The people pleasing trap

Do people describe you as approachable and reliable? Are you the first person that people come to if they want something? Are you always there at a time of crisis?

If you have answered yes to these questions, I have another one for you. Are you happy? If the answer is anything other than ‘extremely happy’, then read on: you may be a people pleaser.
Perhaps, instead of feeling content, you are beginning to feel let down by others, fed up with putting in all of the effort to get nothing back in return. Or maybe you feel that your needs are less important and you struggle to let others help you? If your happiness is reliant on creating happiness in others, you can become easily disheartened.
People pleasers can be separated into three categories. Which type are you?


The supporter

You are the strong one, the reliable the one, the one who meets everyone’s needs but has none of their own. You rarely delegate tasks or ask for help because it feels wrong or selfish to have your needs met.
You hate it in when someone asks you, ‘Can I do anything?’ because somewhere along the road you began to believe that all you needed in life was for everyone else to be happy. If they were happy then so would you be.
However, the reality is that nobody is ever completely happy. Nonetheless, you strive daily for this impossible goal and blame yourself when you fail to meet it. You tell yourself that you didn’t work hard enough, so you try again and the cycle repeats, leaving you in a perpetual state of exhaustion and frustration.

The reserve

If this was a sports analogy, you would be the player who puts in all of the effort to support and motivate your team members during training but find yourself on the bench come match day. You are the person who regularly checks in on your friends, hosts the gatherings and responds to any crisis. However, when you reach a crisis of your own or just need someone to listen, everyone else is too busy.
You begin to feel unappreciated and hollow in a seemingly selfish world, stood on the outside looking in. Eventually, this begins to have a detrimental impact on your self-esteem. Low self-worth then drives the need to people please once again.

The super fan

You want to be liked and will bend over backwards in order to make this happen. You accept the opinions of others even when you disagree with them and will deny your true self in order to fit in.
If your friend or partner likes rock music, then so will you. If they love camping, you will immediately be found in Millets buying a new tent and walking boots, even though you hate the great outdoors. Before you know it, you are stood in the middle of a muddy field at Glastonbury, soaking wet and angry, wondering why on earth the other person made you come with them.
You find it difficult to say ‘No’. It feels selfish, so hide your feelings and wishes. Eventually, you begin to feel very disillusioned. You do such an impressive job of fitting in, that your friends or partner don’t even recognise that you are unhappy. To them, you are just that easy-going person who doesn’t need much to feel happy. So, ‘not much’ is exactly what they give you.

Man and woman smiling

Why did you become a people pleaser?

It is a role, often formed at an early age. You learned that by being ‘good’, ‘easy-going’ or ‘helpful’, you got more love and acceptance from those who were important to you. If your needs weren’t being met, you would work even harder to please, until these values became part of who you were. 
Conversely, it may have been because you were once criticised for being ‘selfish’, ‘attention-seeking’ or ‘demanding’. So, you began to adapt and redefine yourself to be the exact opposite of that, to be without needs.

People pleasers can accept poor treatment for fear that they will be abandoned or rejected by others in the same way that they have felt abandoned and rejected in the past. 

What’s the risk?

By adopting a people-pleasing role, you are handing your happiness to others. Others, who may not value selflessness as you do and who are prone to taking advantage of your good nature. You deserve better than that.

Four steps to stop people-pleasing

1. Find your voice

Express your ideas, preferences and non-negotiables. Suppressing your voice to avoid conflict is likely to cause problems later down the line. Diversity adds a richness to any relationship.
2. Say no, when you mean it

This doesn’t have to be aggressive or forceful and can be done gently. As soon as you create boundaries for yourself and others, you will find the frustration subside and the right people will respect you for it.
3. Take time to discover the real you

Find out what you love and spend time doing it. You may even discover likeminded friends along the way. If you find fulfilment away from other people, you will feel less reliant on pleasing others.
4. Find a balance in your relationships

Healthy relationships are created when the needs of each party are acknowledged and met in equal measure. It’s easy to confuse being a supportive friend or partner with serving them. Enjoy the two-way process and see how letting others give to you can be empowering for all.

It’s time to start pleasing yourself. If you feel you would like some support making changes in your relationship patterns, please get in touch.

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

Share this article with a friend
Sittingbourne, Kent, ME10
Written by Catherine Beach, Counselling, Dip Couns, MBACP
Sittingbourne, Kent, ME10

Catherine is a person centred counsellor, teacher and occasional poet from Kent. She is on a mission to rid the world of shoulds and musts so she can work with her clients to discover their passions, wants and needs. She firmly believes that we are all good enough but live in a world that often lies to us.

Show comments

Find a therapist dealing with Low self-esteem

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals