People Pleasing: The Hidden Struggles of our Cherished Helpers

 In Counselling Sessions, Emotional Intelligence, healthcare workers, Introversion

Have you ever heard of the term, people pleaser? If so, you are not alone. Many others use a strategy such as pleasing others, putting others before themselves, and constantly focusing on how to support someone else while their own needs falter and suffer neglect.


Signs You are a People Pleaser:

  • You are always thinking of how to help someone else or about what they would like
  • You may also tend to blame others for your some of your feelings
  • You feel frustrated and upset when you have tried to help someone but have received negative feedback
  • You rarely ask for help or express a need for support – it is difficult for you to be vulnerable and express your struggles
  • You work in a healthcare profession or are employed in a position where supporting others is a primary role for you
  • You seek approval and validation from others by helping them
  • You typically only feel good about yourself if you have helped someone
  • You struggle to say ‘no’ – you therefore often overcommit to tasks and are more likely to burnout
  • You dislike and avoid conflict
  • You were likely labelled ‘needy,’ ‘sensitive’, or ‘dramatic’ as a child


Common Expressions of People Pleasers:

  • “Don’t worry about me”
  • “Your happiness is more important”
  • “You take care of yourself, I’ll be fine”
  • “No worries, I can take care of myself”


Why Does the People Pleasing Strategy Develop?

Close Relationships

People pleasing is often a strategy of self-protection that develops in childhood due to constantly feeling or perceiving that you are only of value or worthy to others (likely your caregivers) if you are of use or help to someone else. If, as a child, expressing emotions like sadness, anger, or fatigue was met with anger, annoyance, or invalidation, you likely learned that expressing your needs was not acceptable. Consequently, you might have begun focusing on others’ feelings instead of your own.

Social and Cultural Influences

In many societies and cultures, values of selflessness, altruism, and taking care of others is reinforced and highly valued. You likely know others who reflect these values, such as a grandparent or parent, who is always looking after others, is seen as very independent, and whose main role is to support others.

Expectations to Perform or Succeed

Having expectations placed on you to perform or succeed to a particular level or quality can create a sense of pressure. This pressure, if experienced as conflicting with your true desires and needs, can negatively impact your self-worth. As children, we often prioritize our caregivers’ needs over our own. If our caregivers’ love and support feels conditional on meeting their expectations, we start to believe our own needs and emotions are less important. This leads to low self-esteem and a sense of inferiority. As a result, we seek validation and acceptance through pleasing others and meeting their goals instead of our own, which are often forgotten by adulthood due to prolonged suppression and neglect.


The Impact of People Pleasing

Helping others is a wonderful value—we need people who support and assist others. However, it becomes problematic when this support comes at the helper’s own expense. Phrases like “Let’s take care of you first” or “I am fine” suggest that only one person can be helped, as if there’s no space for both people’s needs or for compromise. People pleasers often see things in “either-or” terms, finding it hard to accept help themselves. This leads to a negative cycle where they struggle, give too much, burn out, resent those they help, and ultimately become less able to assist others.

  • Increased stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Resentment of others and subsequent self-isolation
  • Fear of rejection and abandonment
  • Lower health due to neglect of own needs
  • Difficulty communicating emotions


Strategies to Start Prioritizing Your Needs

Transitioning from being a full-on people pleaser to someone who prioritizes your own needs is a gradual process. This gradual change is essential because shifts in identity and belief systems can be startling and scary. People pleasers often see their ability to help others as a core part of who they are. Therefore, it’s important to understand that supporting yourself more doesn’t mean losing your helper quality. Instead, you are fine-tuning when, how, and whom you help, ensuring your needs are met first.

For example, most people wouldn’t want help from someone who is upset and exhausted because they wouldn’t trust that person’s ability to help effectively. By prioritizing your own needs, you can help others more sustainably, effectively, and efficiently.


Tips to Stop Being a People Pleaser and Start Prioritizing Yourself:

1) Keep a Daily Journal

Start noting when you felt resentful or annoyed at someone you were trying to help. Reflect on your emotions, physical sensations, and thoughts.

2) Reflect and Analyze

– What was your goal? What did you hope to achieve in the interaction?
– Was the person ready to be supported? Was the other person open to receiving help?
– Were you in the right mindset to help at that time?

3) Identify Your Needs

Use the acronym H.A.L.T. (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) to identify your own needs.

4) Plan for the Future

Consider how you could handle similar situations differently in the future. Would it help to tell the other person you need time to recharge before helping them? Think of statements you can use next time to communicate your needs while still offering help when you’re ready.

5) Example Statements of Setting Boundaries

– “I need a moment to gather my thoughts. Can we talk in a few minutes?”
– “I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed right now. Can I help you after I take a short break?”
– “I want to give you my full attention, but I need to recharge first. Let’s connect later.”

By reflecting on these points and planning your responses, you can manage your people-pleasing tendencies more effectively.



People pleasing can be a deeply ingrained habit, but it’s one that can be overcome with self-awareness, effort, and support. By setting boundaries, building self-esteem, and practicing assertiveness, you can reclaim your sense of self and live a more balanced, fulfilling life. Remember, taking care of your own needs is not selfish—it’s necessary for your overall well-being.

If you’re struggling with people pleasing and need support, our counselling services are here to help. Contact us today to start your journey toward a healthier, more balanced life.

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