Being a People Pleaser

Be honest. Are you a people pleaser?

There’s no reason to be shy in owning up to this practice as you would be one among very many.

And as we all know people pleasers are just the nicest of people. They will go out of their way to help – or meet what they perceive to be the demands or requirements – of others and to say what they think others would like to hear.

Viewed from the perspective of those whom they seek to please, nothing seems like too much trouble for them.

So people pleasers are good for the world and we need more of them, surely?

Actually, ‘No’!

“I can’t tell you the key to success but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”

– Ed Sheeran

people pleaser

Being a people pleaser (continued)



It may, on the face of it, seem counterintuitive, but people who spend their energy trying to please others, are in fact contributing negatively to society.

That may seem very harsh, directed as it is at such apparently friendly, caring and self sacrificing people, but hear me out.


At the heart of the problem with people pleasers is self-neglect.

The greatest and most effective contributors to our world are those who know their purpose in life and are fully aligned with it.

These are also the happiest and most fulfilled individuals as they live authentic lives, doing what they love and doing it to the best of their ability. In carrying out the purpose for which they are here, they are guided by their inner beings.

These contributors know full well that to give of their best they must live at their best. Or in other words, they must, first and foremost, take care of their own physical, mental and spiritual health.

You shrink as a person

People pleasers see things differently.

Because they are externally driven, by the apparent needs and wants of others, they tend to ignore their own inner voices or allow those voices to be drowned out by what they see as the needs and expectations of those around them. In other words, others take priority!

When you continually prioritise other people and their needs such that you neglect yourself and your own needs, you shrink as a person. Ongoing self-neglect will eventually manifest in exhaustion, poor health, disillusionment, frustration, resentment … and even anger. All of these diminish your capacity to give back.

As a people pleaser, you may derive some satisfaction from appearing to be a selfless individual. However, as difficult as it may sound, by consistently neglecting your own inner being you steadily erode your capability to make a positive contribution to this world.

In fact, the long-term effects of your self-neglect, may well render you a liability!

The cause of people pleasing

What is it that causes people to take a ‘people pleaser’ approach to life?

For one thing, we are conditioned by society to believe that everything we need in life can be found ‘on the outside’.

As I have written many times before in this Blog, we are taught from an early age to associate success with the degree to which we are able to amass material things, rather than the degree to which we feel genuinely happy.

The expectations of our external world weigh heavily upon us as we assimilate into adult working life. We can easily come to see the pursuit of success as something of a marathon battle to prove our worth in the world.

Unfortunately, there are two generic approaches that people often take in order to survive this perceived ‘battle’: ‘Take no prisoners’ or ‘Be everyone’s friend’.

People pleasers survive by trying to be wanted or needed by those whom they interact with.

They are guided by what they ’should do’ and ‘ought to do’ based on their perceptions of the expectations of others. They become disconnected from their inner beings and will readily ignore or override their intuitive selves to serve what they see as the needs of others.

Fear as a motive

Perhaps rather surprisingly, fear provides another unfortunate reason for the development of a ‘people pleaser’ approach to life.

Experience of rejection, abandonment or constant criticism early in life, or in an important early relationship, can result in one ascribing the resulting negative emotions to the fact that one has disappointed others.

Thus in order to enjoy a relatively stress free life, it becomes essential to ensure that everyone around you is kept happy.

Once again we see that people pleasing is adopted as survival strategy. In truth though, living for others and neglecting your own needs is a slow poison, that will gradually eat away at your very core.

What can be done?

At this point you may be thinking “OK, so what can be done to assist people pleasers?”

The answer lies in helping them to recognise that they are giving their power away by not living authentically.

Life coaching can be incredibly useful in helping people to take back control of their lives by re-thinking and re-structuring their relationships with their outside worlds.

A great question I love to ask people pleasers who want to change, is this:

“Do you want to be liked by others because you are nice to them … or would you rather be respected by others for the unique and authentic contribution you make to the world?”

Put yourself first

You put yourself first when you prioritise acting on your inner voice instead of reacting to all the ‘should dos’ and ‘ought to dos’ of your external world.

Putting yourself first is not selfish. On the contrary, it is a fundamental requirement for being the best person you can be.

And only by being the best you can be will you truly maximise what you give back to the world.

A genuine capacity for kindness to others starts with a genuine capacity to be kind to yourself!


This is the official Blog for New Insights Life Coach Training. Find out more about life coaching and becoming a life coach here:



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  1. Peter Holroyd
    Apr 5, 2017

    Thank you Bill, for this email in it’s entirety. It has reached me at a very significant time in my life when I have just walked away from my job of three weeks because I felt totally out of sorts doing it and it was becoming very uncomfortable.

    As I entered the building this morning my gut feeling was telling me that this is not me and not something I am comfortable with.

    I too had an upbringing with parents of the should do and ought to brigade, but at my time of life and to be true to myself I have to walk away from that which does not sit comfortably.

    • Bill
      Apr 5, 2017

      A lovely example that adds value to the post – thank you Peter!

  2. Cheryl Eley
    Feb 27, 2017

    Thank you Bill for your insightful, practical and valuable article on ‘Being a People Pleaser’. I believe this dysfunctional way of relating to others, can relate back to our childhood, our upbringing. My father and mother were both very authoritarian parents, which at times came across as being critical and lacking in acceptance of their children.

    There was the perception that us siblings needed to ‘earn’ their acceptance. I firmly believe this can provide the catalyst for becoming a ‘People Pleaser’, as it is a learned behaviour.

    I am currently having to prioritize my goals and activities, focusing on those that serve my life purpose. It has been a hard lesson to learn, and comes with the down-side of now not being as popular with certain ‘friends’.

    When you are no longer as accommodating, you quickly discover who your true friends are, and then attempt to sift out those who may have had alternate agendas.

    Although not a Catholic, while staying at one of their retreats, to recover from burnout as a counsellor, I had the opportunity to speak to a Catholic Priest.

    The priest shared these wise words with me: ‘Cheryl, when counselling or helping others, you need to do it out of the overflow of your compassion, love and energy. In that way you will never be emotionally depleted or physically exhausted.’

    This implies that we exercise extreme self-care, self-awareness, love and acceptance of ourselves. This can be attained through, maintaining a balanced life-style, exercising, exploring spirituality, engaging with hobbies, meditation, reading and spending time with special friends.

    Your question to people-pleasers, made an impression on me, and it’s a tool I will keep in mind as I study to become a Life Coach:
    ‘“Do you want to be liked by others because you are nice to them … or would you rather be respected by others for the unique and authentic contribution you make to the world?”

    Again, thank you Bill for the thought-provoking article!

    • Bill
      Feb 28, 2017

      And thank you, Cheryl, for this very insightful and interesting comment. It is greatly appreciated and adds depth and diversity to our Blog!

  3. Michelle Bloem
    Feb 15, 2017

    This is a very valuable article. In my current job I see so many people with this problem.
    I used to be a people pleaser myself and it literally burns you out.
    Since I have started to really dig deep into myself looking for my life purpose, I have become a much happier and healthier person and can even see the world more objectively.
    You can really only give truly to others if your own cup is running over.
    This takes daily work and dedication to maintenance of the self.
    Only when you love yourself first can you truly love other people.
    Thank you so much for this inspired post!

    • Bill
      Feb 15, 2017

      Thanks for your interesting contribution Michelle!

    • Tichaona Fata
      Mar 1, 2017

      Very true Michelle, being a people pleaser usually burn you out. Commitment is usually directed towards doing the best for others at the expense of one’s own family and you rightly said, love and please your own ways first and then other

      Thanks Michelle, I love this one

  4. Meloncia
    Feb 6, 2017

    Thank you Bill, It’s funny how the realization sink that one can be somewhere in that sense unknowingly and need to deal with it.

  5. Debbie
    Feb 3, 2017

    Thanks for this great blog Bill,definitely has me looking at people pleasing from a different perspective !.
    I`m going to work on being kinder to my self,in order to give the best of myself.

    • Bill
      Feb 3, 2017

      Good for you Debbie!

  6. Emile Cronje
    Feb 2, 2017

    Wonderful insights in this article, thank you Bill!

  7. Vusi
    Feb 1, 2017

    I keep reading this life changing inspirational blog i thank you very much coz it somewhere talks to me and i’ll make it a point that i enroll for this course dark or blue

    • Bill
      Feb 2, 2017

      Dark or blue? That’s a saying I’m not yet familiar with 🙂

  8. Hloni
    Feb 1, 2017

    It is so sad that some people sacrifice so much to be appreciated by others cant even know when to draw the line….they sink more and more. Its true “sometimes we are our worst enermies”. Thanks Bill for this inspiring piece.

    • Bill
      Feb 2, 2017

      You’re welcome!

  9. Henry W Arendse
    Feb 1, 2017

    Hi Bill you are so right. People pleasers feel captured by what other people think of them. You have once more clarified this concept so well. Thanks for sharing your brilliant insights with us.

    • Bill
      Feb 1, 2017

      Great to hear from you again Henry – happy 2017!

  10. Nkosi
    Feb 1, 2017

    True. I have a friend who is exactly at that place and they’ve been crying out about how empty they feel and how everyone around them seems to want more and more from them. I have a starting point to discuss and help them. Thank you Bill. As always very helpful post.

    • Bill
      Feb 1, 2017

      You are most welcome!

  11. Karen
    Feb 1, 2017

    What a convincing piece of writing, Bill. Just imagine the potential outcome if every single human being applied this basic principle to his or her life.

    • Bill
      Feb 1, 2017

      Thanks Karen.

  12. Ellen
    Feb 1, 2017

    This is so true. I can see myself in these words.

    • Bill
      Feb 1, 2017

      I hope you find the post helpful 🙂

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