How to break your people-pleasing habit for good

In my coaching practice, I teach people-pleasers how to learn to focus on themselves, be authentic, and be bold in asking for what they want. In that spirit, today I want to talk about why some of us become people-pleasers, why it can be harmful over time, and how we can learn to stop people-pleasing once and for all.

What is people pleasing?

At best, a people-pleaser is someone who changes themselves in order to meet the expectations of others. They make themselves into the perfect spouse, parent, employee, or friend. This can become an all-consuming endeavour. They ignore their authentic self, their desires, and their own needs. They’ve often learned to be this as a child as a way to avoid rejection or negative reactions and comments. They often tie the opinion others hold of them to their own self-worth, rather than having their own sense of self and recognizing their own value.

People pleasers find it difficult to say no or set personal boundaries with others. They are unable, or find it difficult, to be assertive and speak their own thoughts and opinions outloud. They are often excessively giving without a thought to their own self, and will tie these benevolent actions to their identity.

“In reality, a people-pleaser is someone who lies in order to be accepted. They’re afraid of displeasing others or showing their true self for fear of abandonment.”

You will often hear people-pleasers go on about the good they do in the world because this is where they get their sense of self-worth; through others. In reality, they often have low self-esteem, and may overeact when they are on the receiving end of criticism, taking it personally rather than seeing it for what it is, an opinion.

At worse, a people-pleaser is someone who lies because they’re afraid of displeasing others or showing their true self for fear of abandonment or lack of acceptance.

Why is people pleasing harmful?

People-pleasing is problematic not only for the person doing it, but for the person on the receiving end of their behavior. It can lead to resentment about not having your own needs met, and to confusion about a lack of clarity when it comes to expressing real feelings and needs. People-pleasing is at its core an unhealthy coping mechanism that evolves from negative childhood interactions with adults who made us feel unsafe, unwanted, or unacceptable.

People-pleasers suffer silently at the expense of giving and doing for others. Their behavior at the surface seems fine, but underneath, they are often fearful or even avoidant of any negative feelings or feedback. Being addicted or at minimum entirely reliant on the approval and positive feedback of others can make someone neurotic. They can become obsessed with being liked and accepted. At the core, this is a serious self-esteem issue.

“People-pleasers suffer silently at the expense of giving and doing for others. Their behavior at the surface seems fine, but underneath, they are often fearful or even avoidant of any negative feelings or feedback.”

This behavior can become toxic because it may mean you accept abusive behavior or lack self-compassion because you want to avoid being “unpleasant” at all costs, or believe if you give others what they want they will finally learn to be happy. The problem is that you are not responsible for other people’s happiness and this is a losing battle.

How can people pleasers break their habit?

Learn to focus on yourself, to be authentically you even when your opinion or action is unpopular. Check out my article called “How to be more authentic with others” for advice on how to do this. Learn to be bold in life and ask for what you want. By improving your self-confidence, you can learn to clearly communicate in difficult situations, express negative feelings, and opposing views to others. By learning to say no, rather than always agree regardless of what you feel or think, you can show others your true self, and teach others how to treat you.

Stop allowing others to use you.

When your boundaries are unclear and your self-worth is low, it’s easy to get into situations where people are using you or taking advantage of you. Whether it’s consciously or unintentionally, others may learn that they can get away with anything with you, and start expecting you to say yes to everything. One of the best ways to reverse this is to work on recognizing your boundaries (what you accept, what you don’t), and learn to insist on having these respected.

Stop keeping your emotions hidden.

As human beings, we all have the capacity to feel negative emotions including sadness, anger, frustration, and annoyance. When you repress your true feelings, you hide a part of yourself from others, portraying an inauthentic version of yourself. It’s impossible to always hide everything, so, at times these emotions will surface which can be confusing to others. “But, you told me you were fine with this and now you’re upset about it. What happened?”, they might say. Eventually, you can even develop mental and physical health issues as a result of ignoring your own needs and tolerating the stress that comes with that. Practice saying out loud how you really feel about something, especially when it’s different then what others are saying. With time, people will get comfortable with you expressing yourself but it may take patiences and repetition before they take you seriously.

Get to know yourself in depth.

You can’t be transparent about who you are if you don’t know who that person is. Often times, people-pleasers haven’t invested much time in learning to get to know themselves because they’ve put all their energy into pleasing and appeasing others. Do the self-work necessary to learn to know what your values are, what your wants and desires are, what lights you up, what your interests are. Then, you can begin to let others know and work towards change.

Don’t accept less than what you deserve.

This is probably the most difficult thing to learn to do. Chronic people-pleasers have been repressing and ignoring their needs for decades. You won’t be able to reverse this overnight, but one of the first things you can do is speak out and take action when you feel disrespected or dismissed. To be taken seriously, it’s necessary to insist, repeat yourself, and implement consequences to toxic or disrespectful behaviour.

Apply the three steps to communicating difficult information:

First, note and say outloud the behavior or situation that is making you unhappy: “I noticed you’ve been doing or saying X”.

Second, say the impact this behaviour has been having on you and mention specific emotions that are surfacing: “When you do this, I feel X, Y, or Z”.

Third, make clear the consequence to continuing the behaviour :“If this continues, I will… (lose respect for you, remove myself from the situation, stop doing X, Y, Z). has an extensive list of feelings and emotions available for free when you download the pdf. These lists are widely available if you do a bit of research online. You can use them to help you implement the three-step system and voice your concerns to someone. Expanding your vocabulary around feelings is the first step to identifying your own, and the next is expressing them to others.

Photo by Armin Rimoldi on

As a former people-pleaser myself, I still sometimes fall into the trap of wanting to make others happy at my own expense. Taking the approach of saying no to anything and everything, or getting angry when others aren’t seeing your point of view or you’re unable to find the right words isn’t going to teach others to respect you. This will happen gradually as you claim your space and use your voice. As a child, we wanted to please and avoid being chastised or yelled at. As an adult, it’s entirely your job to teach others how to treat you. Treat yourself with the respect you know you deserve and others will begin to recognize it and treat you accordingly.

Copyright Authentic World Inc 2021, Michelle Thompson 2021


My name is Michelle. I have over twenty years of experience as a group facilitator and public educator. I’ve helped thousands of people re-imagine their lives and create concrete plans for self-improvement. I’ve facilitated dozens of workshops and support groups on topics like stress management, mental health and wellness, goal setting, grief counselling, safety planning, and confidence building. I’m a former social worker and non-profit consultant, and after struggling for years with my own feelings of anxiety and uncertainty about who I was and what I wanted, I did the work and learned how to get out of my own way and create an authentic meaningful life for myself. Now I teach others to do the same. I created Authentic World Inc, to offer a supportive space for learning these important life skills.

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Published by Coach Michelle

Founder, Authentic World Inc

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