mechanisms: Identify healthy ways to manage stress and anxiety, such as meditation, exercise, or spending time in nature.

  6. Seek support: Talking to a therapist or counselor can provide valuable guidance and support on your journey to self-empowerment.

Be selfish! Prioritizing your well-being is not selfish, but a fundamental element of wellbeing. 


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