Mar 11

Stop People-Pleasing: Suggested Ways for Your Own Good

Do you want to stop people-pleasing?

In 2000 psychologist Harriet B. Braiker put a spotlight on the dangers of a certain addiction not commonly addressed as such. Her book The Disease To Please: Curing the People-Pleasing Syndrome included a list of “The Ten Commandments of People-Pleasing” (which of course are actually what not to do):

  1. I should always do what others want, expect, or need from me.
  2. I should take care of everyone around me whether they ask for help or not.
  3. I should always listen to everyone’s problems and try my best to solve them.
  4. I should always be nice and never hurt anyone’s feelings.
  5. I should always put other people first, before me.
  6. I should never say “no” to anyone who needs or requests something of me.
  7. I should never disappoint anyone of let others down in any way.
  8. I should always be happy and upbeat and never show any negative feelings to others.
  9. I should always try to please other people and make them happy.
  10. I should try never to burden others with my own needs or problems.

Social psychologist Susan Newman‘s The Book of No (2005) is also about this approval-seeking syndrome and ways to stop people-pleasing.

With my paraphrasing of the explanations, here’s a list of 21 different strategies (from Margaret Tartakovsky’s article on the topic) that can help someone recover:

1. Realize you have a choice. To say no, that is.

2. Set your priorities. And let them be your guide.

3. Stall. Either take time to consider the request, or if pressed for an immediate answer and you’re unsure, you can say no.

4. Set a time limit. Don’t be open-ended with the amount of time you can commit.

5. Consider if you’re being manipulated. Flattery is often involved.

6. Create a mantra. Something that helps you curb your people-pleasing impulses.

7. Say no with conviction. Remember you have good reasons for saying no.

8. Use an empathic assertion. “…(Y)ou let the person know that you understand where they’re coming from, but unfortunately, you can’t help.”

9. Consider if it’s worth it. Some things are better left unsaid.

10. Don’t give a litany of excuses. The more you say, the more the other person will find ways to work around those things.

11. Start small. Baby steps.

12. Practice successive approximation. After each small step, reward yourself.

13. Don’t apologize — if it’s not your fault. Are you really responsible for the situation?

14. Remember that saying no has its benefits. You’ll have more time and energy for your own life.

15. Set clear boundaries — and follow through.

16. Don’t be scared of the fallout. It’s usually not nearly as bad as you think it will be.

17. Consider who you want to have your time. Some relationships are more important than others.

18. Self-soothe. Use self-talk that reminds you of “your priorities and boundaries.”

19. Recognize when you’ve been successful. A journal could help you keep track.

20. Keep a confidence file. Things that support your confidence, e.g., complimentary cards and emails you’ve received.

21. Realize that you can’t be everything to everyone. People-pleasing may have temporary results you like, but over time it can be more hurtful than anything else, including that people will ask more and more of you.

But let’s not end there. Dr. Susan Biali has more advice, per a relatively recent Psychology Today post. Her seven tips (again with paraphrasing) on how to stop people-pleasing:

1)  Cultivate awareness. Look for your patterns and get to know how, why, when you people-please.

2)  Know the difference between goodwill and pleasing. Do things because it really will enhance your life or make you feel good.

3) Understand where it comes from. Does it have its roots in childhood? If not, how did it start?

4) Pay close attention to bad feelings. “Often people-pleasing is so deeply ingrained that you don’t even notice you are doing it; the negative feelings you have afterwards (or towards another person, period) may be the only clue.”

5) Don’t worry about becoming “selfish.” “Truly selfish people don’t worry that they’re being selfish! They don’t care.”

6) Pay attention to your posture. “Standing or sitting tall and breathing deeply will help you keep your promises to yourself in the face of pressure from others. Cowering in front of a bully also makes it more likely that they’ll up the ante.”

7) Get professional help. If you have trouble changing ingrained behaviors on your own.