How to Stop People-Pleasing and Start Living on Your Own Terms

How to Stop People-Pleasing and Start Living on Your Own Terms

People-pleasing may sound like an innocuous habit. After all, what’s wrong with wanting to please others and avoiding confrontations, right?

Well, it is not humanly possible to please everybody we meet, neither is it possible to avoid confrontations altogether. If you are trying to do either of that, you are repressing your own needs and pretty soon it will all explode.

People pleasing can severely affect both your mental health and cognitive performance in the long run. Worse, the positive rush in the brain we experience after helping another person can get addictive for a person who is depressed or dealing with past trauma. This means they find it really difficult to shed the habit of pleasing others even when they know it’s not doing them any good.

So how to break out of this damaging habit? It does require awareness and work, but it is very much possible to start living on your own terms. Here are some steps you can follow to that end.

Distinguish between pleasing and goodwill

Before you commit to anything, ask yourself, do you genuinely want to do this thing or are you feeling pressured to do it. You don’t really want to do it but someone else may feel bad? You are afraid of disappointing someone? You feel this is your duty as per societal demands even if you don’t want it? If the answers are yes, then you might be people-pleasing. Making this distinction before you commit will help you make better choices.

Take time to respond

We say ‘yes’ to a lot of things just because we are responding to someone immediately. Later we regret that, and can’t back out. Also, for habitual people-pleasers saying ‘yes’ is an almost reflexive action. Practice saying ‘I’ll get back to you later’ even if you are relatively sure. This is not impolite at all, and will actually allow helping people better.

Keep your goals in mind

Having clarity on your goals and priorities often helps in putting a brake on people-pleasing behavior. We fall easily into the trap of fruitlessly pleasing others when we don’t really know what we want. So practice goal-setting as a separate exercise. Write down your goals and review them weekly. If the ‘favour’ you have been asked to do interferes with your goals in any way, consider skipping it.

Don’t worry about being called ‘selfish’

One of the biggest reasons people keep on putting others before themselves is the fear of being branded ‘selfish’. But prioritizing your own need is not selfishness, it is self-respect. Besides, if you are truly selfish you won’t really be bothered about being called so! So delete that worry from your mind. Remember, you can only give something to someone if you have it in the first place.

Notice how you feel when you commit to something

People-pleasers often do not notice their own behavior while doing it. So it is important to take note of your feelings after you have committed to or have gotten into something. Are you feeling angry, frustrated, or manipulated? Do you feel resentment towards the person asking the favor? It is most probable that you were people-pleasing when you said yes. Noticing and documenting your reactions after commitment will help you understand your own behavior patterns and triggers, and help control it.

Seek professional help

People-pleasing behavior is overwhelmingly rooted in past trauma and memories. If you were neglected as a child, pleasing everyone else probably became your mechanism to attract warmth and connection. If you were punished too much, it may have started as a defensive mechanism to avoid punishment. Whatever it may be, chances are those memories have long been repressed. It is important to seek professional therapy to dig them out and resolve them.


Being nice is not a bad thing at all, but neither is prioritizing yourself. For a happy and healthy brain, it is equally important that you please yourself as well as any other. Don’t be afraid to say no, and don’t be ashamed to seek help, and soon you’ll find yourself in a much better place.

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