The dark side of being a people pleaser and 5 things you can do to change it

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I have a confession to make – I’m a recovering people-pleaser.

For a good long part of my life, I was the sort of person who was always trying to make things run smoothly and everyone happy.

Everyone except myself, that is.

But there was a point in my life where things changed, and I realized that no matter how hard I tried to make others happy, in the end, I couldn’t always be successful.

I recognized that I didn’t really have any responsibility for other people’s happiness. The only person whose emotions I was really responsible for was me.

From then on, I learned ways to change and worked hard at doing just that.

This doesn’t mean I don’t want others to be happy. I still do! But I also discovered that trying to please others at the expense of my own interests was a really damaging thing to do to myself.

So, let me show you what I learned back in those years and what I’m still learning now.

In this article, we’re going to explore the dark side of being a people pleaser and five things you can do to change if you are one.

What is a people-pleaser?

Let’s be clear that there is no clear-cut definition that psychologists use to diagnose a people-pleaser. This isn’t seen as a psychological condition as such but more a collection of traits.

People-pleasers tend to be very agreeable, highly conscientious, and somewhat neurotic. This means they’re friendly and compassionate, efficient and organized, but often sensitive and nervous.

People-pleasers also tend to have lower self-esteem than other people and this is a big reason for how they behave.

These are people who will readily agree with other people’s opinions and be quick to go along with the group.

They also often feel, as I did, that they are responsible for other people’s emotions and maintaining their happiness.

And in general, people-pleasers are very giving. They’re quick to make self-sacrifices if it helps others.

Wow, they sound great, right?  If this is how people-leasers behave, what’s not to like!?

The dark side of people-pleasing

Just like the Dark Side of the Force, the dark side of being a people-pleaser is both alluring and damaging. Here’s why.

They’re overly agreeable

First of all, people who behave like this can be seen as too agreeable. They can be labeled as “yes men” or even two-faced.

This happens because they’re so keen to please everyone all the time that they end up seeming like they have no substance. Since they agree to everything, they seem like they have no preferences or opinions of their own.

People see them as two-faced if they catch them contradicting themselves. They might agree on one side of an issue when talking to one group, then agree on the total opposite with another group.

Anyone who witnesses both will see this as false and hypocritical.

This behavior is also damaging to their psyches. By going along with others all the time, they suppress their true thoughts and feelings. If they do this for long enough, they can lose track of who they truly are and feel hollow and fake.

They get used

If you don’t want to do something yourself, just go out and find yourself a people-pleaser – they’ll be happy to do it for you!

I know this sounds horrible and manipulative, but honestly, it seems that this is how many people think and operate.

There are plenty of people out there looking for others they can use, so why not go the easy route and choose someone who’s agreeable and willing to do things for you, even at a cost to themself?

Because they want to please others, people-pleasers don’t like to say no, and that means they don’t turn down extra work or requests for favors.

They let themselves get pulled in so many different directions they often end up swamped, overworked, stressed out, and exhausted.

They get abused

One of the biggest problems that people-pleasers face is enforcing their boundaries.

These are the limits they set to respect themselves and protect themselves from others.

Because they have weak, poorly defended boundaries, people-pleasers can end up being abused. They can be pushed into doing things they’re not physically, emotionally, or morally comfortable with.

They often also fear complaining or even reporting misconduct. They often get hurt and then make excuses for the people who hurt them rather than standing up for their own rights.

Does all of this sound familiar?

If it does, you may well be a people-pleaser yourself or know someone who is.

While there’s undoubtedly a good side to being a people-pleaser, the dark side is so strong that this is almost always a damaging way to live your life. It can be exhausting, but more than that, it makes you deny your true self and leave yourself open to being used and abused.

But there’s a new hope.

As a reformed people-pleaser, I can tell you that there are ways to put an end to this behavior and learn to put your own interests first.

5 things you can do to stop being a people-pleaser

1) Create boundaries

I think the most important step to end your people-pleasing behavior is to create effective boundaries.

According to the American Psychological Association, a boundary is “a psychological demarcation that protects the integrity of an individual or that helps the person set realistic limits on participation in a relationship or activity.”

In regular speak, it’s a line in the sand that you draw, and other people can’t cross.

You might make a limit like not doing any extra work on weekends or not doing people favors that take more than 30 minutes of your time  (under normal circumstances).

You won’t be able to sit down and write out a list of every boundary you want to make right away. But if you’re conscious of their importance, you can start building your boundaries one by one when the need arises, and this will help you protect yourself against being taken advantage of.

2) Start saying no

Of course, there’s no use in having boundaries if you can’t enforce them.

If you have boundaries, you need to make it clear to others that they exist and only you can allow others to pass on certain occasions.

You might decide that for a very special friend, you can make an exception and do a big favor for once in a while. But it’s you who chooses, and not others who try to impose themselves on you.

I know how hard it can be to say no when people ask you for help or try to get you to do things. But this is the first word you need to use to protect yourself and preserve your integrity.

You can do what I did and start practicing in the mirror first if you need to gain confidence.

Practice what you would say if someone asked you to do something you didn’t have time for or that you didn’t feel OK with.

And with enough practice, you’ll be able to assert yourself in real situations when they arise.

3) Take some you time

People-pleasers often feel they need to be around others, especially when they feel responsible for their feelings.

This is why it’s so hard to take time for yourself to help you break your patterns.

On your own, you won’t feel the pressure to perform like you do when you’re around others.

You’ll also have the chance to get to know yourself better. After years of subverting your true self in order to please others, you probably need to find out who that person is and nurture them.

Good thing you have practice in pleasing – now just turn that attention toward yourself.

4) Put yourself first

Once you start on the path to change, you’ll start to be conscious of the choices that come before you.

In the past, you’d encounter an opportunity to choose to do something for someone else or take care of yourself, and you’d always choose the former.

Well, it’s time to choose the latter.

Obviously, not every choice has to go this way, but be conscious of making choices for yourself at least some of the time. 

Start small, but over time, you’ll find you’re better able to make choices that don’t cause yourself damage. 

5) Love yourself

There’s no recipe I can give you to help you love yourself, unfortunately.

But know that this is something you can choose to do.

You have the power to build your capacity to love yourself because you know how to please and give – just work on doing this for yourself, and love will come.


I hope this discussion of the dark side of being a people pleaser and five things you can do to change it helps you move forward.

Welcome to the world of being a recovering people-pleaser, and may the force be with you!

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Marcel Deer

Marcel is a journalist, gamer, and entrepreneur. When not obsessing over his man cave or the latest tech, he’s failing helplessly at training his obnoxious rescue dog ‘Boogies’.

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