People pleasing looks “nice” but it doesn’t work for a lot of reasons. Many years ago, I had a dream that sums up people pleasing beautifully. I was young and I wasn’t a therapist yet so I didn’t understand it then, but now I think of it as a gentle reminder.

In my dream, I could draw people and they would come to life. But they were never happy. So I drew more people to make them happy and then those people needed me to draw more people to make them happy and I couldn’t draw enough people to make all of the people happy so I just felt exhausted, defeated and like a failure. I had that dream twenty years ago and I still remember it.

Here’s the thing: people pleasing pleases everyone and nobody all at once.


When we aim to please others, we assume that we know what they want and what they need.

But everyone is wired differently and while you may think you know, you may be wrong. What if they are trying to please you and telling you what you want to hear too? You may both be so focussed on pleasing each other that neither of you has space to feel pleased.


People pleasing can feel inauthentic to other people.

If we are so focussed on pleasing someone, we sometimes neglect to show up in a sincere authentic way because we are not attuned to them. It’s hard to be so focussed on pleasing others and also share our own experience authentically.


People Pleasing often backfires

This came up with a client recently who was wanting to please all of their employees and feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. It is not your job to please all of your family or co-workers or staff. It can’t become your job because if it does, you will lose sight of the actual job and you will suffer. They might too if it impairs your ability to focus on what is important, professionally or personally. If the business is failing but your employees get what they want, they are not going to be happy if they lose their job as a result.


You will inevitably fail.

We can only please ourselves, truthfully. When we focus intensely on trying to please others, we often are working out our own trauma in those relationships. We rarely please them in the way that we hope. And often, we suffer because in trying to please others, we have lost focus on ourselves.

Today, I am giving you permission to stop people-pleasing.


Imagine how freeing it might be to let go of trying to please others.

But the question is, can you do it? And if not, why not?

People pleasing can be frustrating and exhausting — especially when we don’t mean to do it but can’t stop ourselves from doing it. When this arises, it’s worth addressing the foundational issues that fuel the people pleasing behaviors.

The foundation of people pleasing varies depending on the person. People pleasing is particularly common in families where there is a history of substance abuse and/or issues of codependency. Often times, people pleasing is rooted in trauma. Our brain develops unhealthy negative cognitions out of trauma that leave us putting other people’s wants and needs ahead of our own.

The best way to stop people pleasing is to address the foundational issues at the core of it.

The truth about my people pleasing dream is that I didn’t understand it at the time that I had it. I remember it feeling like a nightmare but I had no idea that my people pleasing would inadvertently pave the way to destructive life choices. I never imagined that I would find myself years later untangling my own people pleasing habits.

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