problem with people-pleasing

6 Problems with People-Pleasing (and How to Stop People-Pleasing)

Learn how to stop people-pleasing and start speaking up for yourself. Codependency and people-pleasing can cause you to “lose yourself” when you try to please and appease others.

Kyle is a classic people-pleaser. He’s been dating Lucy for four years and hopes to marry her. From the beginning, Lucy has been clear that she wants Kyle to attend church with her and finish college.  Kyle isn’t particularly interested in church and isn’t sure he even believes in God, but he attends every week.

He flunked out of college in his freshman year and knows he doesn’t want to go back. Instead of telling Lucy, he makes excuses for not enrolling in classes. He’s working for his dad’s construction company. Kyle’s father has always talked about wanting Kyle to take over the business.

Kyle feels stuck. He’s afraid to tell his dad and girlfriend what he really wants. In fact, most of the time he doesn’t even know what he wants anymore. So, despite being unhappy, it’s easier to just go along rather than risk his dad’s disappointment or Lucy breaking up with him.

People-pleasers are like chameleons, always trying to blend in. If they’re less than perfect, “difficult’, or different in any way they fear rejection or abandonment. Being a chameleon can be a survival skill in unsafe relationships.

What does people-pleasing have to do with perfectionism?

Perfectionism is all about appearing to be perfect on the outside. The best way to do this is to be a people-pleaser. If you figure out what people want and give it to them, they’ll be happy with you. Better yet they’ll love you, which will prove you are worthy and lovable.

Next, let’s look at the six problems with people-pleasing and how to stop people-pleasing behaviors.

Problem #1: It’s impossible to please everyone

You have created an impossible situation for yourself. Trying to please everyone means always complying, never complaining or disagreeing. And we all know people who are simply impossible to please, even if you do exactly what they ask.

Problem #2: You lose yourself

Just like Kyle, when you focus on trying to please everyone, you lose sight of your own values, goals, and personality. It means you never stand up for what you believe in or go after your own dreams. You can read more in this article about how to maintain your sense of self. The organization Adult Children of Alcoholics says the same thing: “…we became people-pleasers, even though we lost our own identities in the process.”  Whether you’re the child of an alcoholic or not, your true self gets buried when you become a people-pleaser.

Problem #3: Your worth is tied to pleasing others

You’ve come to believe that you have to please others or they’ll reject, leave, or belittle you. You have created a situation where you feel unworthy or unlovable when you don’t please others.

Problem #4: You say yes when you really mean no

In your efforts to make others happy, you do things out of obligation rather out of genuine interest or desire. It might be doing a favor for a friend, loaning money to your brother again, or agreeing to work on Saturday.

Problem #5: Your needs come last

You are so busy meeting everyone else’s needs that your needs come last (or not at all). You may try to numb them or pretend you don’t have any needs, but this doesn’t work.

Problem #6: You become resentful when your needs aren’t met

We all have needs and wants. Some you can meet yourself and some are met in relationships with others. You have to communicate your needs by being assertive and setting boundaries. Otherwise, your needs don’t get met and you eventually become resentful.

How to Stop People-Pleasing

  • Try going to a CoDA meeting.
  • Get treatment for your anxiety. People-pleasing is an unhealthy way of managing your anxiety. As you change your people-pleasing patterns, your anxiety will probably increase. I encourage you to work with a therapist or doctor.
  • Identify what you need and begin to ask for it.
  • Being assertive is not selfish.
  • Set boundaries so that others don’t take advantage of your kindness or inability to say “no.”
  • It is OK to have conflicts with others. Appropriately expressing your displeasure or disagreement is a sign of a healthy relationship and healthy self-esteem.
  • Practice doing things you enjoy – pursue a hobby or interest, catch up with friends.
  • Spend time alone. Once you are more independent and realize you’re OK by yourself, you will be less afraid of rejection and abandonment.

©2021 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved. Photos courtesy of

Codependency Maze ebook

Learn more about how to end codependent relationships

Navigating the Codependency Maze provides concrete exercises to help you manage anxiety, detach with love, break through denial, practice healthy communication, and end codependent thinking. It was written by Sharon Martin, a psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience helping people overcome codependency, people-pleasing, and perfectionism and find their way back to themselves. For more info and to view sample pages, click HERE.

Sharon Martin, DSW, LCSW is a psychotherapist and author specializing in codependency recovery. For the past 25 years, she’s been helping people-pleasers, perfectionists, and adult children overcome self-doubt and shame, embrace their imperfections, and set boundaries. Dr. Martin writes the popular blog Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today and is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism and The Better Boundaries Workbook.

12 thoughts on “6 Problems with People-Pleasing (and How to Stop People-Pleasing)”

  1. Sharon, I am elated that you’ve shared with everyone what you know. My husband & I both suffer w/ these “issues” & it’s causing “ALOT” of problems with our relationship. Whenever I read what you posted I literally cried out in relief! I can’t thank you enough for putting validation behind what we’re going through and that it’s “very” treatable w/ the (right) help. Please keep doing what you do, It means the world to people suffering like me?

  2. True, true, true…. I am a 59 yr old retired nurse, and YES I have always taken care of everyone else first. Was raised by maternal grandparents, whom taught me alot, but I was not ready to listen! My grandmother said “follow your heart” and my grandfather said “follow your gut”…both were right. I do two things for myself; Yoga twice weekly and full massage once a month. TRY to speak from the heart/the head will follow !!!

  3. Finally, after 45 yrs I’m learning about where my anxiety comes from! As a child growing up with an alcoholic father I now realise the personality traits I have nurtured to protect myself. These traits have not really protected me rather create more anxiety and fear. I’m now realising that this is unhealthy and slowly peeling away what my true personality is and to be compassionate to myself and in turn learn to love myself more.

    1. Thank you for your insightful post, Jo. That’s exactly what I’m going through but couldn’t find the words to fully express what it is that I’m experiencing. The way in which you have expressed the process of awareness and healing is spot on. Your a gem!

  4. This has been something I have struggled with for some time and I love your blog post about it. Lately though, I’ve really been working on it and moving past it, giving up and letting go of those that just want everything. I am finding that if I deplete myself in order to be there for them, it doesn’t do much good for me long term. It is a process of growth through all the stuff that was taught to me as a kid. A continuing journey.

  5. Bryan Douglas Hong Kar Loon

    Thank you for providing an invaluable insight on what it’s like for an individual suffering from the consequences of trying to please everyone in life but oneself. I am at a point in life where I have come to realize that avoiding conflicts or disagreements with all of my loved ones have produced nothing but chaos and resentment in not only my relationships but within myself. Knowing all of these things, would it be best for me to seek help or advice from an impartial third-party, for example a therapist, on effective ways of myself overcoming and correcting my behaviors? I would appreciate any tips regarding this, thank you.

    1. Bryan,
      If you have access to therapy, I think it’s a wonderful resource to give you more personalized guidance and support as you try to make positive changes in your life.

  6. Sharon as I read your information on CoDA I have cried. I am seeking how to face this monkey on my back. You have helped by validation of my feelings thank you. I pray for this help.

  7. This is such good info! Where can I purchase your books? Also, is the ebook available in print? I don’t do ebooks. Thank you so much for what you do! Kathy

  8. I am always trying to set boundaries with an adult child who has serious drug and alcohol addiction. I feel like it is impossible and given up I am so tired frustrated hurt and angry feel like hostage in my house with no one else to turn too I am grateful for your post and advice it gives my father had a drink problem through out his life I feel I have cared for everyone and got lost along the way ? you give people struggling hope ❤️ Suzanne

  9. I’m a 55 year old male was married for 25 yrs now divorced for 7 yrs I still can’t get over my ex wife I realized I’m in a codependent relationship with her it’s hard to let go because I still love her we have three adult children two who don’t speak to her she is in a relationship but it wasn’t clear to me she made it seem it was nothing we’re always together I would take her to work and pick her up constant calls to each other seeing each other almost everyday for the past five years until last week I saw her with the other man I was devastated it hit me hard she’s been leading a double life I guess I’m in a love triangle she’s been lying to me all this time and I guess lying to him also I’m in Therapy once a week since my divorce I tried to be in other relationships but they don’t work out bc I feel guilty about being in them bc I still love my ex wife don’t know what to do

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