What makes a people pleaser?

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Wondering what makes a people pleaser?

Let’s take a quick inventory.

Buried under an endless to-do list?  Check!

Feel guilty saying no?  Check!

Worried what others think?  Check!

People pleasing doesn’t have to be a life sentence.  But, it is a very common problem.  So you might be wondering:  what makes a people pleaser?

First, let’s make sure we’re talking about the same group of people.

Take a minute to briefly review some common traits of people pleasing (aka, codependency, anxious attachment, nice girls/nice guys).  Then we’ll shift to exploring what causes people pleasing.

Check your knowledge

Typically, people pleasers are…

Several yellow smiley face balls sit in a pile. What makes a people pleaser.+ afraid of being rejected or abandoned

+ preoccupied about what others think and feel

+ fearful of saying no, setting limits, or seeming “mean”

+ hungry for the approval of others

+ stuck in relationships where they give more than they get

+ overworked because of an overdeveloped sense of personal responsibility

+ neglectful of their own needs

+ exhausted, overbooked, and burned out trying to take care of others

If you’re ever feeling stuck about what makes a people pleaser, go back to item #1 on the list above.  Fear of rejection or abandonment drives pretty much everything a people pleaser does.

(You can read more about the big costs of people pleasing here.)

Some of the skills that people pleasers have include…

A green, striped chameleon sits on a person's outstretched finger, with a blue, cloudy sky in the background. What causes people pleasing?Taking the temperature of a room (ie, tuning into how a situation feels)

Blending or editing themselves to fit in with the group

Intuiting what other people think, feel, and need in a situation

Caring for others, anticipating needs, and generally being indispensable

Strong work ethic

People pleasing is a strategy for coping with a lack of security in a relationship.  While we often focus on the negatives that come with this relational stance, it actually has a lot of strengths in it, too.

Commonly, you’ll see people pleasing along with one or more of these traits:

-low self-esteem

-overachievement

-strong need for control

-type A personality style

perfectionism

So, now we know what we’re looking for.  But what makes a people pleaser?  Why do they do what they do?

What makes a people pleaser?

A black and white photo of a mother and daughter facing away, running together down a wooded path. People-pleasing causes.People pleasers start off as parent pleasers.

How do they learn to do this?

People pleasing behaviors evolve as a way to maintain connection and closeness with parents who are inconsistently available to their children.  A lack of parental attunement is a big part of what causes people pleasing.

Many times, parents of people pleasers are too worried about their own troubles to tune in to what their children are feeling and thinking.

Or they may frequently mislabel or misinterpret their child’s signals and feelings.

People pleasing parents are often in a state of emotional overwhelm, leading their children to treat them carefully, as if they were fragile.

Sometimes these people pleaser children act more like the adult in the relationship, and take on a caregiving role towards their own parents.

These are a few examples of what causes people pleasing.  In the end, the parent struggles to be emotionally connected and available to their child in a consistent way.  The child picks up on this and moves to protect their parent and their feelings so the child can remain connected.

Hi!  Want to get to get to the bottom of your own people pleasing tendencies?

If this post has you feeling personally attacked (in a good way), I have good news! 

I’m writing a book all about people pleasing and if you’d like to get some short, very infrequent newsletter updates about that project, you can sign up here:

Back to our regularly scheduled programming on what makes a people pleaser. 

Enjoy the rest of the post!

A mother and young daughter sit together with their backs to the camera, facing a still pool of water. People-pleasing and parents.Further complicating the picture?  These same parents can also be warm and loving.

This is part of what confuses people pleasers— they have memories of warmth and connection with their parents, so how could the relationship with this selfsame parent also be what causes people pleasing?

Because of their preoccupation, the parents would blow hot and cold.

So, one moment they might be affectionate and loving, and the next distant, absent, or worried.

This is very confusing for the child.

Whether it is due to personal illness, addiction, the impact of their own upbringing or mental health, or just bad life circumstances, parents of people pleasers are often preoccupied with their own lives.

They get tangled up with memories of their past and often worry about the future.

This style of relating to themselves and the world often gets passed onto their children, who then become worried and preoccupied, too.

Early lessons in people pleasing

A three year old girl is scolded, staring vacantly and unhappily, her mother's look of disapproval is blurred in the background. Parents and people pleasing.Over time, the people pleasing child learns that her parents are unreliable.

But she cannot stop depending on them, and she longs for close, consistent connection.

At some level, she knows that she sinks or swims depending on her parents’ own wellbeing.

So she may get good at propping up parents emotionally.

She will be tracking their moods and checking in frequently, striving to make parents proud, muffling her own needs, doing her best to be very, very good and not rock the boat.

And so she begins to practice her people pleasing skills.

But eventually it gets to be too much, and these usually “good” children can act out in unpredictable and surprising ways when things become overwhelming.

Usually these children feel a deep sense of shame about this collapse and they go back into careful hiding, trying to be good.  And the cycle repeats.

In some cases, children can adapt very differently.  They may act out and rebel against their parents.  It depends on the child and the circumstances.

What causes people pleasing takes root

A young girl has her back to the camera, looking down. What are the causes of codependency?Parental emotional inconsistency is what causes people pleasing.

The child, not knowing how else to secure and maintain love and connection, does all he or she can to earn a parent’s love.

So he lives out his parents’ dream for him and adopts all his parents’ values in order to remain in good graces.

And she becomes high achieving, perfectionistic.

She becomes less interested in exploring who she is and more interested in learning about what others want her to be.

Because transforming herself—being nice—will be a way she can finally secure love for good.  Or so she thinks.  This is what makes a people pleaser.

The trouble is that the parent’s behavior generally has less to do with what the child is doing and more what is going on in the parent’s life.

Still, in order to have some sense of control, the child will locate the cause of her parent’s happiness or unhappiness firmly within herself.

And she will carry this set of standards into her adult relationships, seeking to please others and keep them happy, so that she can be happy, too.

What else fosters people pleasing?

When I first wrote this post back in 2013, I focused on parenting and attachment as a primary cause of people pleasing.

But, it’s important to acknowledge other factors that can make folks more prone to having people pleasing personalities.  These factors don’t necessarily cause people pleasing, but they can create conditions that make it more likely to show up.  Learn more here:

Factors involving temperament

What’s temperament?  Biologically based differences between each of us that shape our experience of the world.

Our differences in temperament can affect how others relate to us over time, which in turn affects self esteem and self image.

+ agreeableness

Yes, I know that’s a blinding flash of the obvious.  Agreeableness is a commonly measured feature of several personality assessments, and more agreeable folks can be more prone to the more problematic kind of niceness we know as people pleasing.

+ high sensitivity (highly sensitive people/HSPs)

When you’re more sensitive to stimuli of all kinds, you’re also more likely to be conflict avoidant and to try and head things off preemptively through niceness.

+ neurodiversity

ADHD and people pleasing??  You bet.  Anything to avoid another bout of rejection sensitive dysphoria.  People pleasing can be a form of masking that neurodiverse folks of all kinds use to navigate the world and avoid criticism and conflict.

Learn more about what makes a people pleaser

If you recognize yourself or your childhood in this post, take heart.  Knowing what makes a people pleaser is the first step to making changes in your life.  I’ve written extensively on this site about people pleasing, which is also known as codependency or anxious attachment.

The first step in making changes is in putting words to what is happening.

Although childhood experiences may lay important framework for our adult lives, there is still much we can do to gently change how we relate to ourselves and to others.

Want to learn more?

Does this all sound familiar?  Would you like to learn more about people pleasing and how to make lasting changes in a gentle way?

I’m writing a book on it!

If you’d like to stay in touch for updates on the book, sign up for my newsletter at the bottom of this page.

I’ll be sending out updates and snippets for you to preview before it’s published.

Why am I writing this book?  Three reasons.

1.)  I’m not taking on new clients.  My practice is at capacity and has been for some time.  But, I’d still like to help you, even if I can’t see you for therapy.

2.)  Many of you live in other states or countries.  Even if I had a spot open in my practice, licensing restrictions would prevent me from seeing you.

3.)  I get inquiries about suggestions for books on people pleasing every week.  I figure if this post resonates with you, I can whip something up that goes into more depth and can offer some support.

My hope is this book will be a candle in the dark for you.  Sign up below to stay in touch about the project, and thanks for reading.

Newsletter sign up

Get updates about the book here:


——————————–

As always, knowing which changes to make isn’t the hardest part of change.  It’s actually doing it, and sustaining those changes over time, in spite of the resistance and backlash that may come.

Helping people-pleasers is what I do!  My practice is currently full, but if you’re in Austin, Texas, and you’re looking for a counselor who helps with people pleasing, codependency and anxious attachment, drop me a line.  I am happy to help you with some referrals.

82 Comments

  1. Wow. That really hit home. Thanks, Ann.

    • Hi, Emerald. I’m glad that this post resonated and explained some things for you. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts!

      • This is so me!!!! My mother had me when she was 19 and my biological father was the same age was a drunk. He couldn’t keep a job for long, would go on drinking binges and even sold our bikes to get money for alcohol. We were very poor and moved a lot. I remember feeling like the new kid a lot. When I was very young, 6 or 7 my mother left him. I never saw him again. He let my step dad adopt me when I was about 10. My step dad suffered from mental health issues. In jr high and high school I was often embarrassed by my step father. I am 53 now and I am such a people pleaser, I hate it! I know that at times I am being taken advantage of, especially at work. It is hard for me to stand up for myself because I don’t like conflict or want anyone to not like me. I always felt I have to be so responsible for everything it’s ridiculous! I have recognized this about me for a very very long time and was foolish to think somehow I would be recognized, rewarded or even thanked for always going above and beyond. Now that I am older I have realized it gets me nowhere! It gets me more work than others! I am trying to stop being such a people pleaser and putting my feelings first, but it isn’t easy for me. I feel like this article was written about me! Do you have any other books or articles I could read?

        • Hi! I’m glad this post resonated with you– you’re certainly not alone as someone who uses people pleasing to get through life. I am in the process of writing a book right now, so if you’d like to sign up for my newsletter to get updates about its progress, please do! I’m about halfway through my first draft right now. In the meantime, I suggest folks read the book Anxious to Please by Craig English and James Rapson to get an attachment-informed look at people pleasing works and to begin the process of relating to yourself and others in a new way.

  2. This brings tears to my eyes as I see my 8 year old daughter transform herself in many social settings so she won’t be left out. I have been preoccupied in developing my career so I can support our family. This started early. I am now trying desperately to help my child “find” herself as she has been preoccupied in pleasing her parents so she won’t be denied the consistency of love. I need references, sources, any books that you can share that can help my daughter as well as our family learn about the process that we have lived. It is generational. Lot’s of work to do but I am comitted to supporting my daughter so she can live her “own” life.

    • Hi Sandra. Thank you for taking the time to write! The fact that you are tuned into your daughter’s experience so closely is a really great thing. I want you to know that there are many social pressures that also teach children how to be pleasing– it is not just something that is learned in families growing up. The earlier that parents notice and try to positively correct and shape their children’s learning, the better the outcomes overall for children. In fact, this noticing and trying to correct is something that often goes missing in families with children who are anxiously attached. So, kudos to you for remaining connected and aware about your daughter’s experience and development. She’s clearly got a big ally in you! As for books and resources, one of my favorite books on people-pleasing is Anxious to Please by James Rapson and Craig English. That one is written for adults who struggle with people-pleasing. Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell is great book on parenting that looks at how we can form more secure attachments with our children. Best of luck to you, and take good care!

    • Well Sandra,
      this is a right up my alley thing for me too.
      Generational, ADHD since early and 56 now. Just wanted to commend you for being open about this struggle to others! I don’t think I am trying to people please with this reply, just think its important for people like myself to be edified and supported for their recognition.

  3. Thanks for sharing this very rich description of this personality type from a professional’s point of view. A few things that stood out to me because they ring so, so true in my observations of my wife and her parents over 10 years, my knowledge of their family history, and observation of my wife’s interactions with our two young children:

    “…exhausted, overbooked, and burned out trying to take care of others”

    “…overworked because of an overdeveloped sense of personal responsibility”

    “…parents of people-pleasers are too worried about their own troubles to tune in to what their children are feeling and thinking.”

    “…they may frequently mislabel or misinterpret their child’s signals and feelings.”

    “Sometimes these people-pleaser children act more like the adult in the relationship, and take on a caregiving role towards their own parents.”

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
    In my heart I always knew I had been rejected and a lot of times abandoned by my mother.
    To me, being a people pleaser was a means of survival, especially since no one stepped up to “save” me
    from a mother who never wanted to be a mother. It took until I was an older teenager to realize what a futile effort being a people pleaser actually was. My mother was never going to love and care about me, no matter how “pleasing” I was. That was a revelation. Failure to bond was her issue, not mine. This realization allowed me a live my life and not crave her approval, which never came anyway.

    • Thank you for sharing! I’m going through the same issue with my own mother, so it’s nice to hear that I’m not alone, even when I feel like it.

  5. Thank you Ann for writing this. This is such a helpful and loving description of how people-pleasing develops. So much of the information on the web is all about what’s wrong with people-pleasers. This is a very fresh and helpful alternative.

  6. Hello,

    I’m wondering if people-pleasing can manifest later in life?

    I don’t ever remember being a people-pleaser when I was younger but it seems more in recent years, I’m 44. Both of my parents have passed, dad at 15 and mom when I was 24. Can those events manifest later in life in the form of people-pleasing?

    Regards…

  7. Thank you for your insight. I would love to know the title of the book that you mentioned above under Learn More (“One of my favorite books on people-pleasing talks about the origins of people-pleasing and empowers us to make changes to these traits.”) – you never mentioned the name.

    • Hi, Maddy– the name of the book is Anxious to Please by James Rapson and Craig English. Hope this helps!

  8. Ann, well written, and you obviously know me. So now how does one work through this when life crashes down around us?

    • Hi, Debbie. Thanks for your comment! You ask a good question. The short answer is that therapy can help with shifting away from this way of relating to oneself and the world. There are also some good books out there (see above, my favorite is Anxious to Please) that can help you develop a better understanding of the problem. I’ve been taking a break from writing regularly in my blog, but I may write a more in-depth post on this in the future.

  9. This is a great article. After years of pleasing others and eventually marrying someone with narcissistic personality disorder, I have found out through therapy that I am a People pleaser. I never knew what was wrong and why I always put others first. I was raised by my dad who always had high expectations of me and who shamed me if things did not go perfectly. He always would portray that he was a “10” and “the best” yet did not have the achievements to really reflect this. I married the narcissist and put up with the abuse and rage for 5 years. Only when I found out that he was having an affair (and had already had 5 other affairs) did I pursue counseling and divorce. I had a 10 month old and a 2 year old. It was hard for me because everyone loves him and thinks he is the nicest person. I was told that he was essentially a 6 or 7 year old and that he was stuck there developmentally. I found strength deep within to fight and to protect my children from this monster. It has been 2 years since I found out about my ex husband having NPD. He has fought tooth and nail to get me back and get the family back together. After dealing with this trauma I was trying to figure out how I got into this situation. I have been divorced 3 months now and I can say that I am recovering from people pleasing. I know I still have a long way to go but I already feel stronger and more free.

  10. I don’t ever remember my parents being like this. But, could the fact that they both passed, dad when I was 15 and mom when I was 24 create and environment where people pleasing took root later?

    • Same here, however abandoned by bio mom and dad my grandparents raised me. Double wammy I think. I am a co-dependent / People pleaser and my youngest daughter is anout to marry a people pleaser as well. I must begin a healing process within myself in other to help them and my future grandbabies. Knowledge here is my 1st baby step. Change through desire for healing this characteristic trait starts with now and continues in forever.

  11. Sums up the thought process written in my 8th grade diary perfectly- the ritual of trying to find approval and love from your parents and also, in my case, my sister, but instead being given the hot and cold treatment.

  12. Great article. Very informative. The comments were both eye and mind opening as well.

  13. Just happened to come across your site. Wow, it addresses so many of the issues that I had to overcome. People pleaser was what I was. As my mother lay dying I learned to tune in to what she wanted. Since she really loved me it was not a problem.
    However, after she died I continued with this behavior thinking it would get me the love that I desperately needed. All it got me was abuse. I became the doormat on which people would rub off their shit. I was used and abused.
    Even today, I have to literally reign myself in to stop myself from jumping up to respond to someone else’s requests. I have had to learn self-care, protection, boundaries without feeling guilty about it.

  14. In my 30s with a 7 year old son and I have just realized over the past year how messed up my way is. No boundaries. Hurtful. I am able to change and I am. I am worried though for my son who was raised for the first 5 years of his life the same way I was raised by my mother. I wonder if I can undo what I have done and how? It’s so hard to see the situation objectively and behave like a parent because I don’t know what that means… I never had one.

    • Hi, Callie. I believe it’s never too late for change. At 7 years old, your son still has a lot of learning to do about relationships! It’s not too late. There are many books out there, especially those written by Daniel Siegel, that offer guidance for parents wanting to help cultivate secure attachment in their children. The book based on the circle of security work (called “Raising a Secure Child”) is another good resource as well. Therapy can also be a big help as well. Best wishes to you in your journey!

  15. i think one aspect of learning to people please is left out here. I am a waitress which is a people pleaser job as (we only make money if the customer is happy) is my friend who also knows he is a people pleaser and we have decided that the major reason we are so is because we grew up in troubled homes, mine was with an abusive mother and distant father and he had alcoholic parents apt to explode over each little thing. And that’s the rub, trying to avoid land mines by doing our best to head off more abusive behavior.

    You might be interested in this.

    • Hi, Cynthia. Thanks for writing! Yes, you’re right, people-pleasing absolutely can be an adaptation to an abusive or troubled home life. The strategy hinges on trying to manage others’ feelings in order to feel safe, so that fits! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  16. I never knew how involved the people pleasing was. I had a bio Mother who stayed in the family but totally ignored me all my life. My Father was abusive and a very angry man. So of course I can’t say no to anyone and never really took care of myself. I’m just turning 64 this month and this is the first time I heard what people pleasing is. So clearly put by you and I have sought help for years as all my relaships never worked. I’m the over achiever, but it was always physical achievements as my mental development was poor.

  17. Wow, just came across this blog and I’m overwhelmed to realize how relatable it is. I feel like someone has finally given me the clear picture of why I have been a people pleaser all these years. Thank you so much for writing this. I’d love to work through this and evolve better.

  18. You deserve an applause for writing so helpful an article. I have been a MASSIVE (LITERALLY MASSIVE) PEOPLE PLEASER SINCE CHILDHOOD…… And even though I started taking hypnotherapy, meditation and doing yoga and journaling etc 2 years back, I realised I hadn’t fully gotten past it, that in subtle ways it still spirals into my life. It’s shocking when I realise this tendency! I can’t thank you enough for making me aware of this behaviour. Now that I am aware, I will be seeking help for it and I will be aware of my emotional urges and not act on them!

  19. Gosh, this article explains aOt and I think it may have just change my life! !! I have been a people pleaser my whole life. You opened my eyes as to why I do the things I do! I Really don’t have a fulfilling life because of the impact being a people pleaser his had on me. In all honesty I felt like I was really stupid because I just couldn’t understand why I typically did things for the least deserving people! I knew it I just didn’t know what drove me to do it. Like I felt like I was begging for love and sometimes I knew they weren’t even nice people! I never thought to get it to see if therapist about this but just reading this today has really helped. My parents divorced when I was fiveMy mother never got over it and was quite detached and my father I was always there on the weekends but he also was conditional with his love. It was really a Trumatic thing for our family – the divorce -but I never connected that to My being a people pleaser! I just thought that was my nature and that I was a little screwed up! LOL but now it really makes everything makes sense. Thank you so much

  20. I’m in tears right now!! I had to stop many times reading this because memories kept popping up about my own childhood… I thought my people pleasing tendency began recently since that when I started noticing it but now I can see that people pleasing has been my sole goal since second grade at least! Sorry for the long rant but I’ve been in absolute hell in the past few days feeling nothing but exhaustion and guilt and having fits of uncontrollable crying for no apparent reason… I heard that kids cry because they have overwhelming feelings they can’t identify or deal with but I couldn’t really know what mine were so I started looking online and stumbled upon this and wow! Now I must really digest this and think what to do next with this new knowledge…. Thank you so much you’ve really shed some light into a great mistery that have been worrying me for years without being able to even name it. You’ve give a name to my condition thank you again. Truly.

  21. Much needed, Thank you!!

  22. Fantastic post!

  23. Hi Ann, everything in this article is so true about my childhood. Can you please tell me how I deal with pressure to be a people-pleaser in my adulthood? In the Asian culture (Indian) there is a strong pressure for a woman to be under the control of her Mother-in-law. My MIL own daughters don’t listen to her and lash out at her ridiculous requests but as I’m the daughter-in-law I am expected to please her and follow her every command. I cannot live like this. I spent my entire life being raised by a dysfunctional mother who would manipulate me and now I’m having to deal with MIL.

    Whenever I assert myself I am labelled a “trouble maker” and “too modern”. I get given the silent treatment and dirty looks from in-laws when I stick up for my rights. Husband is no help, his motto is anything for an easy life.

    • Hi, Binny. I want to name that as a white therapist, my perspective on this is obviously shaped by my own culture and upbringing. So, please take what’s useful from this reply and leave the rest, as I trust you and your assessment of the situation.

      You’re describing a difficult scenario, where dysfunctional dynamics get protected under the guise of cultural values (“too modern” vs being “properly traditional”). I’m inferring from your comment about your MIL’s daughters also rejecting requests that your MIL’s requests are really out of hand. It sounds from what you’ve written like you have a great deal of clarity about what is going on. I wonder why your MIL’s daughters get permission to set boundaries but you don’t. Do they get called too modern and trouble-making too, or are those terms reserved for you? It sounds like there are both cultural and generational pieces at play here.

      I also wonder about setting boundaries without lashing out as your SILs do, but continuing to protect your own energies and interests, in spite of the shaming feedback you are getting. (This takes practice.) I also wonder about meeting your MIL’s requests as a gesture of good faith and relational care when it isn’t problematic or too costly to you. I imagine you’re already doing a fair amount of that.

      If your mother-in-law used her power well to look after herself and the family system, that would be one thing– you would offer labor, care, and influence in good faith to her as a part of the larger whole. But the system is not working as designed, there is not a healthy exchange happening here from what you’re describing. No one is entitled to your obedience. Beyond having more conversations with your husband about the pressure this dynamic puts on you, I would seek support from other like-minded folks and would also seek support around practicing boundaries internally as well as externally (eg, when they make comments about your modern or ‘trouble-making’ behavior, you don’t let it shame or silence you).

      A long reply– please note this isn’t therapy, just some musings from the small amount of information provided here. Best of luck to you.

  24. Thank you for your positive, knowledgeable, and no nonsense posts. I’ve read many of them. They inspire me with new ways to see things and they nurture my soul with steps to take toward emotional health.

  25. hello Ann, such a great eye opener article, so greatful to have finally get some understanding on my emotional conditioning that have cost me greatly throughout my life.

    so to be brief, I was wondering, how can a tough mom influence her son’s love life, by not being able to coup with rejection by women after of course smelling the people pleasing stench that is almost visible on him?

    such resentment and self inflected hate, and such childish bitter attitude dealing with women after rejection that keeps the cycle closed .

    my wife of 8 year of marriage has finally walked all over the nice guy in me and divorced me 2 years ago, since I have not been able to overcome my fears to even ask a women out and have reached unprecedented people pleasing skills.
    these core beliefs seem so unchangeable
    Its been so long I must admit I catch my self enjoying or comfort zone of being a victim.
    I’m 40.
    I know I sound inconsistent.
    but I tried my best at writing this.

  26. You nailed this one, thank you.

  27. Ann this is just incredible, thank you for sharing. This is the very best piece I have ever seen on people pleasing. So simply written yet hitting with depth, well done.

  28. I don’t remember any childhood event that stands out to make me a people pleaser but as a child I was super scared of how others saw me. One of my first memories is from preschool I was 3 and i was scared of yawning while Adults were talking because yawning can also mean your bored and I thought they would think I was being disrespectful. I had a bunch of friends I didn’t want because I couldn’t tell them I didn’t like how they treated me and would actively stop my other friends when they would try to say anything cause I was scared of conflict. In grade one I peed my pants because I was too afraid to ask to go to the bathroom while the teacher was talking. (Thankfully it was the end of the day so I just lied to avoid the shame) My whole childhood I remember is people pleasing but I can’t think of the source of it, I don’t think my family was unreliable so I’m a bit confused where it comes from, is there other causes for it?

  29. I’m 17 years old and I recently wrote an emotional personal narrative essay for my English 101 class, and this article is nearly identical to it. I keep denying that I’m like this because I would hate to tell people and ask for help, but it’s getting out of control. I really want to get out of this mindset before I go off into the world. I also have no sense of who I am as a person, outside of pleasing others. I love to make others happy, but feeling this way creates so many negative emotions that will continue to worsen in the long run. I’m trying to get the courage to explain this to my parents. Thank you

  30. I would definitely look into this being more social anxiety.

  31. Hi Ann do you do online therapy sessions as I feel this is me in each paragraph and feel this would help me conquer weight issue.

    • Hi! I do offer teletherapy right now, but I can only see clients located in the state in which I’m licensed… and right now, my practice is full.

      But, if this post resonates with you, I strongly encourage you to do a quick google search for therapists in your area who can help! At the bottom of this page are some instructions on how to find a therapist in your area that practices in a similar style to me:
      https://labyrinth1.wpengine.com/testimonials

      I hope this helps you in your search! Warm thoughts, Ann

  32. I’ve just come across this and I am sat crying I’m 63yrs and after reading this I now realise that this is what I have been all my life.i cannot remember my mother or father ever showing me any love , my mother left home and left me with my dad at the age of 12yrs who drank alot so was always out at the pub or at work and I basically brought myself up ,in later years when I linked back up with my mother she still never showed me any love and was always nasty to me apart from when
    I was doing something nice for her then I was the wonderful daughter , my parents alway made me feel I was not wanted and i was always in the way .I have spent all my life trying to please people and stayed in relationships just to please as I’ve always been frightened of hurting people but it’s been ok to hurt myself. It has driven me mad trying to work out why I’m like this So thank you so much I am So glad I came across thus and I’m going to do everything I can to try and change as being a pleaser has brought me so much unhappiness and depression

  33. Wow I definitely would love the opportunity for a one on one session

  34. Read: The “Craziness” of People Pleasing and How Did We Get Here

  35. You hit the nail(s) on the head.

  36. Hi there, have come across your post all the way from Ireland and would be very interested in a consultation to avoid passing these tendencies onto my own child. Do you have availability for an online session ?

    Aisling

    • Hi, Aisling– Thanks for writing! I’m not available for consultations outside of the state I’m licensed in, unfortunately, but there are a lot of books on people-pleasing that can help advance your knowledge on the subject! You might try “Anxious to Please” as a starting point. I have also listed some tips for CoDA meetings that are available online for free to help support folks in their learning and growth in this area, as well as how to search for a therapist in your area that is fluent in people pleasing. Check out the tips at the bottom of the testimonials page for help in getting started. Best wishes to you! -Ann

  37. I have the same situation as Dawn above right down to peeing my pants in Grade 1. Yet my parents don’t fit this description at all. I think some people are just born people pleasers. It’s painful for me when others are unhappy so much so that I avoid it at all costs. I think this is a trait of highly sensitive people.

  38. Thanks for the book titles and the info. Sometimes I also wonder if at least a part of people-pleasing could be inherited or simply part of who we are. Nevertheless I found your article quite eye-opening and insightful. Thank you.

  39. This is who I have been all my life, still am. The fear of rejection and abandonment is the reason. I see me as a child who was given love and attention some times, then afraid, confused, hurt and ashamed when it was withdrawn or just not there. Alone and afraid as a child and still living that out as an adult.

  40. I want to sign up for the newsletter please.

    • Hi, Lisa! You can sign up for my newsletter at the bottom of any page on my website. In the footer there should be a sign up box that asks for your first name and email. If you’re having trouble locating that or it isn’t working for some reason, let me know and I’ll add you manually if needed.

  41. Agree re. PP being generational and a trait of highly sensitive people, which explains why my brothers don’t also have PP, however, I guess that could be down to gender inequalities also. Got me thinking and keen to learn more! Thanks…

  42. interesting read, wondering if me leaving the comment could be people pleaser in me kicking in

    • Your comment made me chuckle. Maybe so!

  43. Dear Ann, thank you so much for sharing this detail and helping me/us to find clarity and direction. I’ve spent time in recovery from codependency, which was due to a very unstable home life, alcoholic & abusive step father and never experiencing that unconditional love a child needs. I’m so thankful my eyes were opened and I’ve begun setting boundaries for myself. I can say no now without feeling bad and do things from a more pure motive, it’s so freeing. My struggle now is, I married someone with the same issues who comes from even deeper abuse. Of course I didn’t see it then, but I do now. His people pleasing is making our relationship difficult, especially between his three children (my step children). I’m the “bad guy” for setting boundaries and not going along with certain behaviors etc. Of course I can’t change them or make them see their sickness. Hard when you’re the one recovering and no one else is. Any thoughts/comments or suggestions are appreciated. I’m not in danger physically but the emotional weariness is sometimes more than I can take.

    • Hi, Helen. Thanks for your patience with my response to your comment. I’ve been busy working on my book and that takes up a fair amount of time I used to spend on emails and replies like this one! It is a lonely business to be the only one in a family system who is trying to heal. Finding likeminded others for support is key. Sometimes people grow with us and sometimes we outgrow certain relationships. I’m not saying that’s true in your case, of course– just that healing is powerful and sometimes impacts our lives in unexpected ways. A therapist’s support or attending a CoDA group (if you are open to an AA model of group work) could provide the support you need in staying the course and growing beyond your childhood wounds. Setting boundaries and staying out of agenda about what others do can feel like a full time job sometimes! Best wishes to you in your healing process.

  44. This made me cry because this is me to a T. It effects everything about my life every day. I definitely would like to learn to not be such a people pleaser.

    • Hi, Amanda! I am in the process of writing a book right now, so if you’d like to sign up for my newsletter to get updates about its progress, please do! I’m about halfway through my first draft right now. In the meantime, I suggest folks read the book Anxious to Please by Craig English and James Rapson to get an attachment-informed look at people pleasing works and to begin the process of relating to yourself and others in a new way. You’re definitely not alone if people pleasing is the way you get through life right now. It can be a powerful strategy for survival, but is exhausting to do all the time.

  45. I am trying to find the link for your news letter

    • Hi! Thanks for your interest in my work! The newsletter link is at the bottom of each page of the website in the footer. It has the title “Let’s stay in touch!” where you can enter your name and email address. If it’s not showing up for you– as is sometimes the case if you’re browsing on your phone– let me know and I’ll add you to the newsletter myself.

  46. Really interesting reading a lot on this article really made sense about myself can’t wait to read more!

  47. Interesting to know more about myself by your article. Just noticed that I have always been a perfectionist, attention seeker and most of all very sensitive to other people’s perception of me – have very low self-esteem even if I am achieving my goals. My mother died when I was in grade 2 and my father has been very lonely then, he gives us needs at least financially but lacks the support that I have been longing for. I was always looking for attention and tried my best to be excellent in everything I do. I make sure to please my family, friends, and partner. I am hoping to find ways how to improve this aspect, know and love myself more.

  48. this article, in my view, is not totally correct when looking at MY life. I always felt secure with my parents and had their love ,so pleasing them was not an obsessive problem.I felt safe. But yes, i did like pleasing them and making them proud because I was proud of them and who I was. I loved myself and loved my sister who was not a pleaser but had difficulty in the home with them and as often violent towards me.but there were never any waves, I was kept very happy and they liked to lie to me behind my back, which later turned into severe emotional abuse, systemic ,medical and domestic abuse of my person( with many family members). Later in life, when I had severe panic attacks, anxiety and social paralysis,as a sober woman who quit smoking (hard to do try it sometime) I wasnt trying to please to them nor could I speak freely from severe sexual harassment( that is why I seemed upset).they turned on me so my fears came true and I was not believed. But it was more in the community growing up, that I felt a need to please others, that my parents were not looking at the importance of helping me stand up for myself or stand with me to have my own voice, psychology and assert my own rights and identity.

    If I had had conflicts, I know we all would have learned but those conflicts and learning Never happened. Those important passages were denied, protected or subversively suppressed as a means to protect me from pain and a painful cruel situation it is!. I have a voice now and I use it, hopefully without torture, abuse, force and more continual systemic abuse of my person since 2003 and I know I was fine then and will be again.

    I can only hope people will be tolerant a severely abused women like me who has learned to NOT suppress my authentic self to make others confutable – life is more difficult but is also more rewarding, engaging, deep and honest and doesn’t include manipulation and lies.

    I live my life by learning to grow and learn about my own personal intergrity ( somethings I didnt lend as a heavy drinker since 16)and boundaries and at 51 I dont care as much what others think of me, although it still bothers me ALOT but I know know that it s my life.

    Amy Ness, RCRT,Ba.

  49. The tears are streaking down my face after reading this. My earliest memories are of trying to please people and be accepted by my peers, even before starting first school / kindergarten, and being rejected and ridiculed for it by them one day, and their best friend the next.

    My Mom is also – and has always been – unreliable in every way, including emotionally. Every situation revolves around her and how it affects her / her feelings. My Dad left when I was 11, and I had to be the support for my Mom when my heart was broken too. He was an irregular presence in my life for the next 16 years, until I said enough was enough because there was no way I was letting him blow hot & cold on my child. I have had a couple of ‘experiences’ with him in the years since, one at a family funeral, and the last in a local supermarket where his wife had to drag him away while he spat vitriol at me. That was in January 2011, and his words still echo in my head at times.

    Throughout my teens and adult life I have struggled with depression, anxiety, and various other issues, including attempts to sabotage my marriage by pushing him away because I was convinced he was going to leave me anyway so I might as well give him a reason to. Thank all the stars he never has.

  50. Hi Ann,

    Just wondering what your credentials are?

    I have researched and studied the psychology of the “people pleaser” personality – which is 1 of 7 personalities.

    Based on the clinical criteria, this people pleaser trait is actually a maternal (inherited) predisposition from the mother. People are simply born with it rather than learn it.

    • Hi– that’s an interesting idea, but the causes of people pleasing are far more complex! Biology and temperament are a part of the picture, but nurture, including attachment bonds, cultural values and expectations, and family dynamics also play a large part in whether people pleasing develops.

  51. Some of the things here apply to me.
    The withholding of approval and compliments, my Mom does it all the time. She always did. And replace it by criticism. (I am not saying that I am an angel,but a lot of her behavior took its toll on me for most of my childhood)

    The parents busy thinking about something else. Well yes, but that apply more with my dad. He is very preoccupied by our financial security. Always did side jobs beside his main job. And the thing is, while he does his utmost best to not show it to us, I know he is unwell somehow.

    So for a unknown amount of time in my childhood I was stuck between a very present but criticizing, stressed and distant mom and a stressed and mostly absent Dad. I was well fed and cared for but alone. I felt really lonely. I don’t have distinct memories of it, but the strong negative feeling stays within me.
    Of course we had good moments too and I am grateful but…yeah.

    There is also the fact that my mom never…never empathise with my feelings. She always minimize them. We I confide in her about my sadness or frustration about an issue or She always end up saying something along the line of “It’s not that bad” “you should move on” or she just come up with a physical solution.
    ex:briging me to the doctor or buying vitamines.
    It show she cares but…
    I confessed to being addicted to the use of Youtube. I took that as a coping mechanism for negative emotions.
    I have also a bad habit of seeking food for comfort. I manage to not do it most of the time, but in some periods of high stress, I end up mistaking stress for hunger and that caused me to take a lot of pounds.
    Sorry for changing the subject.
    Mom and me never had a emotionnal conforting conversation with each other.
    I had a few of them with dad. But as of late, I have noticed that I can’t help but be mad everytime he gives me advice. I don’t know exactly why yet.
    I will try my best to be better. Thanks for your advices and wisdom.

    Erica.

  52. I’m sorry but forgot to say one thing.
    About the youtube part.

    I confessed to my parents my addiction problem, but all they did was to tell me to take a vacation job.
    I get that being busy helps, but some morning I don’t even feel like coming out of bed. Maybe I am a little lazy but I mostly feel emotionally exausted. I am trying my best, looking around, reading sites like yours to try a have a grip before school starts…
    If you have some advice that would be really cool.
    But if you don’t, it’s okay.
    Thanks you very much for all your efforts and for the help you are providing for people like me. :-D
    Have a good day.

  53. Do people pleasers affect their romantic/ personal relationships by worrying too much about what other people, not in their immediate family think, and because of this tend to not put proper attention to what their partners need because they are spreading themselves too thin trying to please others that don’t “matter”?

    Would this be considered people pleasing behavior or would this be considered another type of behavior?

    Thank you for responding

  54. Hello emarald im from India thankyou for the article
    This worked as a tranquilizer Now I know y I do what I do I am a hardcore perfectionist I am an a grade student but lost interest in my studies because of perfection i recovered alot after knowing about personality types (infj/p) but this article gave me the root cause of my problem Thankyou so much emrald ❤️fron India

  55. Great article! Thanks for sharing. Appreciate you

  56. Excellent article.

  57. Wow.. I can really relate to this!! I hate being a people pleaser but cant seem to stop. I’ve even struggled knowing
    Who I am or what I like as a person because I’ve spent so much time pleasing other people cause if they were happy I was happy. But it’s not healthy I know. As a child I was very OCD and spent hours tidying up and putting things aways a certain way.. I wonder if this is all related?

    Look forward to reading your book!

  58. Wow! I have only just identified the original trauma event in my childhood and this article is a real eye opener for me. At three years old in the 1950’s I spent 3 months in hospital with rheumatic fever. I have no conscious memoery of the event but the sense of abandonment has most certainly led to my being a people pleaser. It totally explains why I hate conflict and go out of my way to please others. I have had people take advantage of me and criticism is traumatic.

    The good news is that at 72 I am learning to put my own needs first and learning to say no.

  59. This is me. I had/have loving parents but when I was eight, my mum tried to take her own life. I don’t remember much about it but I know that I was always careful not to rock the boat, the bit about not exploring myself rings true. I only realised 6 years ago, at age 45, that I am a lesbian.
    I worry that my desire to be loved means that whoever shows me love will hook me in. I have a lovely girlfriend who loves me very much but I find myself questioning if my love for her is real or just coming from that place of wanting love/approval

  60. I’ve known it for so long I I don’t and have never understood anyone to be any other way Why isn’t everyone people pleases I think to myself? .. isn’t it the way to be ?

    Isn’t it the natural compensation for for the world as it is? I’m not convinced that doing me is any sort of relief. I think that’s just adding to the problem… Yes I’m sure I could have a better life if I did but it needs to start somewhere I would take as much as I can with me and never give up on the human beings we are that I love.

  61. Hi a parent here stumbled across your page looking for resources and this resonated a lot for my teen. She’s definitely going through some challenges right now in her life due to people pleasing. Do you have any recommendations for books on creating healthy boundaries or any kind of support group,class,therapy of any such.. we need sound kind of direction/help .. thank you.

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