Do you think you might be a people-pleaser? Look over these 15 people-pleasing symptoms to see if they might fit your experience and how to overcome them.
Being nice to people and making others happy is a good thing to do, right? But do you ever wonder if you are taking it too far?
God’s desire for you is to love others as you love yourself and serve them well, but you need to be careful how you go about doing it.
In an article about people-pleasing and pleasing God, Sarah Butterfield sums things up very well when she says, “…there is a difference between serving others out of love and serving others to make ourselves look good. One way comes from the overflow of a grateful heart, and one way leads to exhaustion and resentment. One way is born from the desire to please God, and one way is motivated by the approval and acceptance of others.”
It is normal and kind to put another person’s needs first when you care about them and you want to help them out or make them happy by doing something with them that they enjoy, even if you don’t enjoy it as much as they do.
But when you start feeling like you don’t have the choice of saying no, or when you feel like you must agree to something in order to avoid an argument, then you are taking part in people-pleasing rather than just being nice.
You are making someone else’s happiness more of a priority than your own happiness, and this can wear you down as time goes on, possibly leading to sacrificing your own health and values if carried too far.
Clinical psychologist Adam Borland suggests that “people-pleasers will give and give and give to the point of their own detriment.” He goes on to say that putting other people’s wants and needs first at the expense of your own needs will eventually build up feelings of stress, frustration, and possible resentment.
What you mean to be loving can end up hurting both yourself and the other person you are trying to please.
If you are not sure whether you are a people-pleaser or not, seeing a list of people-pleasing symptoms might help you figure out whether you are making the needs of others too much of a priority.
Read on to see if any of the following people-pleasing behaviors fit you and how to go about overcoming people-pleasing if it is something you struggle with.
What is a people-pleaser?
A people-pleaser is someone who does everything possible to make sure the needs of others are met, even if it comes at their own expense, giving up their own desires in favor of others’ approval and comfort.
If you’d like a detailed exploration of what it means to be a people-pleaser, including the signs and potential risks, I recommend reading this insightful article on Understanding People Pleasing from Medical News Today.
People-pleasing is something many people struggle with on some level or another, so don’t feel like you are the only one who feels stuck when you run into situations where you just don’t seem to be able to say no or you find yourself running ragged doing things to make other people happy.
Are you perhaps seeking the approval and acceptance of others in order to feel good about yourself? If low self-esteem is an issue or a fear of rejection, it can lead to working harder and harder to make sure you are liked and accepted.
But working harder is only going to make you tired, and it can’t really change someone else’s feelings or viewpoint. Instead, they might start taking advantage of you because they know you want to do anything to please them.
Do you dislike conflict and the negative feelings it brings so much that you will do or say whatever is necessary in order to keep other people happy and content? This is such a common reason people give in to people-pleasing, and it is so difficult to realize that it might be harming you and also not actually helping the other person.
When avoiding conflict because of a traumatic event in the past, it can make you feel like the best way to deal with a situation is to put the needs of others before your own happiness.
In this way, pleasing others becomes something of a coping mechanism for dealing with negative feelings that come from thinking people don’t accept you or being worried that they might be hurt or angry if you disagree, rather than a part of healthy relationships with your friends and family.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. The first step in avoiding people-pleasing is figuring out whether you have a tendency to please people or not; once you know that, you can take steps to overcome it.
15 People Pleasing Symptoms
1. You have a hard time saying no.
Saying no to people is hard. You may find yourself in a situation where your values are at stake if you agree, or it is not a good idea for you to do something because it will be hard on your health, but you find it difficult to say no.
Not saying no means you will end up stressed out doing things to please others while the things you care about have to be set aside. This is especially a problem if you are telling people yes for the wrong reasons—you want to make them like you, or you don’t want to disappoint them or have them angry at you.
2. You feel guilty about setting boundaries because it is not a nice thing to do.
God wants you to live for others, so being a kind and considerate friend is definitely very important. But if you don’t set boundaries, you will end up not caring for yourself properly, and you might even come to resent others who you can’t say no to because you will feel they are taking advantage of you.
3. You want to avoid conflict at all costs.
Fear of confrontation and conflict can make you agree or say yes to people to avoid an argument or an uncomfortable situation. You might be successful in avoiding a fight, but you then have to deal with having agreed to something you don’t really want to do.
4. You don’t mention it when your feelings are hurt.
Not wanting to tell people when your feelings are hurt can be because you want to avoid being upset, but it can also indicate you do not have a strong sense of self and that your feelings don’t matter as long as others are content.
5. You are anxious at the thought of someone being upset with you or misunderstanding you.
When you feel anxious that people might be angry with you over something you say or don’t say, or you worry more than you should about what people are thinking of you, it is a sure sign that you are putting your self-worth in the control of others instead of trusting what God says about your worth.
6. You have low self-esteem.
You are not confident enough in yourself and think that people will not like you if you don’t agree with them. You might also believe your opinion does not matter, so you don’t share it.
7. You apologize a lot or accept fault even when something is not your fault.
Taking responsibility for something that is not related to your actions or saying sorry for something that is not really your fault can be a way of getting people to think more highly of you.
8. You do not delegate.
Thinking “it’s easier to do it myself” can happen when you get so used to working on behalf of others that you don’t know how to include them in helping you.
9. You don’t share your own opinion.
Not sharing your opinion on a matter is not necessarily a bad thing, but when you hesitate to share your point of view because you fear people will disagree with you or think less of you, this is giving in to people-pleasing.
Your opinion is valid and does matter, even if it might be different from what others are saying and thinking.
10. You agree with others even when it is something you don’t actually agree with.
It is polite to listen well when people share their opinions, but if you express agreement in an effort to be liked or to avoid conflict, this is not really being polite; it is people-pleasing. Depending on what you are agreeing with, it could also be a compromise of your values.
11. You consider others selfish while having a fear of being called selfish yourself.
No one wants to be known as a selfish person, and people-pleasers especially fear being called selfish because it implies they are not well thought of.
At the same time, constantly putting yourself out to serve others because you can’t say no is eventually going to make you feel like they are selfish for their demands on you.
12. You feel guilty for taking time for yourself.
Making yourself available to others usually means you don’t have time for yourself, or you let your self-care time be interrupted by others because you are not setting a boundary and not giving yourself time set aside from serving others.
13. You can’t accept a compliment easily.
Even though people-pleasers crave validation from others, it is also hard for them to accept compliments. Turning aside a compliment or explaining it away can be a way of making yourself seem humble and more acceptable to others.
14. You seek validation and approval from others.
Perhaps due to a family situation growing up or a traumatic event, you have learned that love and approval have to be earned; this will cause you to base your happy feelings on the sense that you are liked and approved, and if you don’t get that validation, you feel unloved.
15. You feel responsible for other people’s feelings.
Feeling like you have to make others feel good or happy with your actions or words is a heavy burden! It is also something that is not really helpful, no matter how hard you try or how much you work to make someone else happy.
You don’t really have the power to change people’s feelings, so feeling responsible when another person is upset is out of your control.
Recognizing that you have a problem with people-pleasing is a big first step in taking better care of your own needs, setting better boundaries that lead to healthy relationships, and discovering ways to get at the underlying issues that make you feel like you have to please others no matter what. So how can you overcome people-pleasing in a way that honors God?
3 Suggestions To Help You Overcome People Pleasing
1. Know your worth in Christ
Your worth is rooted in what Christ has done for you on the cross and has nothing to do with another person’s opinion of you. God’s opinion is above all, and He loves you in a way that will never change, no matter what you do or don’t do.
You can be confident that God values you so very much, and nothing can change that.
2. Practice setting healthy boundaries
Sometimes setting a boundary is as simple as saying no to a request that you can’t manage just now or offering a suggestion of a different time for something that fits your schedule better.
However, it is usually much more complicated than that. Healthy boundaries are essential to helping you say no and to helping others respect your limits.
What is mine to carry, God’s to carry, and the other person’s personal responsibility?
These are good questions to ask yourself when trying to establish healthy boundaries and avoid people-pleasing situations. You are responsible to yourself to say no when necessary, and you can trust God to empower you to do this as well as to give you the wisdom you need to discern when boundaries are needed.
Remember, you are not responsible for other people’s feelings, so trying to keep people happy and affect their opinions through what you do and say will end up just wearing you out. Each person is in charge of their own emotions, so leave it with them and let God work in them.
3. Find a trusted counselor or therapist
At some point, it may seem like just too much for you to manage the struggle of letting go of people-pleasing habits, and it becomes a mental health condition instead of just a bad habit.
At that point, do not hesitate to reach out to a trusted counselor or therapist. They can help you discover what is at the heart of your need to please others and discern if any trauma response is at work. They will work with you to identify and overcome these issues.
Being nice to people and making others happy is a good thing to do, and it follows God’s desire for us to love others well. But we do have to be careful how we serve others.
As you strive to find the balance between serving in love and serving to please others, remember that you are of infinite value to God, and you can rely on Him to help you in any situation where you feel less than adequate.
He knows your heart and will give you wisdom in loving boundaries to lay with those you love. God is always with you, and with Him at your side, you will not be shaken (Psalm 16:8).
If you’re seeking more effective strategies to break free from the cycle of people-pleasing, Verywell Mind offers valuable tips in their guide on Strategies to Stop People-Pleasing.
More Resources to Help You Overcome People Pleasing:
Margaret is a Faithful Finish Lines 2.0 member and Finisher who loves to read and write when she is not teaching. She lived overseas for a number of years and now resides in the Midwest where she serves the community by teaching English as a Second Language.