People-pleasing: Understanding the roots and consequences

People-pleasing, or the tendency to prioritise other people's needs and expectations over one's own, is a common behaviour observed in many individuals.


It is often seen as a positive trait, as people-pleasers are usually accommodating, helpful, and kind. However, people-pleasing can have negative consequences. This could include low self-esteem, emotional exhaustion, and relationship issues. In this article, we will explore the roots of people-pleasing and its effects on you as an individual and possible relationships.

What are the roots of people-pleasing?

People-pleasing is often a learned behaviour, originating from childhood experiences and social conditioning. For example, children who receive praise and positive reinforcement for being helpful and obedient may learn that pleasing others is desirable behaviour. Additionally, individuals who grow up in dysfunctional families, where they may have had to be caregivers or mediators, may develop a habit of prioritising others' needs over their own.

Social conditioning also plays a role in people-pleasing. In many cultures, being polite, agreeable, and accommodating is considered desirable behaviour. Individuals who have been socialised to prioritise others' needs may find it challenging to assert their own needs and boundaries, for fear of being seen as selfish or rude.

What are the consequences of people-pleasing?

People-pleasing may initially bring positive outcomes such as praise and acceptance, but over time it can have negative effects on individuals and their relationships. Here are some of the common consequences of people-pleasing.

Low self-esteem

People-pleasers often base their self-worth on others' opinions and approval, leading to a lack of self-esteem and confidence. When individuals are constantly seeking others' validation, they may lose touch with their own values and beliefs, leading to confusion and self-doubt.

Emotional exhaustion

Constantly putting others' needs before one's own can be emotionally draining and exhausting. People-pleasers may feel like they are always 'on', trying to anticipate and meet others' needs, leading to burnout and fatigue.

Relationship issues

People-pleasers may struggle to maintain healthy relationships, as they may be more likely to attract individuals who take advantage of their accommodating nature. Additionally, people-pleasers may find it challenging to express their own needs and boundaries, leading to resentment and conflict.

Difficulty making decisions

People pleasers may struggle to make decisions, as they may be more focused on what others want or expect, rather than their own desires and priorities.

How to overcome people-pleasing

If you identify as a people-pleaser and want to overcome this behaviour, I have listed several strategies you can use- and hopefully will find helpful.

Practice self-awareness

Start paying attention to your thoughts and behaviours around people-pleasing. Notice when you are saying yes to something you don't want to do or when you are putting others' needs before your own. This can help you identify patterns and triggers for people-pleasing.

Set boundaries

Learning to set boundaries is crucial for overcoming people-pleasing. Practice saying 'no' to requests or activities that don't align with your values or priorities. It may be uncomfortable at first, but over time, setting boundaries will become easier.

Learn to prioritise yourself

Make a conscious effort to prioritise your own needs and desires, even if it feels selfish at first. Practice self-care activities such as exercise, meditation, or spending time with friends and family, that bring you joy and fulfilment.

Challenge negative beliefs

People-pleasers may have negative beliefs about themselves, such as 'I'm not good enough' or 'I have to be perfect'. Challenge these beliefs by asking yourself if they are true and finding evidence to support or refute them.

Seek support

Overcoming people-pleasing can be challenging, so don't be afraid to seek support from a therapist.

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

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