10 signs you’re too focused on pleasing others (and how to set boundaries)

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It’s nice to do things for other people. Community, caring, and cooperation are some of the most positive qualities of human nature.

But there is a line.

When we consistently put the needs and wants of others before our own it might point to a problem.

It can become less about giving and more a sign of low-self regard.

This article will look at the warning signs you’re too focused on pleasing others and offer some practical tips for how to change that.

How do I know if I’m a people pleaser? 10 signs you are

1) You say yes to so many things that you end up feeling overstretched or stressed

Let’s get one thing straight:

Part of having healthy relationships means we do things for others.

I’m guessing nobody really wants to spend their Saturday helping a friend move boxes to their new apartment. We do it as a favor and as a gesture of our care and support.

But saying yes to too many things becomes bad for you. Research has shown it leads to us feeling overstretched and with too many things on our plates.

It also points to a problem in saying no.

2) Telling people no is painful for you

Sure, turning someone down will be uncomfortable in certain situations. But if it’s downright painful for you, then chances are you really struggle to say no to people.

It means that you get roped into all kinds of inconvenient commitments that you really don’t want to do.

Sometimes you may even get the feeling people know this about you, and take advantage.

3) You seem to attract “users and abusers”

It’s almost like they seek you out — those people who abuse your kindness for weakness.

They ask too much and deep down you know it.

Your relationship with them feels centered around their problems, their needs, and their desires.

Is it any wonder this starts to grate on you.

4) You can end up feeling resentful about how much you do for others

When we give it should feel good.

If it doesn’t, it could suggest you are giving away too much. Or that others are taking too much from you because you don’t have the boundaries in place to stop it.

Resentment is a sign that the ratio of giving and receiving is off balance.

Because you aren’t speaking up about it, your resentment may spill out into passive-aggressive behavior instead.

5) You’ll do anything to avoid conflict

You prefer to suck it up and take the hit rather than face conflict.

So if a disagreement rears its head, you give in pretty quickly.

That may mean letting others have their own way instead of sticking up for yourself.

You’d rather compromise your own values, priorities, and needs than argue. And that can make it hard to truly be yourself.

6) You don’t show people the real you

It doesn’t feel safe to be yourself, so honesty can be tricky for you.

It’s not that you aren’t being authentic, but you’re constantly mindful of how you are being perceived and what people think of you.

That desire to impress and be approved of burdens you with perfectionist standards. The truth is you worry that who you are may not be good enough.

7) Pleasing others is how you feel loved and appreciated

Somewhere deep inside you believe that in order to be loved, needed, and accepted you have to do what others want and expect of you.

When you do, they seem happy. That makes you feel loved and wanted. If you don’t, you fear that they will withdraw that love from you.

8) You often take the blame, even when it’s not your fault

Do you say sorry on repeat?

Perhaps you find yourself apologizing over the most trivial things that don’t warrant it.

Even when you are not at fault, guilt and shame cause you to feel bad about things all the time.

9) You really want everyone to like you

We all want people to like us. But the reality is not everyone will.

For people pleasers this is a very difficult fact to accept. So they ramp up their “agreeableness” factor to try to please all the people, all of the time.

They may agree with things that they don’t believe in or go along with others just to try to fit in.

10) A lot of your time is spent taking care of others’ needs which means neglecting your own

It’s ok to put yourself first. Yet this is very challenging to people pleasers. They fear they will be seen as selfish if they do.

But with only so many hours in the day, time can quickly get eaten up doing things for others. Self-care comes bottom of your priority list.

So how can you start to turn this around? The answer lies in building better boundaries.  

How do you set boundaries to stop people pleasing?

1) Get to know yourself better

Self-awareness is vital when we want to make changes. After all, if we cannot see the truth, we cannot do anything about it.

Getting to truly know yourself is something we all need to do in order to grow. That means doing the inner work.

  • Examine your self-beliefs — about yourself and the world around you.

This is the framework you use to see life through, and you need to know what shapes it.

You may discover that false ideas or things from your past are dictating your behaviors now.

For example, perhaps you felt that a parent withdrew their love unless you were always behaving “perfectly” or how they would like.

We don’t just act a certain way for no reason. Dig deeper into your own reasons to shed light on them.

2) Bolster your self-esteem

At the heart of many people-pleasing tendencies lies low self-esteem.

The wishes and needs of others may be ranked as higher than your own because you don’t ultimately feel worthy of putting yours first.

  • Write a list of what you like about yourself. If you find that difficult, imagine you are your own best friend. What positive things do they see?
  • Work on pushing your comfort zone to build your confidence. Take small actions like signing up for a course, volunteering, going to networking events, etc. Any thing that forces you to feel uncomfortable, because that’s what makes you stronger.
  • Improve your self-talk. Be more mindful of the way you speak about yourself (that includes in your head as well as out loud). Use mantras to feed yourself more positive narratives and ideas.
  • Celebrate your wins and recognize your efforts. This programs you to become your own cheerleader rather than always seeking outside approval.

3) Decide your priorities

Many people-pleasers have spent so long looking to the needs of others, that they’re not sure what matters most to them anymore.

Think about YOUR priorities.

  • Where do you want to spend your time and energy?

Write a list of all the things you currently do. Now go through that list and decide which are important to you, and which are not.

4) Say “yes” more slowly

One practical problem that many people pleasers face is their inability to say no to others.

That can leave them committed to things they’d rather not be doing.

When we are trying to change our behavior, baby steps often feel safer and easier.

Instead of saying yes right away, try to say maybe instead. It’s not as uncomfortable as saying no, but it buys you more time for consideration.

Use phrases like:

  • Let me get back to you on that
  • I’ll give it some serious thought
  • I’m not sure if I can, but I will let you know
  • I need to check a few things before I make that commitment

Looking for a polite “no”?


  • Sadly, I’m going to have to pass this time
  • Thanks for the opportunity but it’s not something I can take on right now
  • I’ve already got plans so won’t be able to make it

5) Don’t overexplain or apologize

Having a few go-to phrases can be helpful. That way, when you’re on the spot you don’t have to think so much.

But don’t be tempted to over-explain your choices. They are valid and they don’t require justification.

Over-explaining can undermine your decisions.

Similarly, drop the apologies. You do not have to be “sorry” for putting your priorities, needs, and wants first.

6) Guard your time

At high school, we had a timetable. We knew what hours of the day we had to spend where.

Schedules can be good for protecting and defining our time.

If you often end up giving too much of your time away, adopt a similar time-blocking strategy for your personal life too.

For example, when you answer the phone to a friend, let him/her know that you only have 15 minutes to talk before you need to go.

Protect and guard time for yourself, and schedule time spent doing what you want to do.

7) Write down the “rules to your club”

I like to think of boundaries as the rules of your own private club.

If people want access, they have to abide by these rules. These are the things you will and will not tolerate.

Grab a pen and paper and lay it all down in black and white.

  • How do you expect to be treated?

If putting yourself first feels difficult, then flip that around and consider, ‘How do you treat others?’

Because you should expect and demand the same level of respect, care, and time that you are dishing out to other people.

8) Be prepared to let go of destructive people and relationships

Truth time:

Not everyone in your life may like the new self-assured you.

That means some friendships, connections, or relationships may start to drop away as you are no longer there to only service their needs.

This may not feel totally comfortable, but remind yourself it is for the best. Rest assured the most healthy and valuable ones will remain.

Sitting with discomfort rather than running from it is an unavoidable part of growth. Be prepared to do that as you redraw and define better relationship boundaries in your life

Louise Jackson

My passion in life is communication in all its many forms. I enjoy nothing more than deep chats about life, love and the Universe. With a masters degree in Journalism, I’m a former BBC news reporter and newsreader. But around 8 years ago I swapped the studio for a life on the open road. Lisbon, Portugal is currently where I call home. My personal development articles have featured in Huffington Post, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, Thrive Global and more.

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