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The Curse of People Pleasing

Are you a people pleaser?

First let’s define the concept of being a people pleaser. It is common to confuse people pleasing with kindness or having a generous nature. Being a considerate person who enjoys helping others, when they can, is not interchangeable with people pleasing.

People pleasing is an inherent need to continually seek approval from others, to make the people around you happy, even at a cost to yourself. It does not stem from altruism, but from a deeper place, where issues such as self-esteem and fear of rejection or abandonment might lie. It can also be a product of cultural or generational norms, particularly for women. Often it also demonstrates a lack of connection with a deeper purpose in life, choosing instead to focus on the purpose and needs of those around you.

How do you spot a people pleaser, or know for sure if you are one?

There are common signs that you might recognise, either in yourself or in others. These include, but are not limited to:

  • frequent apologising

  • an inability to say ‘no’ to others

  • feeling responsible for how others feel

  • feeling burdened

  • avoiding conflict

  • needing constant praise

You, or a person you know, might have one or more, or even all of these symptoms.

To many, a people pleaser might be seen as a great person to have around. They don’t complain, they are agreeable, they are always willing to lend a hand. However, for the people pleaser themselves, the ‘buzz’ of gaining approval and making others happy is addictive. It is short lived, and like a sugar high they come crashing down, feeling exhausted and unfulfilled and looking for another hit.

This feedback loop is unsustainable long-term. Continually seeking approval from others is hard work. It’s also like saying “I need someone else’s permission to do what I want to do” because, in essence, you are holding their opinions, their judgment, in higher regard than your own.

This is where self-worth comes in. Are you worthy of being in control of your own life and judging your own actions and outcomes? Of course you are! If you are allowing others to take control and dictate your actions and preferences, you are not valuing or being true to yourself.

What are some of the resulting issues from ongoing people pleasing?

Through not fulfilling their own needs, a people pleaser will, over time, suffer from one of a number of negative outcomes as a result. These can include:

  • burnout

  • confused boundaries

  • resentment

  • victimisation

All are detrimental to relationships, from family and friends to colleagues, and can have a significant impact on a person’s mental health and happiness as well as their careers and home life. These outcomes exacerbate the underlying lack of self-worth and kick start the cycle of people pleasing again.

How do people pleasers break the habit?

People pleasing is one of the harder habits to break on your journey of self mastery. Often people pleasing behaviour has become entrenched in a person’s life and they are unconsciously following this pattern again and again.

A common question or fear is:

“If I can’t get love from others, where will my love come from?”

This is key. To break the feedback loop and to become self-sustainable you must create your own well of love and connection in your inner world. This is the start of your journey of self-love and acceptance, and it will take time. In my book I flag this as part of the foundation to building Stone Heart. Becoming independent of the judgment of others, detaching, is one of the pillars of self mastery. It creates freedom and removes the limitations we had previously imposed on ourselves.

When love, positive feedback and satisfaction comes from within we are limitless. We can shake off the fear of failure, of judgment, and take more risks, enjoy more.

Some recent feedback I had from my book Stone Heart Light Heart, focused on this concept of filling a well of self love within. One of the affirmations I include in the chapter on people pleasing is “Love thyself, to thine self be true” It is so simple, but a reader and fellow mentor on a UNSW program we are both involved with, contacted me personally to share that this affirmation in my book was her trigger point to start all over again, to rewrite her values and beliefs. She had realised she was missing the self-love that underpins so many of the other pillars of self mastery and that on her personal journey her first milestone was to fix this.

Your outer world is a reflection of your inner world. If you want to master your outer world, you must first turn in and master your inner world. Reflect on people pleasing. Do you see that in yourself? Start with validating yourself, backing the decisions you make and regaining control of your life. Change will follow.


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