How to stop being a people pleaser

From time to time we all dip into people pleasing behaviour, especially women. It often feels like the easiest way to avoid conflict and confrontation, and you might even tell yourself that you’re ‘just one of those go-with-the-flow people’.

But serial people pleasing can have a detrimental affect on your mental health, your sense of self and personal connections.

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‘As adults, in many ways we have been culturally conditioned to say yes, having been convinced that those that get ahead in life are the ones who say yes to everything,’ explains Mariel Witmond, founder of Mindful Sonder and a life coach specialising in people pleasing behaviour.

‘We’ve been socialised to be pleasing as part of our need for connection, negating the healthy boundaries that keep us from abandoning ourselves for the sake of others. As such, we fear conflict and strive to avoid confrontation with others in a bid to sidestep discomfort. We don’t want to let anyone down, even if by being this way we might be letting ourselves down instead.’

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Mariel says people develop pleaser behaviour for a number of reasons, including the fear rejection and confrontation, worrying about what others think, struggling to say no or speak up, having a need to be in control, seeking constant external approval or feeling they have to carry a heavy weight of responsibility for others. ‘They often have perfectionist tendencies and can be overachievers to avoid judgement.’

‘There is a spectrum to being accommodating and wanting to make others happy, but it can be damaging when taken to extremes. Being a serial pleaser can result in feelings of overwhelm and burnout because we lack the self respect needed to implement healthy boundaries. Unhealthy boundaries cause emotional pain that can lead to things like co-dependency, depression, anxiety and even physical illness caused by stress. They also encourage disconnected relationships.’

people pleaser
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Mariel says that the key to overcoming this behaviour is by setting boundaries, but as any people pleaser knows, breaking up with these habits can be a hard task.

‘Our ability to set boundaries, gain confidence and be real is often a process of unlearning old beliefs and conditioned fears and creating practices that support new habits and ways of thinking’ she says.

‘Like it or not, it takes work. People pleasing is a behaviour that we have learned and turned into a habit over time. The good news is, we can unlearn it too.’

Here are her tips on how to get better at setting boundaries and saying no.

How to stop being a people pleaser

  • Give yourself some space before responding. We can be so quick to answer that our fear of appearing rude stops us from connecting with what we really want. It’s ok to ask if you can get back to someone with an answer later.
  • Make a list of all of the things you regularly say yes to and highlight the ones you would rather say no to. We get so good at oversubscribing ourselves that we don’t even notice how much we have taken on that we don’t want to do. Acknowledge them and then commit to not doing them.
  • Get clear on what healthy boundaries you would like to start implementing and where you went wrong in the first place. Be curious about your upbringing and what may have impacted your unhealthy boundaries. Then focus on how you would like to turn them around.
  • Draft statements that will support you when you need to say no. Saying no doesn’t make you a bad person, but practicing saying it in ways that work for you can give you the confidence boost you need to stick to your guns.
  • Acknowledge that you can’t please everyone, but those that respond badly to your boundaries you are likely better off without.
  • Pay attention to the physical sensations when you are doing something you don’t want to. Listen to your intuition. Get familiar with how it feels when you abandon yourself for the sake of others so the next time you do it, you recognise that you need to reconsider your actions.
  • Use affirmations to help encourage you in the right direction. Here are some examples:
    • ‘I deserve to have my needs met’
    • ‘I honour myself by honouring my boundaries’
    • ‘I have a right to speak my truth’
    • ‘I don’t have to explain every decision I make’
    • ‘I don’t need permission to choose what is right for me’