How to Stop People Pleasing

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How to Stop People Pleasing

How to Stop People Pleasing

People pleasing is complicated. On one hand it feels like you have everyone’s best interests at heart, that you’re a genuinely GOOD person. People are grateful and express this with compliments and expressions of gratitude that send an almighty kick of oxytocin into your system. This makes you feel wonderful, that you have a place in this world, and that you are valued.

However, it can also leave us depleted, exhausted and with little left for our own goals and issues. What’s more, it’s easy to get lost in other people’s lives, listening to their problems, picking up their mess, making sure they are okay…so easy that it’s a convenient way to distance yourself from whatever is going on in your own life that you don’t want to see.

People pleasing can give us status, meaning and connection, but do it too much and it can become a trap.

Too much people pleasing can start to make you feel resentful and it’s a hard habit to break once you’re in. People expect that lift; for you to cover for them at the office; that you’ll listen to their moans about the boss over and over again. Saying “No” becomes difficult. You feel that you’re letting people down. Even worse, they may make you feel like you are! You may start to feel resentful, which can spill over into passive aggression. Or, even worse, if you try and push this down, explode when you least expect it.


Goodbye Dreams

goodbye dreams if you people pleaseAnd what about your own dreams, your own path? That’s slowly been demoted to bottom of the list and you have a feeling that you’re so far from your own path that it’s not worth even making the attempt to do something for yourself. What about all these obligations? You can’t just let go of these.

Why not? One, because you’re in this too deep and two, because you’re worried what other people will think of you. Maybe you’ll look like a loser, someone who bottled it, who just couldn’t keep it together. Or perhaps you feel people will be disappointed in you, or that their doubts about you will be confirmed. “People” could mean people in general, or you have someone’s image in your head: your parents, your colleagues, your partner or family.

Perhaps you do have some ideas for change in your life: a change of job or career. More education or some travel? Or you maybe just have a sense that something needs to change but you’re not quite sure what it is. However, even the thought of exploring that feels like a betrayal, a sign to your family that you’re not happy and how would that make them feel?

Any of this strike a nerve with you? Hmm, you’re well and truly stuck aren’t you?

Well…maybe, maybe not.


One thing we can do is look for those times when we did do something for ourselves, or stood up for ourselves. We can recognise the resources we used when we did that, or the support we put in place. While such times may not immediately spring to mind, you most probably can think of some instances. For myself, it was deciding to go back to University to do a Masters, even though I was a single mum to three children and running my own business. My decision meant that they had to learn to look after themselves in practical ways that now underpin their self-esteem as adults (they were teenagers at the time, I might add).

What was going on when you were able to stay No, or didn’t step in to offer help as you usually do? What resources did you have to look after yourself? How did you get others to step up and take responsibility for themselves?


7 Activities to Help You Stop People Pleasing and Caring What Other People Think Of You

Here are some actions to help you move from a place of people pleasing to pleasing yourself. You don’t have to work through them in any particular order, and you can get working with more than one at a time.

Discover Yourself

discover yourselfHave your own agenda. Move your attention from other people and onto yourself. This won’t happen in the course of a day, but there are some rewarding activities you can do to start this process.

One of the first things is to look at what you want from your own life. If we turn the focus back to ourselves it becomes harder for others to pull us off the path with their own agenda, but first we have to truly know what it is we want. Sometimes I work with clients who have never truly asked themselves this question.

A Values exercise is a nice way to start this. You can do it yourself by listing the Values that are important to you in your life. Some of my own values, for instance, are:









Try to bring you list down to 10 Values. Write these out and put them somewhere you can see. Near your desk, in a journal or on your fridge for instance. Every now and then touch base with them. Do you think you are living those values?

Tranquillity is a big one for me, for example. I have to feel that I have space in my life to think and time to do nothing. I try to build these in but if life gets too frenetic I know that I’m not living that value. The result is that my stress levels get higher of course, but I also feel that my life is “off” somehow and I need to bring myself back to that Value. Usually that means dropping something or saying NO to a few things.

I have worked with clients who literally start crying when they see that a Value that is hugely important to them, such as Intimacy or Playfulness, is absent from their life. It’s  a powerful moment.

The next step on that path is finding what you truly want. You may know already but if you don’t here are some activities that can help you explore that:

  • Journaling
  • Make a Vision Board
  • Read autobiographies and see what type of lives draw you
  • Talking to other people about what they enjoy about their lives, their jobs
  • Taking some time off to travel or have an adventure
  • Doing a course – any course – to  open your mind
  • Exploring with a coach or therapist (if you would like to work with me on your own people pleasing tendencies, please book a chat with me here.)
  • Remember what you wanted to be when you were a child, a teenager, a young adult
  • Try out some Possible Selves without committing yourself to it (read Herminia Ibarra’s book Working Identity for a great introduction to this theory)
  • Read self-development books to discover more about yourself


When you think you know what you want, assess how much you want it. If it’s a merely an “oh that would be nice”, then you haven’t found it yet. It needs to make you excited, to touch that flame inside.


Make self-care a priority

candles for self-careIf you’ve been catering for everyone else’s needs your own self-care may be pretty low on the list. It may be a trite and well used phrase but you need to put on your own oxygen mask first or, long term, you will be no use to anyone, least of all yourself.

You may think self-care is indulgent or that you can’t afford pampering. It even make you feel guilty (a huge clue that it’s what you need). At this point I am going to invite you to do it anyway and just sit with those feelings. After all, they are just feelings, not necessarily the truth. Learning to look at our thoughts and feelings but not let them lure us away down a rabbit hole is an important part of this process.

Each week, I challenge you to up level your self-care, i.e. do something more for yourself. It doesn’t have to involve lots of money or taking yourself off to a spa for a few days, although if that’s an option by all means go for it. Here are some suggestions:

  • Basics – if anything is niggling, see a doctor or specialist. Get those teeth checked, book in an appointment with a chiropodist or physiotherapist
  • Get a health MOT – weight, bloods etc. Decide to take responsibility for yourself
  • Have a massage, facial
  • Take a nap in the afternoon
  • Get to bed twenty minutes earlier
  • Drink more water
  • Eat more veg
  • Lower the cabs
  • Lower your sugar intake
  • Reduce your alcohol intake
  • Have a facial, pedicure or manicure
  • Take an hour long bubble bath
  • Treat yourself to some gorgeous shower gel
  • Sit and do nothing
  • Meditate
  • Get a haircut and colour
  • Go for a run, yoga session or join a Zumba class
  • Follow a HIIT video on YouTube
  • Learn how to make your own face mask from things you have lying in your cupboards


The list is endless and you can have fun exploring what makes you feel the most pampered and what you will be bringing into your regular routines. I have 99 more ideas here.

Assess The Impact

This is where we look at how much this has impacted on your life, up until now. Go through the following questions, answering as honestly as you can.


What do I do regularly that does not fall in with my Values or Path?

What takes me away from my Value or Path?

What have I done in the past that did not support my Values or Path?

What has taken me away from my Value or Path?

Which people have I tried to please in the past?

Are there people with whom do not behave in this way?

Are there people that I look to for validation and respect?

How has that affected what I do or the way I interact with them?

Are there people that I don’t look to in this way?

How has that affected what I do or the way that interact with them?

What difficulties have I got in due to this behaviour?


Build in Space

say no to people pleasingThis is where we start to change our interactions with others. You are going to stop yourself from acting on impulse by building in some breathing space. This is two-fold. You are training both yourself and other people.

Let’s start by putting other people in a holding pattern. So, when someone asks for a favour, if you’d like to come out that weekend or join their new book group, just build in a little delay before you commit. All it takes is a “Let me check with my diary and I’ll let you know”, or “My head’s a bit full with something else at the moment. Can I think on it and get back to you,” In short, pause before you rush in and say yes. Use this time to consider:

Do I really want to do this?

Why do I want to do this? Is it for me or because I want to make them happy?

If you decide that you don’t want to do whatever it is, you can just say “No”, that doesn’t work for me tonight, or ”No, I don’t think I fancy that.”  No need for elaborate excuses or stories. If someone challenges you then you perhaps need to be asking them why can’t they accept and respect your answer.

Of course, sometimes you will want to do whatever it is. Sometimes you will genuinely want to help. But that space allows you to decide not give a knee jerk reaction and beat yourself up for it later. It also reminds others that your time and your headspace is important. You have things going on in your life. There are other things you need to be thinking on and giving your attention.

Next, you’re going to build in that same space before you offer to help someone of your own accord. This is trickier and you’ll need to rely on your own self-discipline here. It could be a 5 minute rule that you apply, a 24 hour rule…whatever works for you. Be rigid in applying it and apply it to everything that fits.

If in doubt, consider…

Is this taking me away from my values and path?

Will it deplete my resources for my own journey and goals?

Reducing the need for outside Validation

This is a big part of people pleasing and caring what others thing. What we are doing, in fact, is using others to make us feel better and give us our worth. It’s quite selfish and could even be manipulative if you look at it that way. A true feeling of self-worth comes from inside so let’s look at building that up.

Ways to help with this include journaling, so that you get to know and appreciate yourself intimately. Additionally, start a practice of gratitude but making sure that you include yourself within this. So, for example, being grateful to yourself for setting aside the time to do a good job on that special project.

Acknowledge your own achievements to yourself and celebrate them. You can share this with others, but not if you only need their acknowledgement and approval for you to really feel that success.

Practise making decisions for yourself, and relying on your own judgment. Start with the little things and work up to big decisions. Being able to take responsibility for these really does help a feeling of intrinsic self-worth, as does deciding to do something and see it through to the end.

Ask for help

People pleasers rarely ask for help. We struggle on, convinced that asking for help would be a form of weakness, but at the same time maybe feeling resentful that people can’t see we could do with a hand. Asking for help is a skill that some people have and are happy to use when they need it some people abuse it.

Begin by asking for small things, perhaps for extra mayonnaise at a restaurant or asking your son to mow the lawn. Build it up. Admit vulnerability, “Actually I’m struggling with this – could you give me a hand.” Most people genuinely like to help and you are unlikely to be taking advantage. Sometimes, if you’ve always been the one to do the helping, people may react with surprise, but don’t be frightened of this. It’s part of the process.

Asking for help leads to another skill that people pleasers may not have used properly: delegating. We don’t have to do everything ourselves. Indeed, by handing over some jobs to a junior colleague we are also aiding in their development as well as our own.  That feeling that you are giving away some control is scary but, once again, we need to get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.

Step Seven: Tune Into Your Body

So many of us live in our heads nowadays, but it’s there where we can get caught up in patterns and repeat history over and over again. Body work is liberating. It allows us to tune into out body and get more accustomed to picking up on how we are really feeling about something.

You can start by building more physicality into your life. This can be pure exercise like running or swimming, yes, but activities like yoga and dance help us tap into the right hand side of our rain, our creativity and imagination. One form of dance that is particularly good for this is Qoya work created by Rochelle Schieck.  There are plenty of free Qoya videos on Vimeo that you can try here.

Again, that stillness and space that yoga creates can produce the same thing and help you tune into your body. What this does is bring you closer to your intuition which can give you clues as to how you really feel about things. Perhaps you notice that your shoulders tense up when you think about a certain colleague at work, or that you grind your teeth when you go to sleep after spending too much time on social media.

All these things are clues to how you really feel. You can use that information to make more informed decisions. You may decide not to trust that colleague or that you need to reduce your time on social media, even though your friends love it. In short, learn how to please yourself.

If you would like to work with me on your people pleasing tendencies, please book a chat with me here.