Are you a people pleaser?

John spent a lot of his time trying to make everyone around him happy. This need consumed a lot of his energy and thoughts. The irony is, when he came to see me, he was deeply unhappy. So, what was going on here?


Struggles with criticism and disapproval.

We have a tribal mind, which means we have an innate need to fit in with those around us. If we feel that we aren't doing this, it will trigger our threat detection system to identify possible danger and leads to an emotional response: anxiety.

If we grew up in an environment where it was not safe or difficult to disagree with someone important to us (i.e., we faced displeasure or even rage and anger), we learn the survival coping skill of people pleasing.  

What is people pleasing?

People pleasing is a pattern of behaviour where we put others before ourselves and can make us particularly sensitive to criticism and the disapproval of others. Avoidance of potential criticism or disapproval can lead to the following unhelpful behaviours:

  • Saying yes to people when we should be saying no.
  • Finding ourselves in situations we don't want to be in to accommodate others.
  • Avoidance of difficult situations, conversations or potential conflict.
  • Feeling responsible for how other people are feeling.
  • Making excuses to pull out of activities where there is a risk of failure.

Do these traits sound familiar?

Becoming our own person

As we grow up, we need to become our own person and separate ourselves as individuals from our parents, caregivers and others. We need to establish clear boundaries between us and others. If we are not able to do this, we cannot be a truly whole person. We will not be able to become an independent person in our own right and be in control of our decisions and life. People pleasing holds us back from this important life step and we don't fully grow up as an adult. So, what can we do if we are a people pleaser?

Top tips for people pleasers

Criticism is someone's opinion about something you potentially did, are going to do or said. Criticism can be valid and useful, however, if you find yourself looking to please people to avoid them expressing disapproval or criticising you, or are overly sensitive to other people's criticism or disapproval, it might be an idea to read through the following tips:

  1. Understand whose opinions really matter. Not everyone's opinion should hold the same weight. Do you treat everyone's criticism and opinions equally? If so, take time to understand the people in your life whose opinions matter to you.
  2. They may not be right (all the time). Even if you really respect someone deeply, their opinion may not be right all the time.
  3. Context is everything. Does the person who is criticising you understand the true context of the situation? If not, is it possible they have drawn a false conclusion?
  4. Mind reading. Imagining what others are thinking is a key life skill. This is called the 'Theory of Mind'. But do you get this right in every situation? Sometimes people do not have to say anything or express criticism. If we have seen this criticising pattern before, our imagination often fills in the blanks, sometimes incorrectly. Do you sometimes say yes to others without clarifying whether no was an option? Do you often assume that people will criticise you if you do something so pull back from doing it?
  5. Opinions are not facts. We tend to take criticism as fact but is that really the case?
  6. Critical people. Most people that are critical of others are highly critical of themselves.  Criticism is just what they do and may not be a reflection on you as a person.
  7. Values and rules. We often assume that everyone else holds the same values and rules as we do. This is sometimes called egocentric thinking, but this is very often not the case. If you have 10 people in a room and you asked them each what their values are, it is unlikely that two people's will match. If someone has a different set of values or life rules to you, should you accept their criticism as truth?
  8. Understand your values. When you understand your values and what's important to you, it becomes much easier to know when to take criticism onboard.
  9. People think about us far less than we think. Whilst you may think that other people think about you all the time, the sad fact is that this is rarely the case. We tend to significantly overestimate how much others think about us. We may then carry around criticism for a long time after it was provided because we overthink how much that criticism means to the other person. The reality is that others tend to think about us far, far less than we think. They've probably moved on from it as soon as you were out of sight, but we can carry this burden around with us for a long time after the moment.

If you are finding yourself in situations you don’t want to be in, are avoiding challenging situations or conversations or not embracing life’s challenges due to fear of failure, why not contact me or another suitably qualified life coach on Life Coach Directory to help you become that independent, whole person.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Guildford, Surrey, GU2 7QY
Written by Steve Maher, Executive, Life, Leadership and Confidence Coach
Guildford, Surrey, GU2 7QY

Steve Maher is a professional coach and psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience helping people through challenging times and building confidence. He works with clients who are struggling with confidence issues, anxiety, forming better habits and improving their lives and careers.

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