September 25, 2023/Sex & Relationships

Signs You’re a People-Pleaser — and How To Stop

Always putting others’ happiness before your own can build resentment over time

Person talking to healthcare provider to gain insight and tools to help with people pleasing behavior.

As humans, we have needs. We have desires. We have preferences, likes and dislikes. But we don’t always express them.


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Sometimes, we choose to put others’ needs first. Maybe you agree to a lunch spot that’s not your favorite, but it’s someone else’s turn to pick. Or you help a friend run an errand when they’re in a bind. That can be a normal, kind act — just part of being human and showing you care.

But what if putting others’ needs first doesn’t feel like much of a choice? More like something you do to keep the peace and avoid conflict? Now we’re venturing into the territory of people-pleasing behavior. And being a people-pleaser can wear you down over time.

“People-pleasers will give and give and give to the point of their own detriment,” explains clinical psychologist Adam Borland, PsyD. “When you always put other people’s wants and needs first and don’t have your needs met, it can build feelings of stress, frustration and possible resentment.”

Dr. Borland offers advice on spotting the signs of people-pleasing behavior and how to start putting your needs front and center.

What is a people-pleaser?

A people-pleaser is a person who goes out of their way to make others happy — at the expense of their own well-being. They apologize or accept blame for things that aren’t their fault. They’re overly agreeable and willing to go along with whatever another person chooses.

“A true people-pleaser will continuously put their own needs lower on their priority list in order to prioritize the needs of others. People-pleasers may put themselves in difficult situations or take on unnecessary responsibilities in order to gain others’ affection and approval,” Dr. Borland says.

We all can dabble in people-pleasing behaviors sometimes. Maybe you agreed to take a co-worker’s shift when you’d really rather do anything but work. Or maybe you went along with a friend to a comedy show that you knew wasn’t really your style. These things happen.

An occasional, “Gee, I’d rather not, but OK, fine,” isn’t so much a problem. The problem comes when people-pleasers mold their lives to fit others’ needs, particularly when their needs don’t suit yours.

Essentially, people-pleasing is a personality built squarely on serving others while neglecting yourself.

What causes people-pleasing behavior?

People-pleasing is a way of life that’s rooted in a deep-seated need to make others happy. Often, it’s seen alongside other conditions and behaviors like:

Additionally, problematic people-pleasing tendencies can be common among people whose childhood taught them that being “good” and avoiding conflict were of utmost importance. That’s particularly true if you experienced abuse, trauma, neglect or abandonment earlier in your life.

Consider, for example, a child whose parent lives with alcohol use disorder (sometimes called alcoholism). That child may learn that, to make sure their needs are met, they need to go along with anything and everything that parent demands.


Likewise, children who grow up with a sibling who’s labeled as a “problem” may be more likely to assume people-pleasing behaviors in order to maintain a home life where they’re counted on to be “the good one” or the “peacekeeper.”

Assuming those roles from an early age becomes a defense mechanism — a way of protecting yourself from (real or perceived) danger. Maybe it started as a necessity. But as you grew up, it may have left you without the tools you need to advocate for yourself, creating a cycle of people-pleasing well into adulthood.

Signs you’re a people-pleaser

The No. 1 sign of people-pleasing, Dr. Borland explains, is this: While putting others’ needs ahead of your own, you give up your identity so much that it begins to wear on your own well-being.

Over time, people-pleasing behavior is increasingly difficult to keep up. Because when you’re all give and no take, it takes a toll.

How so?

  • You begin to feel taken advantage of.
  • You’re unsatisfied in your relationships with others.
  • You feel frustrated or resentful.
  • You start experiencing mental and physical symptoms of stress and burnout, like trouble sleeping, getting sick more often or changes to your weight.


How to stop being a people-pleaser

Realizing that you’re engaging in people-pleasing behavior can be difficult to accept. And even harder to change. After all, people-pleasing can be central to your identity, and wholesale change isn’t going to be easy or likely in the short term.

“Recognizing and prioritizing your own needs can feel completely foreign to a people-pleaser,” Dr. Borland notes.

He says that it’s important to be kind to yourself as you begin a journey of changing your people-pleasing behaviors. It can be difficult to accept and take ownership of the problematic behaviors you’re displaying. And it’s normal to worry about how others will react if you stop giving them your all.

“You usually have to start small,” Dr. Borland explains. “I often use the example of the gradual entry swimming pool. Don’t expect that you’re going to dive right into the deep end. You need to gradually enter the pool and allow for an adjustment period. The goal is to gradually feel more confident in the behavioral changes you’re making.”

Dr. Borland adds that people-pleasers can benefit greatly from therapy, particularly working with a therapist on skills like assertiveness, self-confidence and self-care.

“Self-care is about learning to check in with yourself to assess how you’re feeling physically and emotionally. Unfortunately, this isn’t something people-pleasers tend to consider,” he says. “Learning to prioritize self-care will lead to some very positive changes in your overall well-being.”


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