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Lesson 6.2 - People pleasing: what it is and how it works


video lesson




Welcome to lesson 2 of this sixth module and in this lesson we’re going to get a deep understanding of people pleasing behavior.

As women, we’re taught to be humble. We don’t want to come across as brash or abrasive or cocky because we want to be liked. And we definitely don’t want to be caught feeling incompetent, so we won’t assert our full confidence unless we feel we’re over-prepared to deliver.

All of this started when we were little girls. We were taught to say ‘yes’ and ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. We’re taught the most important thing to being a girl is to always please others. We’re taught to be quiet and to know our place. We’re taught to be seen and not heard. We’re taught to never disagree with a grown up, to always do exactly as the teacher says, and to certainly never embarrass or show up a boy.

All of this to say that there’s a societal norm and a cultural bias at play here. And that’s important to remember.

What people pleasing looks like

We might not even realize it, but here’s how people pleasing can show up for us:

  • We talk smack with the girls just to contribute something to the conversation.

  • We overlook toxic behavior and allow people to slander and manipulate us.

  • We try to fix our family, give unsolicited advice, judge them for not being the way we want them to be, and let our boundaries crumble when we visit home.

  • We avoid difficult conversations in fear. With just about everyone.

  • We blame others for not honoring our values with heavy resentment as a result.

  • We bite our tongue when we should have spoken up.

  • We let the opinions of others have power over what we share and we are wayyyy too aware of what others think.

Again, you might not even have realized before that these behaviors are rooted in people pleasing, but they are.

Here are some more signs you might be a people pleaser.

Telling someone ‘no’ physically pains you. As a result, you’ll usually be the one to take on extra work or go out on a Friday night when you really just wanted to stay home. Why? Because disappointing someone is your kryptonite.

You have a habit of saying you’re sorry. Get in someone’s way on the train? You apologize. Take a little time to respond to an email? You apologize. Accidentally walk into a dining room chair? You apologize.

Conflict terrifies you. While nobody likes an argument, people pleasers avoid it even more than most.

You tend to over-explain yourself. On the rare occasion you can’t do something, you tend to go into great detail as to why.

You’ll likely accept any invitation. To a wedding, to the movies, to that weird bowling league your neighbor invites you to.

You won’t pick where to go for dinner, because decisions are EXCRUCIATING. “I’m up for anything!” is your go-to phrase.

You secretly like being that person everyone depends on. It makes you feel good to help your coworkers, family and friends.

Okay, so… over to you. Use the worksheet to figure out how people pleasing shows up for you. Out of all the situations and circumstances I listed earlier, write down the top 5 that happen to you the most and that are the most relevant for your situation. Feel free to add circumstances I haven’t described. This is about getting clarity with regard to YOUR specific situation.

After writing down your top 5 people pleasing behaviors and situations, I want you to write down when each occurs. Be as detailed as possible. You saying sorry a lot happens not just when you’re with family, but specifically with your in-laws and even more specifically with sister-in law ABC or nephew XYZ. Get it? Don’t just write down ‘work’ as the situation when your people pleasing shows up, but write out that’s this specific project or that coworker.

Now that you’ve gotten clarity about WHAT and WHEN, it’s time to dig into the WHY. Use the third column on the worksheet to expand on why you feel the need to people please. What irks you about sister-in-law ABC or nephew XYZ? What is it about that work project that makes you turn from girlboss into doormat? What do you feel in that moment?

What is people pleasing exactly?

You might be wondering: “When you say people pleasing, what do you mean by that? What is people pleasing exactly? And what does perfectionism have to do with it?” Good questions! Let’s get it sorted out.

People pleasing is a behavioral pattern. It’s a series of behaviors you’ve probably started to use as a way of dealing with fear and uncertainty. A desire to please, searching for approval, and avoiding criticism are just some of these behaviors. And all of them are fueled by perfectionism.

The most painful and saddest thing about people pleasing is that it means you don’t think very highly of yourself and your capabilities. It means you don’t think you’re good enough and that you’re only good enough when someone else says so. It means hustling for your worth.

And then perfectionism comes along and lets you believe that if only things are perfect, people will like you and you won't be criticized. So, you set out on this neverending quest for perfection.

But the thing is…

It will never be perfect. Perfection is an illusion. It’s unattainable. It’s a hamster wheel in which you run in circles, but never reach the finish line.

Just because you’ll never achieve perfection doesn’t mean nobody will ever like you or appreciate your efforts.

People pleasing sucks you deeper into a cycle of self-doubt and low self-esteem and perfectionism is there to speed that cycle up.

Now, unless you have a magic super power, you have no control over other people's perceptions or responses. People will interpret what you do in your work and life as they want to. And they will react as they want to. If they want to criticize, they will criticize. All you can do is put yourself and your work out there and remind yourself that how people react to you says a great deal more about them than about you.

I want you to remember this: people pleasing isn’t an identifier. Don’t put that label on yourself. It’s not who you are, it’s what you do sometimes. People pleasing doesn’t say anything about you as person or about your character.

And just to debunk a myth here. Is all people pleasing bad? No. Wanting to please someone isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Here’s the distinction: lending someone a helping hand is a good deed, but cutting off your own arm to give someone your hand is BAD. Prioritizing someone else’s needs and values over your own, that’s when you’re in trouble.

Limiting beliefs that cause people pleasing

Okay, so we’ve established that people pleasing is a pattern of behavior. One of the many behaviors that are linked to the coping mechanism of perfectionism.

But behavior doesn’t just… happen. Right? Something is causing you to behave in a people pleasing manner. And that is a limiting belief you might have.

At the root of people pleasing behavior, or doormat-itude as I like to call it, is a mindset that subjugates you to the rest of the world. Let’s shine a light on three common limiting beliefs that are keeping you locked in to that mindset. And then, in the next lesson, I’m going to be sharing strategies to start turning these limiting beliefs around.

1. There’s a double standard for me and the rest of the world.

The people pleasing mindset is rife with double standards. A people pleaser can’t have an opinion, but it’s fine - preferable even - for others to say what they want.

People pleasers think standing up for themselves is somehow selfish, though they’d never say that about others. People pleasers believe their wants, needs, and rights are unimportant, while the wants, needs, and rights of others are paramount.

These are all double standards that put you in a position of passivity and opens you up to overwork and exploitation.

2. Pleasing someone means I’m a nice person.

This is a big one: when I people please, it means I’m a nice person. I mean, that’s how we were raised. That’s what we were taught to think and believe as a child.

The danger with this limiting belief is that we think that to stop being a people pleaser means having to be a not so nice person.

If you search online for “how not to care what other people think” or something similar, the results are littered with articles like “how not to give a f*ck” and images of triumphantly raised middle fingers. It sends the message that standing up for yourself means anger and confrontation.

If you’re like me, this isn’t what you’re looking for. It’s too mean, too nasty and off-putting. Telling people to go eff themselves isn’t my style. In the next lesson we’re going to go over a great way to stop people pleasing and stand up for yourself without being a mean girl.

3. Bad stuff will happen when I dare to stand up for myself.

The third really common limiting belief that holds people pleasers hostage is the belief that bad stuff will happen when you dare to stand up for yourself.

So #realtalk...

When you first start standing up for yourself, this belief might actually hold true. People don’t like change. Even if others didn’t like your formerly meek ways, they’ll like change even less… at first.

And there’s the catch: at first. It might take people a minute to adjust to your new way of being and interacting with them, but after that minute they shrug and move on.

Be honest: what could really, I mean really happen in that minute? Not much. You won’t get fired for speaking your mind and your relationship won’t end when you say you want to go see a different movie.


Worksheet time! I want you to take some time to really think about these 3 limiting beliefs and whether you - perhaps subconsciously - subscribe to them. Try to identify one belief that stands out for you, that’s the root of your people pleasing behavior. If you can’t identify just one, rank these limiting beliefs in order of importance or relevance for you.

And then, in the next lesson, we’re going work through ways to challenge those beliefs. I’ll see you there.