On the surface, it seems like you’re just helpful. Overly nice. Super agreeable. But for those of us who are real “people pleasers,” there’s occasionally something deeper behind the consistent answer of, “Yes!” Sometimes we’re putting others needs before our own — bending over backwards to help, while not thinking about ourselves. And while people pleasing is not a symptom of a specific mental illness, many people facing mental health challenges might find it’s easier to attend to others’ needs than deal with their own. Instead of facing themselves head on, they throw their self-worth onto others.
While it seems easier to say, “Yes!” sometimes part of a mental health journey is learning how to say, “No.” Acknowledging that you’re people pleasing and getting behind the deeper reason behind it is a great start.
We asked people in our mental health community to share one thing they wish others understood about being a “people pleaser.”
Here’s what they had to say:
1. “I am a people pleaser because I want to avoid conflict. Even the beginnings of conflict can send me into a panic attack so please do not take advantage of me just because I seem to always say yes. I’m just doing this to protect my own sanity.” — Kira M.
2. “I wish they understood that if I do say no to something, I feel an extreme amount of guilt. I hate letting people down and I avoid conflict whenever I can. I hate that I can’t say no, but the guilt of it is just too much to bear.” — Jenn K.
3. “I am a people pleaser because I don’t want to give people a reason not to like me. Living with anxiety, depression, and borderline personality disorder, I tend to push people away unintentionally. Because of that I will go out of my way to please someone else with the hopes that they will be my friend. I wish people understood I am not trying to be clingy though. Sometimes I feel like I am trying too hard to make someone happy and that pushes them away too.” — Ashleigh T.
4. “It’s exhausting. It’s overwhelming when you feel like you’re being pulled in 10 different directions trying to help more than one person at a time. Also, it’s so hard to say ‘no’ and it hurts so much. The guilt weighs on you when you finally muster up the courage to actually say no.” — Brandy B.
5. “I wish they understood I just want everything and everyone happy. My mind of such a tangled web of thoughts and emotion and yet in a fog and unfeeling, that if I can bring even a little peace to the outside world, I am happy too.” — Christina G.
6. “I can’t say no. I want people to like me, so I will do whatever they want. I realize I’m most likely being taken advantage of, but if I say no, they’ll hate me. I also don’t like accepting things or having others do things for me, as I feel that I don’t deserve it.” — Kate S.
7. “I’m a people pleaser because I honestly feel like others needs are more important than my own. If everyone is OK then that will make me ‘OK.’ Please don’t take advantage of my kindness. Try to get me to see that my needs matter too.” — Tara R.
8. “I worry about what people are thinking about me, and what I’m saying or doing is often different than how I really feel. I’m a really good actor.” — Nick D.
9. “I please people because I don’t want them to in any way feel what I feel. I could not imagine being part of a reason for someone else to feel this horrible about themselves. I will do everything I possibly can to give anyone what they want — even if it hurts me to some extent.” — Adriana R.
10. “I know my people pleasing behaviors are not always healthy, but they’re a plea for acceptance and validation. If you love me and notice my unhealthy behaviors, come alongside me and show me I don’t always have to meet expectations to be loved.” — Rachel P.
11. “I have anxiety, but I also really feel like I need to please people, and when I let people down it makes my anxiety so much worse. I want to do everything for people and people always use me because of this. I wish people would understand how scary it feels for me to let people down. My family always tells me that I shouldn’t care what others think, but it really isn’t that easy.” — Meagan P.
12. “I’ve been described as a ‘people pleaser,’ and I think it’s my way of protecting myself. If others perceive me as this happy-go-lucky person who’s always willing to help they won’t see how much I’m struggling; I am petrified of being vulnerable, to have people know something so intimate about me. To a certain extent, it’s also because I hate myself so much, part of me wants to show others the love/kindness I can’t show myself.” — Natasha N.
13. “When I’m trying to make everyone else’s life easier, I’m really trying to keep my mind off how terrible I feel inside.” — Amy H.
14. “It’s really tiring and sometimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it and possibly putting my recovery in danger.” — Erin B.
15. “I am a people pleaser because I don’t want anyone to dislike me because I have a mental illness… just because I have a mental illness does not mean I am difficult.” — Sherrie T.
16. “I am a ‘people pleaser’ because my borderline personality disorder makes me fear losing you, therefore I’ll bend over backwards to do things that make you happy, even if it means sacrificing my own time and energy.” — Nicole P.
17. “I know I have disappointed people in the past by saying yes and then not following through because I had a panic attack or couldn’t get out of bed or didn’t remember due to my ADHD. It’s hard weighing the cost of disappointing someone by saying no versus saying yes and then possibly disappointing them when you have to back out at the last minute or just forget to do what you promised. I’m trying to set better boundaries.” — Nicole C.