A people-pleaser is an individual who routinely puts others’ needs ahead of their own. This type of person is highly sensitive to those around them – and is considered helpful, kind, and amiable. At first, the traits of a people-pleaser can seem admirable and noble. And why not? The world can be a difficult place, and we could all use a little more kindness and generosity. Unfortunately, people-pleasers rarely know how to advocate for themselves, neglecting their own needs and falling into a harmful cycle of self-neglect and self-sacrifice. This pattern is due to a personality trait known as “sociotropy.” These individuals become overly concerned with pleasing others and think the only way to maintain their relationships is by earning others’ approval.

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Identifying Traits of a People-Pleaser

There are several traits that people-pleasers tend to exhibit.

  • Difficulty saying no – or feeling guilty about saying no
  • Overly worried about what people think
  • The belief that turning people down will appear mean or selfish
  • Feelings of low-self esteem
  • Wanting to be liked, doing things for people to earn approval
  • Always apologizing
  • Taking the blame no matter the circumstance
  • Never having free time because of commitments to other people
  • Neglecting personal needs to do things for others
  • Feigning agreement with people

People-pleasers are often very empathetic and can tune in to others’ emotions and feelings. While seen as thoughtful and caring, these individuals also tend to exhibit poor self-image, control issues, or a tendency to overachieve. Sadly, they also often feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, or even depressed.

What Causes People-Pleasing?

It can be difficult to understand how negative mental attitudes can result in seemingly benevolent behavior. However, in order to stop people-pleasing activities, the individual must identify some of the undercurrents of why they act the way they do. These root causes might include the following:

Low self-esteem: When someone doesn’t value or recognize their own worth, external validation becomes necessary to feel accepted.
Insecurity: In some cases, people who are afraid that others don’t like them will go above and beyond to gain favor.
Perfectionism: Perfectionists need to control everything in their lives and have it just how they want it – including how other people feel.
Past trauma: Those who have experienced past painful or traumatic events often try to be as amicable as possible to avoid encountering abusive behavior.

Effects of Being a People-Pleaser

People-pleasing isn’t always a negative thing, and being a compassionate and kind person is an essential part of developing and keeping healthy relationships. People-pleasing becomes an issue, however, if the motivation behind the helpful behavior is gaining approval or trying to build up some self-esteem.

Those who are trying to please others without pure intent may experience some of the following:

Frustration and Anger: When someone is reluctantly helping others or doing so out of obligation, a harmful cycle can develop. They help someone, then get mad and frustrated because they feel taken advantage of.
Stress and Anxiety: When people have too much on their plate because they are trying to keep everyone happy, they can experience mental and physical stress.
Loss of Authenticity: People-pleasers suppress their own wants and needs to accommodate others, making them feel their life is not authentic. Hiding their true self makes it difficult to develop genuine, reciprocal relationships.
Resentment: When someone puts all their effort into meeting other people’s expectations, it is common to suspect that people are taking their generosity for granted – even if they aren’t.

What About Just Being Nice?

There is a difference between doing things out of kindness and simply pleasing others. People do nice things for various reasons: to help out, to return a favor, or because it makes them feel good. But if the motivation is to avoid feeling disliked or rejected, people-pleasing is behind their actions.

Stay Tuned! In our next blog, we will examine how people-pleasers can establish boundaries and learn to have more symbiotic relationships.

Denise Schonwald is a nationally licensed mental health counselor dedicated to helping her clients reclaim their lives from trauma and negative mindsets. For more information on coaching, workshops, or individual counseling sessions, click here to set up a free 30-minute consultation.

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