Do you struggle with people pleasing tendencies? Here’s how to stop people pleasing.
I never thought of myself as a fearful person. I love adventure and taking risks. I didn’t consider myself a people pleaser.
However, at my first job after college graduation, I found myself feeling really burnt out and filled with resentment.
It wasn’t until about a decade later, during the upheaval of the pandemic, I realized I have many people pleasing tendencies. Almost automatically, I say yes to most requests because I want to be liked.
You see, when the pandemic said no for me to a lot of opportunities, I found myself feeling relieved and less guilty.
I didn’t have coworkers asking for favors around the office because we were at home instead of in person.
No one was asking me to volunteer or coordinate something outside of my job description because everything ground to a halt for quarantine.
When things finally started opening back up, I found myself right back in my old habit of saying yes without a second thought. I fell right back into seeking the approval of others over my own well-being. I said yes to projects and commitments I didn’t want to take on.
Then, I couldn’t figure out why I was so frazzled and stressed out. Can you relate?
It took a lot of inner work for me to recognize both my anxiety and my own needs in order to set healthy boundaries.
I’m still a work in progress with people pleasing tendencies, but I hope that sharing my story will help you recognize it in yourself.
It’s been a huge relief to not have an overcrowded calendar.
I’ll share some of my best tips for how to stop people pleasing, but first let’s define it more and look at how people pleasing manifests, especially for us busy moms.
What Is People Pleasing Behavior?
Simply put, people pleasing behavior is when you put the desires of other people over your own needs and preferences.
Here are some common scenarios that display people pleasing tendencies:
- Not taking time to think before saying yes
- Resenting others for responsibilities
- Agreeing to do favors you don’t want to
- Being preoccupied with what others might think of you
- Feeling pressure to respond immediately to requests
- Helping when you don’t want to
- Over apologizing
- Over explaining
- Over committing
But what causes us to act this way? In order to learn how to stop people pleasing, we have to uncover what’s causing it. Here’s what I’ve discovered can be behind people pleasing tendencies.
Motivations Behind People Pleasing
In my own life, I find my people-pleasing behavior is based in some type of fear. Can you relate to any of these reasons for people pleasing?
- Fear of rejection
- Fear of being disliked
- Fear of negative emotions
Let’s dig into each.
Fear of Rejection
One of the primary reasons for people pleasing is fear of rejection.
Have you ever said yes to something because you didn’t want to be rejected?
In my 20s, I found myself being asked to volunteer at a local nonprofit even though I wasn’t interested. However, the group of friends that I had made were into the cause and I really wanted to be accepted.
So I volunteered anyway. It took me far too long to realize this commitment was really draining because I didn’t enjoy it.
Have you ever done something because you just wanted acceptance? Maybe it stems from a lack of self esteem or self worth?
When I get stuck doing something because I don’t want to be rejected, I end up feeling grumpy about it. Then I take it out on my family.
Are you doing something because you want to be “in” with a group of people? And not because you actually want to do it? I know I do.
The next reason for people pleasing is soothing guilt.
Some folks struggle with people pleasing tendencies because they feel guilty saying no.
In some cases, they were never taught how to value their own opinions or mental health during their childhood.
Perhaps you were never asked your own preferences by your caregivers. So your best coping mechanism is to do whatever was expected of you in order to have security or acceptance.
Or maybe, you were taught that the needs of others were more important than your own.
It could even be that your own parents or another family member lacked the self-confidence to recognize their own needs so pleasing people was the only thing ever modeled for you.
Whether it stems from the trauma of not being accepted or you were simply rewarded for prioritizing the needs of others, it can be really hard to overcome the guilt of saying no or stating your needs.
But recognizing the guilt you feel is the first step to overcoming it.
The next reason is the fear of being disliked.
Fear of Being Disliked
One of my main personality motivations is that I want people to like me. Can you relate?
However, I find myself bending over backwards for people that I’m not sure would do the same thing for me.
What was at the root of this? After some deep digging, I realized I was putting my self worth into what I could do for others. I equated being liked as a person with meeting other peoples’ needs. But those two things shouldn’t be equal in a healthy relationship.
I’ve had to learn that people should like me for me. It’s not always about what I can do for someone. Sometimes it’s enough to simply enjoy someone’s company and friendship.
Do you find yourself saying yes to commitments because you want the person making the request to think highly of you? It’s really tempting!
The last reason for people pleasing is the fear of negative emotions.
Fear of Negative Emotions
One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned about myself in my 30s is that I tend to deal with difficult feelings by taking action.
In other words, I tend to overcompensate for uncomfortable emotions by doing something.
For example, if I feel uncomfortable with a situation at work, I tend to go into a state of overdrive and hustle to mask my uncomfortable emotions.
In other words, instead of sitting with the uncomfortable feelings, I’d rather just get to work to make myself feel better.
I’m working hard to unlearn this coping mechanism that doesn’t serve me well.
Even outside of work, I’ve learned that I will automatically say yes to something because it makes me feel better in the moment.
But when I don’t take the time to slow down and consider my decision, it costs me. Sometimes my people pleasing is at the expense of my family time or treasured hobbies.
I’ve had seasons where I felt like I didn’t have time to work out and exercise. It came down to that fact that I had taken on too many commitments on my time. I wasn’t able to prioritize my body and my health because I had prioritized what people thought of me.
Now that we’ve looked at what’s behind our people pleasing tendencies, let’s look at how to stop it.
Wish you could control your stress instead of feeling like it’s controlling your life, your sleep, and your temper?
Women react to stress differently than men and need special strategies!
I was certified as a Stress Mastery Educator for this very reason – so I could bring HOPE to moms like me feeling like life is getting the better of them (and in my case, getting very angry about it).
Join me in my free stress mastery challenge for 4 quick daily trainings that are full of support to make it work in your busy life!
Build the “new, calmer you” in just a few minutes a day…
How to Stop People Pleasing
So how do we stop people pleasing? Here’s what has worked for me. I’m by no means perfect at this. But each idea has been a baby step that has altered my course for the better.
I was pleasantly surprised to feel less stress and frustration.
I hope you find some tips as you seek to prioritize yourself.
The first way to stop people pleasing is to pause.
Whenever I’m under stress, I’ve learned that I tend to go into either the freeze or fawn response.
The freeze response is when your nervous system comes to a halt because of overwhelm. For me, this expresses in stuttering or being at a loss for words. I tend to feel stunned and have a really hard time identifying my own feelings.
On the other hand, the fawn response is when you tend to morph into whatever is expected of you in a situation in order to gain or avoid something.
Psychologist Pete Walker is credited with coming up with the fawn response. He defines it as becoming more appealing to a perceived threat.1
For me, the fawn response is really ingrained and automatic. I have a hard time identifying my own preferences and needs during decision making. My instinct is to become whatever will make the other person happy to avoid my own discomfort.
Sometimes, the threat is whatever difficult or negative emotion I am feeling, it doesn’t even have to be a person!
Now, whenever I am asked to do something, whether in person or via email or text message, I have to take a deep breath and pause.
This habit allows me to ask myself if I’m operating out of an insecurity or guilt.
However, especially in person, I still struggle with freezing up or wanting to say what I think the person wants to hear at the moment instead of being true to myself.
Here is the best script that I’velearned to deal with that.
Let Me Think About That
Because I have such a hard time dealing with negative feelings in the moment, I’ve learned to say to people:
Let me think about that and get back to you.
Sometimes I’ll ask, “When do you need to know by?”
I still struggle with saying this in the moment because I know it’s disappointing for people, but I’m learning that if I’m ever going to get a better handle on my stress, my own emotional needs must come before other people’s feelings.
Saying “let me think about that” also prevents me from coming up with strange excuses in the moment.
In the past, when I have been brave enough to say no to someone in the moment, I found myself over explaining. Have you ever said too much trying to make the other person feel better?
But I later realized that I was just seeking their external validation for saying no. It was actually about me not being able to soothe my own negative feelings. It wasn’t about making them feel better.
When I’m able to say “Let me think about that and get back to you,” I’m able to give myself the space to get honest with myself.
Finding Honesty With Myself
I have to remind myself that in true friendships and business relationships, true intimacy only comes from honesty.
If I don’t tell someone the truth, I just end up secretly resenting them (and myself.)
I still really struggle with being honest with myself, but pausing and saying let me think about that gives me the space to process my own wants.
Slowly, it’s taking me less time to identify if something fits my values or not.
The hardest part of getting honest with myself is identifying what is doable in this season.
Especially if you are a mom, it’s easy to get caught up in a fantasy self. Whether you are at home with kids or working, we tend to have an image of who we want to be and the things we wish we could do.
I’ve had to realize that there’s a lot of good stuff that’s just not feasible with small children. And I can grieve the fact that now isn’t a good time.
Whenever I struggle to identify my own wants and needs, I revisit the boundaries I’ve set in this season.
Set Clear Boundaries
During this season with young kids, my husband and I have tried to minimize our evening commitments so that we can have time together as a family.
I recently got asked to serve on a volunteer committee. It is something that I’m genuinely interested in because it’s the search committee to hire the leader of a nonprofit that I’m really passionate about.
At the same time though, I don’t want to sacrifice the quality time as a family that we have in the evenings.
So I ended up saying I would be willing to serve on the volunteer committee with one caveat: I could only attend daytime meetings, and if the meetings would mostly be in the evenings, I would need to pass.
It was really hard for me to assert myself like this, but I’m learning that if I’m going to enjoy the experience and not resent myself or others, I need to hold this boundary.
It’s hard to recognize that I must say no to something I would enjoy if it won’t fit my calendar. A good thing at a bad time is a bad thing for me.
So what should we do when we need to say no?
Saying No Graciously
I’m still learning how to say no graciously.
I try to remember to thank people for asking me or for considering me.
Only if I mean it honestly, will I ask them to ask me again in the future. Or give a caveat of what would need to change for it to be a good fit for me.
Learning to say no graciously may look like:
- I’m so honored that you asked me but I need to pass this time around
- Thank you for thinking of me but I’m not able to take on another commitment
- Thanks for asking but that doesn’t fit my schedule right now
- I’m glad you asked me but it’s bad timing… Can you include me next time?
Resist the temptation to over explain or over apologize. It’s okay if there’s a pause in conversation.
Stop People Pleasing for Less Frazzled Motherhood
Overall, I hope that considering your people pleasing tendencies helps you become a better mom, wife, friend, and coworker.
Whenever I fall into people pleasing behaviors, I find myself frazzled because I’m having to rush to meet all of my commitments.
But learning to pause and say “let me think about that”, has empowered me to only say yes to the things I truly want to do in this season.
I hope that as you seek to master your own stress, you’ll see your own people pleasing tendencies and take baby steps to stop.
What has helped you identify and stop people pleasing? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
- Walker, P. (2013). Complex Ptsd: From surviving to thriving. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.