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  • Deborah Moyer

When People Pleasing Turns Unhealthy

Can a “people-pleasing” personality characteristic become an unhealthy habit?

On the surface, it seems like an altruistic and positive personality characteristic. After all, most of us have been taught from an early age that helping and making others happy is something to be admired.

But, the reality is that unhealthy habits can also be created from the best of intentions. We may be unwittingly trying to do something nice for someone else, but end up creating unhappiness for ourselves.


“People-pleasing” is more than someone being congenial, considerate, and easy-going.

It goes to the core of a person’s sense of well-being, level of confidence, and self-worth. It defines who they feel they are allowed to be, what they can do and how they are expected to act or react with others.

If you’re a “pleaser”, it can start to wear on you over time, as if you’re playing a lifetime, mind-numbing game of “Mother May I” with no chance of ever winning.

“People-pleasers” gauge their world, and themselves, through other people’s eyes. Their sense of being and validation is based on the opinions and approval of others instead of drawing it from within themselves.

When we’re facing a problem in a healthy way, we go through a process of evaluating the positive and negative influences or outcomes that may result from a decision.

We weigh the consequences or benefits against the long and short-term effects it could have on our lives, both physically and emotionally.

Will it adversely affect an important relationship we have at home or work? Is there risk involved? Who do I trust?


To be healthy, we also need to consider the effect that decision could have on others. After all, we’re all sharing the same planet and what affects one person often creates a ripple effect to others in our social and work environments.

But, what makes this behavior different from a “people-pleaser” is that, in the case of a “pleaser”, more weight is given to earning approval than whether it’s truly in their own best interest.

In other words, pleasing others becomes the primary driver behind every decision they make in life.

Their mind dialog might go something like this: “If I do or say what this person wants me to, will they then appreciate or love me more for it?”

At no time does a “pleaser” automatically ask themselves whether the effort will be a detriment to their emotional or physical well-being.

For example, say a boss tells an employee that he wants her to take on a large new project. If the employee’s workload is already at capacity, a healthier response would be to communicate her concern about not having the time or resources to handle it.

A “pleaser” would smile and accept the work without a thought, knowing it would make her boss happy. Doing so, though, means she’ll have to work longer hours, maybe even come in on weekends, or possibly cancel an upcoming vacation trip with her family.

People Pleasing Has a Dark Side

A more serious example would be a “pleaser” being asked to do something unethical, dangerous, or harmful by someone they love or seeking approval from.

Social, physical, or emotional boundaries, that are meant to protect a “pleaser”, may be ignored if it keeps them from experiencing the approval or acceptance they need.

Unfortunately, this is a trap that many unwittingly fall into when they find themselves in relationships that become abusive or manipulative.

The need for love and approval is so strong, they forego their own safety to receive it. But, not everyone’s situation is as nefarious.

Sometimes the people, or person, whose approval or appreciation is being sought, are completely unaware that they have such a profound effect on the emotional well-being of the “pleaser” in their life.

This is because pleasing personalities rarely share their unhappiness or pain out of fear of rejection. Maintaining the status quo, then, becomes the ultimate and urgent goal.

Any needs they may have had instantly fall to the wayside. Often, they feel they are being selfish just asking for what many would consider a simple social courtesy.

They start to justify to themselves, and others, why their needs aren’t as important as the person they love.

To the “pleaser”, there’s only one thing left to do at that point. They must work harder to maintain acceptance because they want to avoid any potential for rejection.

Time for Self-Reflection

If any of this is starting to sound familiar to you, then it might be time to step back and spend some focused time on why you are willing to sacrifice your own needs for the perception of receiving love.

I say perception because a true and healthy form of love, or respect, never comes from one party getting everything they want or need, while the other half’s needs are being sacrificed.

So, can you please others without falling into the negative side of “people-pleasing”?

Absolutely! The good news is that “people-pleasing” is a learned behavior.

It typically starts early in life through observing and mimicking the behavioral traits of those we grew up around. But, we learn through every phase of life. Habits can be broken and replaced with healthier thoughts, beliefs, and actions if you stay focused and committed.

Ask Yourself

Here’s where you can start that process. Ask yourself these questions:

1. What’s the “why” behind my need to please others? In other words, am I doing things I wouldn’t normally do if I weren’t trying to get some form of love, approval, or acceptance?

2. Does my self-worth depend on how others see or value me?

3. Am I asking for, and receiving, what I need from others, or do I feel bad for even asking?

4. Do I place other's happiness above my own?

5. Are these behaviors affecting my quality of life or preventing me from having the happiness I deserve?

Above all, know this.

Putting your health and well-being first is not a selfish act. Those that truly love you will always support you in that goal because they want you to be happy and healthy.

I know that finding balance in your life can seem challenging, but you won’t get there unless you start by asking for what you need and then wholeheartedly believe it’s your divine birthright to receive it.

So, my friend, as I always say….stay safe, stay healthy and stay strong!


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