Being a people pleaser may seem beneficial — after all, everyone typically likes you, you keep the peace in difficult situations, and you’re likely to do well in the world, says Charlotte Howard, Ph.D., licensed psychologist at Deep Eddy Psychotherapy in Texas.
However, people-pleasing can undermine your mental, emotional, and even physical well-being.
“A lot of times, it ends in some form of anxiety, either anxiety or panic attacks,” Howard says.
You can also lose sense of who you are because you easily get caught up in others’ preferences, plans, and identities, says Candice Conroy, LMHC, owner of Let’s Talk! Counseling and Services LLC, in Orlando, Florida.
If you experience anxiety or emptiness, feel unworthy, or aren’t sure what you want in life, “you need a rescue mission for your true self,” Howard says.
Here are six ways to learn how to stop being a people pleaser.
1. Spend Time With Yourself
Think about what you think, you like, and you feel, Conroy says. Be patient, because it can take some time to hear your inner voice again.
“Often people pleasers get so tuned into others that they fail to develop their ability to tune into themselves,” Conroy says.
But over time, “if you prove to yourself that you are listening, your heart will open back up to letting you know what it wants in daily life,” Howard adds.
If you feel guilty for taking “me” time (even things like workouts and meal planning), this tip gives you “permission” to be good to yourself.
2. Set Boundaries
Knowing what you value can help you establish boundaries. “A boundary is used to maintain a relationship,” explains Nicholas Hardy, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker in Houston, Texas.
Each partner in a relationship has their own boundaries, and you want to respect the other person’s.
“A good self-boundary for people-pleasers is deciding not to engage with people from a place of fear,” he explains.
You may also set boundaries to only communicate with those who can respectfully communicate in return, not take someone else’s workload (at the office or home) when you’re already strapped, or not work off the clock as much as is reasonable, says Carmen Croucher, a licensed professional clinical counselor in California.
3. Practice Saying “No”
“Acknowledge that it’s OK to say no, to ask for more time, or to ask for help,” Croucher says. Then start with really, really small “no”‘s, Conroy suggests, such as indirect requests.
“For example, this could include saying ‘no’ to yourself when you intuit that someone needs something and you have the automatic impulse to help or meet the need for them,” she says.
Then work your way up to slightly bigger and bigger “no”‘s with people that you trust.
“Over time, this can begin to undercut the fear that you might lose everyone you love if you weren’t to do everything they wanted,” Conroy adds.
4. Don’t Explain or Apologize
When you say “no,” that should be the end of it.
“If you said ‘yes,’ no one would ask you to explain why you said yes. But when we say no, people often ask why, as if ‘no’ is not a full answer,” says Schekeva Hall, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in Brooklyn, New York.
“But often their ‘why’ is more an ‘I don’t agree’ than an ‘I don’t understand.'”
Since people pleasers have a hard time with conflict, they may feel the need to explain their no, even if the person asking doesn’t inquire.
However, it’s best to leave it at “no.”
“You will likely find that things turn out just fine and you won’t be met with retaliation or a negative reaction,” says Jolie L. Weingeroff, clinical psychologist and co-founder of PVD Psychological Associates in New York and Rhode Island. “In addition, if you are offering excuses or explanations, then people are more likely to challenge you.”
Swap that instinctive “yes” with “let me think about that,” Hall suggests. “Give it a chance to see if you’re just reacting, and sit and see how you feel. This helps you be more mindful about why you are saying yes.”
Do you truly want to do this? Is it worth it? Will saying no make you feel bad about yourself?
(If any step of this plan causes you anxiety, try these tricks to reduce stress.)
6. Work With a Therapist
The urge to please everyone comes from somewhere, whether that’s an experience in your upbringing or later in your life — and this action served you in some way.
A therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist can help you identify the roots of your people-pleasing and help you feel and process those emotions, Howard says.
Yes, you can learn how to stop being a people pleaser!
In turn, “you can heal your relationship with yourself, learn how to value yourself, and hear and listen to what your heart wants,” she adds.
Breaking the habit of being a people pleaser is hard, but this habit can impact your well-being.
By putting yourself last, you may neglect your health and self-care.
“People pleasers typically put off tending to their own health ailments, and they tend to sleep less and work more and generally run themselves ragged trying to please everyone at work and home,” Conroy adds.