How to Stop Being a People Pleaser and Avoid a Miserable Life

A People Pleaser is one of the nicest and most helpful people you know. They never say “no.” You can always count on them for a favor. In fact, they spend a great deal of time doing things for other people.

Sometimes you can get so busy trying to be everyone else’s anchor that you don’t even realize you are actually drowning. – Anonymous

One day, it dawned on me: The more I did for others, the less time I seemed to have for myself. You see, I lived for many years as what most people would call a people-pleaser; I was a real pushover. I thought I was doing the right thing by always stepping in, trying to smooth things over, and picking up tasks I thought were too much for others to handle. But over time, I started to see that my constant need to do for others had become a full-time job.

I was exhausted and overwhelmed—and on top of that, I felt guilty for how drained and depleted I was. I felt like a horrible person for not wanting to listen to my friend vent about the same problem over and over again. I mean, what kind of person was I becoming if I wasn’t one the one who’d always help, listen to, and comfort others? Whenever I’d get totally burned out, I’d hibernate for a while and then—once I felt refreshed—jump right back into doing, listening to, and helping others.

My relationships felt draining, my thirst for life was diminishing, and most days I just wanted to hide out in a dark room…

I knew something had to change in my way of relating to people. I noticed that even when I’d continue to step into other people’s lives and manage the current crisis, it wouldn’t be long before something even more dramatic happened that needed my immediate attention. I felt like I was a human Band-Aid or Xanax for other people. I was there to calm things down for a little while, but the real problems weren’t getting solved. I was just taking on other people’s anxiety, despair, and pain as my own. I was internalizing what they were dishing out. The result was a momentarily calmer friend, family member, or random person, but a less happy me.  

How to Stop Being a People Pleaser and Avoid a Miserable Life

After my own personal life and health started to suffer as a result of my people-pleasing, I decided it was time for me to make some changes. Though I had been doing what I thought was right (being there for the people around me), I realized it wasn’t working for anyone. It was then that I decided to change my mindset and apply my education and training in psychotherapy to my own life.

No More Guilt!

What I learned is that when you do too much, it’s usually because you’re taking on other people’s tasks in addition to your own. This becomes an issue because your self-worth starts to depend on what you can do—especially what you can do for other people. You take on all the work—your own plus theirs—treating it as your personal responsibility. I stopped doing this when I finally realized that my efforts to do everything weren’t really helping anyone or doing them any favors.

As psychologist Harriet B. Braiker, Ph.D. wisely says, “When you maintain tight control on the work and never delegate full responsibility and accountability, you prelude others from learning, developing skills, furthering their careers, or deriving a similar benefit to their self-esteem from accomplishment.” Doing too much is actually a way of hurting your relationships, yourself, and the people you care about. I know. Who would have thought? Your loving intention to help actually makes things worse for you and the people you care about.

Phil Jackson, the former head coach of the Chicago Bulls understood this concept well. In his autobiography, Sacred Hoops, he wrote about his effort to convince super-star Michael Jordan to score fewer points in each game. Why would the head coach of a six-time NBA championship team try to get one of his best players to shoot fewer baskets? Well, he happened to have a good understanding of how relationship systems work: When someone over-functions, other members of the system tend to under-function. Over-functioning means taking on other people’s responsibilities and not holding them accountable for their participation in the relationship system.

When you’re doing everything yourself, you’re the over-functioning person in your relationships. As a consequence of this, the people in your life tend to under-function, doing the bare minimum and not assuming their own responsibilities. Just like a basketball team, families, workplaces, and romantic partnerships are systems: assemblies of parts that collectively cooperate for a shared purpose. However, a system is not just any group of parts; the parts of a system are connected in such a way that each is influenced by the other based on what needs to be done. The important point here is that individual parts of a system can’t perform all the task alone, as any error or disruption will affect the entire system. Phil Jackson understood that in order for his team to win, every member had to function at a high level. If Michael Jordan, a single part of the team system, functioned at a higher level than his teammates, they would all function at a lower level.

Doing everything yourself and taking responsibility for other people in your life will—and probably already has—lead them to under-function. People need to do their own tasks and take responsibility for their own lives in order for systems to function effectively.

By doing too much, you’re not allowing the people in your life to function as well as they could.  

Making Yourself a Priority

Understanding this concept and applying it to my life allowed me to see that putting myself first, making myself a priority, and no longer being Mrs. Fixit was actually a good thing. Every time I had an urge to please or soothe another person, I’d ask myself, “Is this really the helpful thing to do? What would I really like to do in this moment instead?”

If you allow people to keep coming to you for everything, they’ll never learn how to deal with things on their own. What I learned is that it’s actually better to allow people to feel their anxiety—and not make yourself their emotional dumpster—because they really need to experience their own discomfort in order to make the necessary changes in their lives. The best thing you can do for them—and for yourself—is to let them hold on to the stuff they’re responsible for.

Use your energy and internal resources to build yourself up; live by example; be someone they can look up to, not someone who tells them what to do next.

Let them solve their own problems. I promise they’ll figure it out. A few years after changing my people-pleasing ways, my family and friends are doing better than ever, my relationships are positive, and the people in my life have confidence in their ability to take responsibility for their own lives. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d benefit so much from doing so much less for others. But I have benefited greatly, and I know you can, too.

photo source

Ilene Cohen
Dr. Ilene S. Cohen, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist and blogger, who teaches in the Department of Counseling at Barry University. She’s a regular contributor to Psychology Today, with her most recent release of her self-help book entitled, “When It’s Never About You." Her practice and book are fueled by her passion for helping people achieve their goals, build a strong sense of self, and lead fulfilling and meaningful lives. To learn more about Dr. Ilene visit www.doctorilene.com.
Ilene Cohen

Latest posts by Ilene Cohen (see all)

  • Helen Carter

    From now, I’ll remember tips you share, thank you so much. It’s very helpful

    • Ilene Strauss Cohen

      Great! I am glad!

  • george gardin

    peope pleasing makes stress on yourself youcant fell other peoples pain because you are not them. some people live for moaning and grouning.attention seeking.dont like themselves.thanks for the reminder.

    • Ilene Strauss Cohen

      Your welcome!

  • Erika Ravnsborg

    Brilliant! It’s important to remember that you can’t please everybody but you can be true to you. Thanks for the reminder

    • Ilene Strauss Cohen

      You got it!

  • Thank you for these amazing tips. I feel like I can get out a lot out of this post as I’m definitely a people pleaser in my daily life. Pinning this ♥

    • Ilene Strauss Cohen

      Thanks! And I am glad you found it useful!

  • soniya

    What a great read!! I don’t believe in pleasing people at all.. it’s always me and my family and that’s my focus!!

    • Ilene Strauss Cohen

      Thanks and great focus 🙂

  • Rivero Mane

    I was once before a people-pleaser. I only want the best for them. I want others to be happy until I realized I was drowning. Nice article. Thank you for this!

    • Ilene Strauss Cohen

      Your welcome! Thanks for your comment!

  • Julia Rose Goldhirsh

    I’ve always been a bit of a pushover, so I appreciate the advice in this article. Thank you. Great read.

    • Ilene Strauss Cohen

      It’s not easy being a pushover. Glad you appreciate the advice.

  • Roger McCall

    Great Read. I like the Phil Jackson reference. Going to pass this on to my wife, I think she will find it very interesting.

    • Ilene Strauss Cohen

      Thanks!

  • Gracia Ashi

    Omg! This is key! Seriously, this post made my day. I live half of my life trying yo please people even when it cost me my happiness, but I have learnt my lesson. Thanks for sharing

    • Ilene Strauss Cohen

      Awesome, glad you found my article helpful!

    • Gracia, I so can relate to “I live half of my life trying to please people even when it cost me my happiness” – because I used to associate the vital feeling of self-worth with it 🙁

    • Ilene Strauss Cohen

      Glad you liked my article! Thanks for reading!

  • Harpreet Siddhu

    Great Post! Really like the idea of allowing people to deal with their own problem to let them make changes in their life. Superb post and would definitely share this with others; Thanks!

    • Ilene Strauss Cohen

      Thank you! Great!

  • Kasia Drusewicz

    That’s absolutely true! Great post x

    • Ilene Strauss Cohen

      Thank you!

  • Ilene, thank you so much for sharing this – we don’t talk enough about the ‘disease to please’ and how truly harmful it could be. Loved the idea of ‘letting people solve their problems’ on their own – I think it’s important for their resilience too, right? :-]

    • Ilene Strauss Cohen

      Thank you! And yes if you allow people to solve their own problems it benefits everyone involved!

  • Sravnya G

    Nice share thank you for the motivation post

    • Ilene Strauss Cohen

      Your welcome. I am glad that you enjoyed it!

No more articles
%d bloggers like this: