Feeling overwhelmed, exhausted or burned out? Do you find it hard to say “no” when someone asks for a favor or your time? You might be a people pleaser.

While people pleasers are usually quite good at putting on a cheerful façade, after a while, worrying about everyone else’s needs and wants at the expense of their own takes its toll. It is not uncommon for people pleasers to feel as though life’s pressures have worn them down. In fact, one of the telltale signs of being a people pleaser is burnout. Another red flag is resentment, which might be directed externally (“Why is Mary always asking me for favors?”) or internally (“I’m such a pushover”).

What Causes People-Pleasing Tendencies?

Some people are motivated to help others because of the “helpers high” they experience when they do a good deed. Research has proven that whether you volunteer your time at a homeless shelter or help a neighbor by shoveling his driveway, your altruism will boost the level of oxytocin — a “feel-good” hormone — in your brain. Generosity has also been shown to reduce stress, and may increase your longevity.

The roots of people pleasing may go deeper for some individuals. A life coach can help you uncover early-engrained fears that often manifest themselves as self-sabotaging behaviors into adulthood. A fear of rejection, for example, might lead you to say “yes” to a request from a friend when you really would rather say “no,” simply to preserve (or avoid testing) the friendship.

In the same vein, a fear of failure, usually linked to overly critical parents or highly punitive experiences in childhood, can lead to people-pleasing as a way to avoid feeling as though you’ve disappointed others or — worse yet — a sense of shame.

5 Ways to Stop the People-Pleasing Habit
  1. Plan ahead — One of the easiest ways to get talked into filling your day with commitments that are priorities for other people is to neglect planning for those that are important to yourself. One way to avoid that situation is to put them on your calendar just as you would any other appointment, including travel and cushion time. Include trips to the park or the gym – anything that is important to you but that you might tend to cast aside if blindsided by an external request.
  2. Prioritize — Be cognizant of your values. If family time is important to you, draw an imaginary fence around it, and don’t take work-related calls between certain hours. Because life rarely affords the opportunity for “re-do’s,” it makes sense to be proactive in avoiding regrets.
  3. Respect your reality — Obviously, if your job requires you to be on site or on call, your availability needs to be a priority during certain times of the day. Put those same parameters in place for other areas of your life where you are your own boss. When asked to donate to a charitable cause, let your mind guide your heart — not the other way around. Contribute what you can reasonably afford and keep an ongoing “wish list” of organizations you will support in better times — or in other ways, perhaps with clothing/household item donations or your time.
  4. Be comfortable saying the word “no” — Why is a two-letter word so difficult for so many of us to utter? “No” is not an inherently bad word, nor should it come laden with apologies, excuses or guilt. We often remind executive coaching and career coaching clients that it is within your rights to politely decline an offer, invitation or request that is beyond your comfort zone.

5. Remember the oxygen mask instructions — When flight attendants demonstrate how to use the oxygen masks should an airplane experience a drop in cabin pressure, they remind adult passengers of the importance of placing their own masks before helping young children or other passengers requiring assistance. If the passenger passes out from a lack of oxygen, he or she will be of no help to anyone else.

Likewise, people pleasers should be aware that their good intentions could eventually take an emotional and physical toll — on themselves and their relationships. Breaking the people-pleasing habit can be a positive step in rebuilding self-confidence and developing healthier interactions based on honesty and mutual respect.

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