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How to stop being a people pleaser: prioritise yourself, ask what’s in it for you – and just say no

There should be no shame or guilt attached to listening to your own needs

Unhappy businesswoman showing sign 'talk to the hand'. Communication feeling and emotional concept in displeased and want to say please shut up.

Being a people pleaser means putting aside your own needs to accommodate others. Why do you do it? Maybe you need to feel well-liked, you fear rejection or perhaps you rely on the praise of others for your sense of self-worth.

For the people-pleaser, there is no easy way out of this loop – if you stop pleasing others, perhaps they will be disappointed in you and they will dislike and reject you. Those feelings can feel so scary and intolerable, you just keep people-pleasing.

How can I stop people-pleasing?

If you want to stop being a people-pleaser, the first thing to do is ask yourself why you want to please others, says Ciarán Coyle, a member of the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and a psychotherapist with Fettle.ie.

“What’s in it for you? Is it going back to your childhood where you felt, ‘If I succeed, if I get good marks or if I’m good at sport, it will impress my parents’?” asks Coyle.

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Or maybe your parents never thought or said that. “We can build these things up in our head without them even being said. We all want our parents to be proud of us. Sometimes we match that up with doing well in school or sport, and we don’t want to disappoint them,” he says.

Nurture yourself

Always pleasing others to the detriment of your own needs won’t end well. It can make you feel depleted and resentful over time.

“It’s great to help others, but we will get drained like a battery if we help, help, help all the time,” says Coyle. “We are taking away from the time that we need for ourselves. Our relationship with ourselves is the most intimate and deep that we will ever have in our lives. We are our own best friend, and when we nurture that relationship with ourselves, it is much easier for us to say no to others.”

There will be times you put the work in and don’t get the result you wanted, and that’s the way of life

Acknowledge your own needs

It’s okay to have needs of your own and to prioritise yourself.

“It’s about getting to know your core values, what’s important to you, but also realising, you are enough as you are. Use affirmations. Tell yourself daily, ‘I am enough just as I am’. My value is not based on what I do for others,” says Coyle.

Just say no

So a boss always expects you to work late, a friend expects an instant response to a message or a family member expects you to always drop plans to facilitate them? Then it’s time for the people-pleaser in you to practice the word “no”.

Your friend may react badly to your new boundary, but that’s their business, says Coyle. There should be no shame or guilt attached to listening to your own needs.

“People have the right to react however they want, but you are not responsible. People will think, ‘I’m not getting the response I usually get, this person is saying no to me’. They are most likely going to react in a negative way because they are not getting their needs met,” says Coyle.

“You can still help others, but paying attention to your own needs too means your relationships are going to be healthier.”

Pay it forward

One way you can help your kids to sidestep the people-pleasing “gene” is by being mindful in how you speak to them.

“Start at a young age by telling them it’s the effort they put in that’s really important,” says Coyle. “You can only ever do your current best. You can control how much you prepare for an exam, for example, and some days your ‘best’ will be different from others, but you can’t control the outcome. Just show up for yourself and do your best.”

Take the focus off end goals and focus more on the process, he advises. “There will be times you put the work in and don’t get the result you wanted, and that’s the way of life. Slow down, acknowledge the process and let those feelings in – the disappointment, or rejection.” Feeling those feelings is okay.

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