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People Pleasing – A slippery slope of good intentions

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be used in place of professional advice, treatment, or care in any way. Lawyers, law students, judges, and other legal professionals in Massachusetts can find more on scheduling a Free & Confidential appointment with a licensed clinician here.

The phrase “people-pleaser” is not often used as a compliment. It is the tendency to prioritize pleasing others as the cost of almost all else. This can lead to both positive and negative outcomes. The hope of people-pleasers is often to maintain a positive reputation and/or to minimize the displeasure of others. Behind the habit of people-pleasing is a fear. For some, it is the fear of admitting weaknesses or being thought of as less than. For others, it is the fear of what would happen if they disappointed the people whose opinions are most valued.

The problem with people-pleasing, like most things, is when it becomes unhealthy. Pleasing others in moderation is a good thing. This is a basic element of good relationships. The problem starts when people-pleasing takes priority over truth and honesty. This is where the slippery slope occurs. In order to maintain the image that you are without weaknesses or to maintain a constant positive self-image in the eyes of the other person, you need to deny the truth more and more. This quickly leads to feeling overwhelmed, making decisions that you normally would not in order to maintain the façade, as well as an increasing added fear that one day everyone will find out.

If you find yourself in the pattern of people-pleasing, whether it is in your personal or professional lives, try breaking the pattern and confronting what it is that you fear might happen.

  1. Try admitting weakness or mistakes to someone whose opinion of you matters greatly.
  2. Practicing saying “no” to others and sitting with the discomfort of disappointing them without trying to “fix it”.
  3. Actively adjust the expectations of others by resisting the urge to over-promise and instead talk about very realistic expectations.

The more you actively practice these and similar techniques, the more resilient you will become. The more resilient you become, the more confidence you will feel. The more confidence you feel, the less fear you will feel about your future.


Shawn Healy, PhD


CATEGORIES: Anxiety | Burnout | Career & Practice Concerns | Depression | Stress & Resilience

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