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The pitfalls of people-pleasing, and what to do instead

May 24th, 2024
By: Tobey Mandel, Clinical Psychologist

We are often in a position where we are navigating the complexities of important relationships. These relationships can be within our family, at work, in our social circle, or with the public. Typically, our goal is for our interactions to go smoothly, but at times this might mean that we are tempted to go outside of our comfort zone to please others, often at the expense of ourselves! Fortunately, it is possible to connect with others without sacrificing our own needs.

What is people-pleasing?

People-pleasing is saying “yes” to requests, even when they don’t align with your needs or values and suppressing your feelings to avoid upsetting others. It often arises when someone is trying to avoid any risk of rejection or conflict. It’s a behaviour rooted in seeking external validation rather than genuine connection, as the behaviour satisfies the other party but leaves the people-pleaser feeling depleted. Even though these individuals appear kind on the surface, people-pleasers struggle to assert their boundaries or express their needs, which ultimately impacts the development of meaningful relationships.

People-pleasing often stems from a need for validation and acceptance. From an early age, many of us are conditioned to seek approval from authority figures, whether it’s parents, teachers, or peers. As a result, we learn to prioritize others’ needs and desires over our own, fearing rejection or conflict if we assert ourselves.

This tendency to please others can become ingrained over time, impacting our interpersonal relationships and self-esteem. We may come to equate our worth with our ability to meet others’ expectations, leading to resentment and eventual burnout.

What can we do instead?

If our goal is to develop meaningful long-term relationships (without burning out in the process!), then we can aim to transition from a mindset of people-pleasing to agreeableness. Agreeableness stems from fostering empathy and genuine warmth toward others, supporting them without undermining our own needs, and setting limits when necessary. When being agreeable, our goal is not simply to please the other person, it is to consider the other person but also prioritize our own self in the process.

We can move from people-pleasing to agreeableness in the following ways:

  • Ask yourself your intention: Are you being kind because you genuinely care about someone’s well-being, or are you doing it to avoid upsetting the other person? Try to cultivate awareness around your motivations in the moment.
  • Aim for balance: Begin by trying to empathize with the other person by putting yourself in their shoes, and then take into consideration your own needs and values. By being curious about the other person’s experience as well as your own, you can move toward a connection that is more balanced and authentic.
  • Set boundaries when necessary: Practice naming what your limits are. Boundaries represent what we can and cannot offer (emotionally, mentally, practically, etc.) to others, and help protect us from burn out or resentment. They are based in our needs and values, and can evolve over time.
  • Tolerate distress: Part of moving away from people-pleasing involves accepting and allowing other’s to be disappointed or upset with our choices. This is a normal and important part of interpersonal relationships, and we can cultivate a tolerance for other’s big feelings over time.

At the end of the day, being helpful and flexible is wonderful—but not at the expense of your own well-being and authenticity. So, next time you find yourself in a situation where you’re tempted to people-please, take a step back and ask yourself: Am I being genuinely kind, or am I just trying to keep everyone else happy?


Braiker, H. B. (2001). The Disease to Please: Curing the People-Pleasing Syndrome.
McGraw-Hill Education.

Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed
to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Hazelden Publishing

Ooms, V. (2022). Do It For You: How to Stop People-Pleasing and Find Peace. Vanooms Media Inc.


About the author

Tobey Mandel received her PhD in Clinical Psychology at McGill University, in Montreal, Quebec, and is a psychologist at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogs, podcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.