8 people-pleasing behaviors stemming from a lack of self-esteem

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We all have moments when we want to please others, don’t we?

But for some, it’s more than a fleeting desire, it’s a deep-seated need that stems from a lack of self-esteem.

This need to please can manifest in various behaviors. It’s not always about being ‘nice’ or ‘agreeable’.

Often, it’s about seeking validation and avoiding conflict at all costs. And all this relates to a lack of self-esteem.

Ahead, I’ll be sharing 8 common people-pleasing behaviors that might indicate a lack of self-esteem.

This is not about pointing fingers, but rather, shedding light on self-defeating patterns so we can break free and embrace our own worthiness.

1) Saying ‘yes’ to everything

We’ve all been there.

A friend asks for a favor when you’re already overwhelmed, or a colleague dumps a project on your desk when you’re stretched thin.

But instead of saying ‘no’, I guess you smile and nod.

This relentless ‘yes’-saying is a typical behavior of those who lack self-esteem. It stems from the fear of rejection or the need for validation.

You might think that by saying ‘yes’ to everything, you’re being helpful and agreeable.

But the reality?

It can lead to burnout and resentment. Plus, it’s an unrealistic expectation to fulfill everyone’s demands.

Believe it or not, it’s okay to say ‘no’ in all situations, with anyone.

Asserting boundaries doesn’t make you selfish or unkind, it makes you human.

Contrary to what your low self-esteem might have you believe, people will still value you even if you can’t always cater to their needs.

2) Over-apologizing

I’ve noticed a pattern in myself that I wasn’t aware of for the longest time.

The thing is that whenever I found myself in a situation that wasn’t even my fault, I would apologize instinctively.

It happened in all sorts of scenarios – when someone bumped into me on the street, when I had to ask a question in a meeting, even when I had a difference of opinion with a friend.

Before I knew it, ‘I’m sorry’ became my default response.

I have to admit that this over-apologizing is another behavior that can stem from low self-esteem.

It’s as if we’re apologizing for taking up space, for having needs, or simply for existing.

But here’s what I learned:

You don’t need to apologize for being human.

It’s okay to ask questions, have opinions, and stand your ground. And it’s definitely okay to exist without constantly saying sorry for it.

3) Constantly seeking validation

One of the telltale people-pleasing behaviors stemming from a lack of self-esteem is the constant need for validation.

When self-esteem is low, there’s often a reliance on external approval to feel valued or accepted.

This behavior goes beyond just wanting to be liked — it’s about seeking affirmation of your worth from others.

An interesting fact in this context is that people who regularly seek validation from others tend to have higher levels of emotional distress. Why?

Because their sense of self-worth is heavily dependent on external factors, which are unpredictable and uncontrollable.

This need for constant validation manifests in various ways.

For example, you might find yourself overly concerned about others’ opinions, changing your behavior or decisions based on what you think will please them.

You may also frequently fish for compliments or assurance, needing others to affirm your choices, appearance, or work.

In either case, one thing is for sure:

This constant need for approval often leads individuals to second-guess their decisions and doubt their own abilities.

4) Avoiding confrontation at all costs

I’ve noticed in my journey and in observing others, that avoiding confrontation is a common behavior in those who struggle with self-esteem.

It’s not just about preferring peace, though.

It’s a deep-seated fear of upsetting others or facing rejection.

The most important thing here is that this avoidance often stems from a lack of belief in one’s own values and the worry that standing up for oneself might lead to conflict or disapproval.

That’s something I’ve felt personally.

A few years ago, I would go to great lengths to avoid any form of disagreement, even if it meant compromising my own needs or beliefs.

I didn’t try to maintain harmony. I was just not confident enough to assert my views.

Based on this experience, I know that people pleasing through avoiding confrontation can be emotionally draining.

It often leads to suppressing your true feelings and needs, which only further undermines self-esteem.

Yes, it’s a cycle that’s hard to break, but recognizing this behavior is an essential step.

Realizing that your opinions and needs are just as valid as anyone else’s is crucial to building the confidence to face confrontations constructively.

5) Overcompensating with gifts or favors

Ever found yourself going overboard with gifts or doing excessive favors for people?

This can be a way of overcompensating for low self-esteem.

The thought process behind this behavior is often, “If I do enough for others, they’ll have to like me.”

And you know what?

It’s essentially an attempt to buy affection or acceptance.

But the truth is, genuine relationships aren’t built on material possessions or one-sided favors. They’re built on mutual respect, understanding, and shared experiences.

So, here’s my advice:

Instead of trying to win people over with grand gestures, focus on building genuine connections.

Be kind to yourself and remember that you are deserving of love and respect just as you are.

6) Discounting compliments

Here’s something a bit counter-intuitive:

Have you ever noticed how some people have a hard time accepting compliments?

Instead of feeling good about a compliment, they might shrug it off, downplay it, or even disagree with it.

This behavior, which I’d like to call “discounting compliments”, is often linked to a lack of self-esteem.

At first glance, it might seem humble or modest to brush off compliments.

But at its core, it’s a sign of not believing in your own worth.

I’ve caught myself doing this more times than I can count.

Someone would compliment my work, and I’d respond with, “It was nothing,” or, “I could have done better.”

And this meant nothing more than just not seeing value in my achievements.

Just trust me with this one:

The habit of discounting compliments can reinforce negative self-perceptions.

What’s worse, by not accepting positive feedback, you deny yourself the opportunity to see yourself in a more favorable light.

7) Overachieving and perfectionism

Once, I worked non-stop on a project, obsessing over every tiny detail.

I lost sleep, missed meals, and drove myself to the brink of exhaustion.

Why?

Because I believed that unless it was perfect, it wouldn’t be good enough.

This overachieving behavior, this striving for perfection, can often be a sign of low self-esteem.

You see, it’s like we’re trying to prove our worth through flawless performance.

But here’s the hard truth: perfection is an illusion.

It’s an unattainable standard that we set for ourselves, and all it does is add unnecessary pressure.

What’s important is giving your best effort and learning from the process.

At the end of the day, you are enough as you are.

8) Constantly comparing yourself to others

In this age of social media, it’s so easy to fall into the comparison trap.

We scroll through highlight reels, take a look at idealized versions of people’s lives, and suddenly, our lives don’t seem to measure up.

Sounds familiar?

This constant comparison to others is another behavior that can stem from low self-esteem.

It’s a spiral that can lead to feelings of envy, inadequacy, and dissatisfaction with one’s own life.

And of course, it can make us feel inadequate, envious, or even resentful.

But here’s a reminder:

Everyone is on their own journey, with their own challenges and triumphs.

Comparing your life to someone else’s doesn’t provide an accurate measure of your worth.

So, how to break the cycle?

Focus on your own journey, celebrate your unique qualities, and set personal goals.

Sometimes you just need to remind yourself that your value is not determined by how you stack up against others. As simple as that.

The heart of the matter: It starts with self-love

At the core of these people-pleasing behaviors often lies a lack of self-esteem.

It’s like we’re constantly trying to prove our worth, seeking validation and acceptance from others.

But here’s the truth:

Your worth is not determined by how much you do for others or how much they approve of you. Your worth is inherent.

We can’t be good to others unless we’re good to ourselves first, right?

It’s a simple yet profound truth that underscores the importance of self-love.

Nato Lagidze

Nato is a writer and a researcher with an academic background in psychology. She investigates self-compassion, emotional intelligence, psychological well-being, and the ways people make decisions. Writing about recent trends in the movie industry is her other hobby, alongside music, art, culture, and social influences. She dreams to create an uplifting documentary one day, inspired by her experiences with strangers.

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