Exploring the Irresistible Need to Please

Written by on December 4, 2014 in Emotional Mastery, Self-Care

Need to pleaseThere’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to please people, including ourselves. After all, most of the time it makes us feel good and how can it hurt to occasionally make reasonable sacrifices for the benefit of others?

As innocent as being “helpful” may sound, you may be surprised to learn that people pleasing really isn’t all about satisfying the needs of others … it’s also about our effort to control what others think of us and fend off fears of rejection.

You will never gain anyone’s approval by begging for it. When you stand confident in your own worth, respect follows. ~Mandy Hale

Depending upon the circumstances, the need to please may stem from low self esteem, weak personal boundaries, a learned behavior as a result of family influences growing up, or it may have simply become a habit you can’t figure out how to break.

Unfortunately, the culture we have created for ourselves has added a whole new layer of anxiety to the mix because we are so heavily driven by popularity bias. Businesses, social media, families, friendships, sports, politics; everything is heavily influenced by it.

Do You Have the Need to Please?

  • Do you say yes, even when your mind says no?
  • Do you try to live up to others expectations?
  • Do you find it difficult to take initiative?
  • Do you cringe at the first sign of conflict?
  • Do you find it difficult to speak up for yourself?
  • Do you feel devastated at the thought of someone not liking you?
  • Do you lose sleep over the slightest altercation with another person?
  • Do you help people even when they haven’t asked, and then feel resentful if they don’t show ‘enough’ gratitude?
Some people stand and move as if they have no right to the space they occupy. They wonder why others often fail to treat them with respect–not realizing that they have signaled others that it is not necessary to treat them with respect. ~Nathaniel Branden

People who have an irresistible need to please find it almost impossible to say no because they worry that others will view them as lazy, uncaring or selfish. Sadly, the fear of being disliked or cut from the group, whether it’s friends, family or co-workers, also makes one an irresistible target for bullies.

If this sounds all too familiar, these strategies may help you.

Strategies to Overcome the Need to Please

Begin with an Honest Self Assessment

If you believe you are a people pleaser, the first thing to do is take an honest look at all the ways this is affecting your life. Do you find that you repeatedly say yes to requests from others, only to end up feeling bitter and resentful? Do you ever feel overwhelmed with too many commitments? What’s holding you back from saying no without feeling guilty? Becoming more self aware about your motivations for pleasing others is critical to regaining a sense of balance in your relationships – which is ultimately about setting healthy personal boundaries.

Reaffirm Your Highest Priorities

Knowing and recommitting to your highest priorities and values will help you to put the brakes on people-pleasing. Saying no without feeling guilty can be difficult, especially when it involves people you love and work with. But if saying yes prevents you from being able to do other things that are important to you or essential to achieving your goals, you need to learn how to say no without guilt – and you don’t have to explain why or offer excuses. A simple “I’m sorry I can’t help you with that,” will do. Rather than falling into “guilt mode” feel proud of yourself for focusing on the things that matter in your life.

Think Before You Commit

Whenever someone asks you for a favor, it’s perfectly okay to say that you need to think about it. This gives you the opportunity to consider if you can commit to helping them. (Be sure and take the opportunity to ask the person for details about the commitment so you can make an informed decision.) Then ask yourself if you really have the time to do this. What will you have to give up in order to fulfill this commitment? How pressured are you going to feel? Are you going to end up resentful of this person for asking? Asking these questions is key to preventing “What was I thinking?!” regrets later on.

Consider if You’re Being Manipulated

The sad truth is sometimes people are going to take advantage of you. Often the people who rely on flattery to get what they want will say things like, “Oh you’re so much better at this than I am!” or “You’re so handy, can you help me out just this one time?” Manipulators will gently coax you into doing something and before you know it the decision has been made for you.

Don’t Feel You Need to Defend Yourself

It’s tempting to want to defend your decision to say no to someone so they understand your reasoning but that can not only back fire on you, it sets you up as coming from a place of weakness. It’s better to simply show a little empathy by explaining that you understand where they’re coming from, but unfortunately, you can’t help. People need to feel heard and understood, and this is a respectful way of asserting yourself and saying no.

Creating healthy boundaries isn’t selfish. When you say no to a new commitment, you’re honoring your existing obligations and ensuring that you’ll be able to devote quality time to them … there’s nothing worse than not being able to address a real need because our time is being consumed by our inability to say no to the squeaky wheels that surround us.

How about you? Have you ever found yourself falling into the habit of saying yes when you really didn’t want to just to please someone else? Do you have trouble knowing where to draw the line on how helpful to be?

Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living  click here.


Thank you for sharing!

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  1. Lynne

    I must say that I am guilty of sometimes having the need to please others even if my mind is saying no. Yes, I am affected with what others think of me and this is what I have to overcome. The steps that you have shared is just what I need to stop being a people pleaser. Being honest with what I want and who I am is a great start. Thanks!
    Lynne recently posted…3 Steps to Becoming a Life Coach Who Achieves Fame and FortuneMy Profile

  2. Wow. I so loved this blog post, and found it eye-opening and very helpful. I suffer from some of these issues, and never realized it was out of a need to please. Boy, do I have some very wonderful things to think about now.
    Terri Herman-Ponce recently posted…10 Reasons I Love Sheldon CooperMy Profile

  3. martyherald says:

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts Sherill. I’m so pleased you enjoyed the article! 🙂

  4. martyherald says:

    Well I’m so glad Mark because that’s the whole point is to encourage readers to look at life from different perspectives. Always appreciate your thoughtful comments my friend! 🙂

  5. martyherald says:

    Oh my Monna, I’m so glad you reached out for some help! So glad you liked the article, and thanks for contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  6. martyherald says:

    Glad you enjoyed the article Doreen. As to going along, it really depends on personal priorities doesn’t it? It’s fine to go along for something minor but it’s another thing entirely to go along out of the need to fit in or if it means doing something that prevents you from being true to who you really are. These are choices no one else can make or us. Thanks so much for taking the time to contribute to the conversation!

  7. martyherald says:

    You’re welcome Summer and thank you for being a reader!

  8. martyherald says:

    So glad you enjoyed and found value in the article Julie. From the research I’ve read it’s not uncommon to fall into people-pleasing mode simply to avoid conflict and confrontation, and the truth is managing these emotions is something most of us could probably use a little work on. Thanks so much for taking the time to contribute to the conversation. 🙂

  9. sherill says:

    Hi, this is something really very informative. It is very hard to say NO at times because we don’t want to hurt the feelings of others but unknowingly we are hurting ourselves. Being aware and trying to resist the need to please others is a good attitude that we should enhance. Thanks for sharing a great reminder for all of us.
    sherill recently posted…Why Thanksgiving Is My Favorite HolidayMy Profile

  10. Mark

    Another humdinger Marquita!

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard the concept of wanting to please others expressed in such an insightful way!

    And it’s a perspective that I never would have even considered, were it not for this post!

    You’ve have really given me something to think about!

    And I truly thank you for it! What an eye opener!
    Mark recently posted…Why Do So Many Seemingly Savvy Bloggers Far Too Often Shoot Themselves In The Foot?My Profile

  11. Hi Marquita,

    Such a great post. I used to be the “people pleaser” to the point that I felt like I almost didn’t exist. I did take some “self assertiveness” classes and although I sometimes fall back a little, never to the extent I was when I was younger.

    Great advice for anyone going through this.
    Monna Ellithorpe recently posted…4 Crucial Points For Success in 2015My Profile

  12. Excellent post. I wouldn’t consider myself a people pleaser, but I do consider myself someone who tries to get things done in the most efficient way possible. I’m also a consensus builder, and sometimes it’s just better to go along with the needs or desires of others if you’re not compromising your own happiness or safety.
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…thankful for my friendsMy Profile

  13. Summer

    I always look forward to reading your blog posts. They are so insightful. Thank you for sharing with all of us!

  14. Julie Gorges

    I’ve been a people pleaser my whole life. In my 50s I’m finally getting better, but I wrote a whole blog on different ways to say no as a helpful tool for myself – and others who share this problem with me. Your suggestion to simply say you’ll think about it when someone puts you on the spot is a great idea. As I wrote in my article, “This response will give you time to consider your options, build up your courage, and say no with greater confidence. However, two of your questions hit a chord with me as to where I still need to make improvements: “Do you cringe at the first sign of conflict? Do you find it difficult to speak up for yourself? Truthfully, the answer is yes, so I need to use some of your suggestions to improve on those two!
    Julie Gorges recently posted…How to Quit Feeling OverwhelmedMy Profile

  15. martyherald says:

    I’m glad you found value in the article and strategies Dave. You know, whether they want to admit it or not, I think many (if not most) people are guilty of people-pleasing at times, but as you referenced in your comment the key is to keep from losing perspective and balance. Thanks for sharing Dave, I always appreciate your valuable insights. 🙂

  16. Dave

    Very well stated Marty. I have tough time saying no. I will be the first to agree that me saying yes is, in essence, me exercising control (rather futilely) on how others perceive me, even when the help requested is not always in my own best interest. The strategies you detail are perfect (in both substance and order) for helping to shift my desire to please others to a more balanced scale of pleasing others as well as myself.

    Thank you Marty, another winner in my book 🙂
    Dave recently posted…The keyMy Profile

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