April 15

How To Stop People Pleasing – Without Guilt


It can be difficult to say “no” to people sometimes, can’t it?

Someone asks you to help repaint their house and you’ve already got important plans, but you say “yes” anyway.

Or, someone at work asks you to take on an extra task, even though you’ve already got a full workload, but you say “yes” to that too.

We all like to make other people happy, right?

It feels good. It makes us feel like we’ve contributed to the world and made it a slightly better place.

But, there is a negative side to making people happy all the time.

Sometimes, we can try too hard to please others and it’s often at the expense of our own happiness, life experiences and self-esteem.

As you probably guessed from the title of the blog, I’m talking about “people-pleasing”.

In this post, I’m going to be sharing why people-pleasing can damage your self-esteem and share six helpful tips on how to stop people-pleasing without feeling guilty.

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What’s Wrong With People Pleasing?

You might be wondering, what’s wrong with people-pleasing?

Isn’t it a good thing to make other people happy?

I can say with 100% certainty that it is a good thing to make other people happy.

But, there’s a big difference between making people happy and becoming a people pleaser.

Because just like anything else in life, if it’s overused, then it can become toxic to your life.

People-pleasing often comes at the expense of our own happiness.

Paulo Coelho Quote
We’re often so focused on trying to be “selfless” that we end up skimping on our own lives, goals and experiences.

And, I know it can be hard to break the habit because I’ve been there too.

Why Do We Do It?

For me, and for most others, making others happy at the expense of our own happiness seems like the easiest thing to do.

My religious childhood would also make me feel like it was the “moral” thing to do.

I would end up helping people study for tests at the expense of my own grades. I would meet up for drinks with a lonely friend, even though I had work to finish. Or I would end up taking on more work than I could handle, to make another person’s life easier.

It seems easy and it seems like the right thing to do.

But, as I look back on it now, I know that another big reason why I was so focused on pleasing others was to make them like me.

I thought that saying “yes” to them and “no” to me would make me more likeable.

Eventually, I found out that the opposite was true.

People I knew split into two categories: those who thought people-pleasing was annoying and pushy and those who were only too happy to take advantage of that.

I thought I was making real connections with others, but I was only surrounding myself with people who would eventually make me miserable.

So, Why Is People-Pleasing Bad For Self-Esteem?

Well, the first thing is that it makes your happiness conditional.

We feel good when people “like us”, so we continue to say “yes” even though it may be making our lives worse.

Even though I was really struggling, I would always tell myself, “As long as they’re happy, then I’m happy.”

So, guess what happens when you can’t make the other person happy anymore?

All those good feelings go away and guilt sets in.

Maybe you couldn’t do as they asked or couldn’t do it good enough. Whatever the reason, the person you were trying so hard to please is no longer handing out praise.

They might even get angry with you.

And how does that make you feel about yourself?

Not great.

Its also really disempowering.

If you are always worrying about how other people feel and ignoring how you feel, you’re telling yourself that your feelings don’t matter.

And if your feelings don’t matter to you, then you probably don’t matter to you either.

Finally, you end up surrounding yourself with people who only take.

Friendship is a healthy balance of giving and taking. Respect for each other means you’ll do what you can to help them, but that you have your own life to live too.

When we’re in a people-pleasing mode, we are destroying that balance.

Soon, it becomes easier to attract toxic people into your life and that just feeds the circle of unhappiness, disempowerment and guilt.

And all those things lead to one conclusion: low self-esteem.

How To Stop People-Pleasing Without The Guilt

So, enough about how people-pleasing can jack up your life.

Let’s jump into some of my best advice on how to become more authentic in your life and start living for you.

Along the way, if you practice this advice, you’ll start to clear out toxic relationships in your life.

This, in turn, will help open you up to better, brighter opportunities for fulfilment and happiness.

1# Acknowledge The Problem

Stop People Pleasing Step 1

OK, here’s the thing.

We can’t make any kind of positive change in our lives if we can’t admit that we have a problem.

I really struggled with this part.

I truly believed that it was better for me to make other people happy, even if it was at the expense of my own happiness.

It just seemed like the right thing to do.

Here’s the thing though, if something is making you miserable in life, no matter what it is, then you need to admit that something is going wrong there.

We have to be able to admit that there’s a problem.

But, if it helps, I’m not asking you to never act selflessly again. You’ll still be able to make people happy.

But, if it’s making you miserable or hurting your life, then there’s a problem that needs reviewing.

2# Get Clear On Your Boundaries and Values

Stop People Pleasing Step 2

So, you probably have your own goals and dreams.

You also probably have your own set of internal values that you live by.

Getting clear on those can really help you to understand what’s going on in your life.

Ask yourself deep questions such as:

  • What do I want to achieve in life?
  • How do I want to be remembered?
  • If I continue living like I am now, what will I regret on my deathbed?
  • What are the most important things in my life?
  • What truly makes me happy in life?

If you can get really honest with yourself and get in touch with who you truly are, you’ll be well on your way to finding out who you truly are on the inside.

And, if you know what your values are, what things actually matter in your life, you’ll be able to set clearer boundaries.

Boundaries are the key here. They’re the part of you that stops you from working against your values, rather than for them.

So, if someone asks you to join them for a pint and your values say you should be getting an early night, your boundaries allow you to say no in a healthy way.

To be clear, having boundaries isn’t selfish.

In fact, it’s the healthiest thing you can do because it also makes clear when you can help others.

It gives you a healthy balance between helping yourself and being of service to others too.

Getting clear on your goals and what you value will help you make decisions that will be good for you, not just for other people.

You’ll find it much harder to feel guilty when you know you’re doing the right thing for you.

3# Self-Compassion and Self-Love

Stop People Pleasing Step 3

Your ability to forgive yourself is going to be key here.

Self-compassion is all about forgiving yourself for not being perfect.

So, when you can’t be everything for everyone, make sure that you remember to find a place of compassion for yourself.

Treat yourself like your own best friend.

Be understanding, empathetic and, above all, loving. That will make it so much easier to live within your values.

4# Start Saying No

Stop People Pleasing Step 4

OK, this is the hard one.

In fact, I initially found this to be the hardest piece of advice to follow.

It feels so uncomfortable to say “no” to people and to be assertive. It just doesn’t feel natural.

But, it’s the best tool for beating people-pleasing!

So, here are some simple tips to help you get started with learning this skill:

1) Start by saying “no” to small things e.g. suggesting a time to meet up for dinner that works a little better for you. This will start to show you that you can take control of your own life.

2) Ask for some time before making a decision. If you can’t bring yourself to say “no” right now, especially if it’s a big decision, ask if you can “think about it” or “get back to them later”

3) Don’t make excuses. If you have a reason for why you can’t do something, state it as a fact and leave it like that.

4) Don’t apologise. You’re not doing anything wrong. You have your own life to live and your own problems to deal with. It’s OK, so don’t apologise.

5) Don’t be afraid of the fallout. You might be worried that the person you’re saying “no” to might get angry. If they do, that’s their problem and you should stand by your decision – it’s the right thing to do.

Remember, you’re entitled to your own time.

If someone accuses you of being selfish, then remember that you are living within the boundaries of your values.

True friends and genuine people will understand when you can’t help them.

Toxic people will kick off and get mad and that will take you to Tip 5.

5# Eliminate Toxic People From Your Life

If you say “no” and the person gets toxic with you, then maybe it’s time to let that person out of your life.

Remember, you’re not being selfish by living within your values.

But, I recognise that this can be a very hard thing to do.

It’s not easy to let go of toxic people in your life.

Especially when it’s an old friend, a relationship or maybe even someone at work (e.g. your boss).

Firstly, try and reduce contact with them as much as you can.

You might have to start gradually.

Try taking some time away for just you. Then, you can start to reevaluate the important people in your life.

If it’s a person at work, try and look for opportunities to get away from them. It might mean moving projects, moving departments or changing jobs. But, it could also mean just learning how to avoid that person in a way that doesn’t create friction and drama.

Remember, you’re doing this because it’s the right thing for you.

So, I’m confident you’ll be able to find a way.

The less time you spend with toxic people, the easier it will be to say “no”.

Eventually, that person will leave your life (maybe even for good) and you can start to focus on the relationships that really matter.

6# Track Your Successes

Stop People Pleasing Step 6

I’m a huge believer in tracking your successes.

Start keeping a journal of all the little successes that come in life.

Whether it’s doing something just for you or saying “no” to someone else, keep a track of these wins.

You’ll quickly start to see the evidence build.

Soon, you’ll start to realise how much better it feels to live within your values.

Along the way, you’ll find the strength to be your own person and you’ll be learning who your true friends really are.

And that is a huge win!

Final Thoughts

It’s an easy thing to say, but always remember this:

It’s your job to like you, not anyone else’s.

It’s not selfish to say “no” and live your own life. Always stay true to your values, live within your personal boundaries and be authentic.

Authenticity is what helps you to believe that you are a person of worth. And that is what builds self-esteem and, ultimately, confidence.

So, keep on living for you!

What are you going to do today to start improving your self-esteem?

Let me know in the comment section below (I’ll always do my best to reply to every single comment and question.

Check out the Ultimate Guide to Healthy Self-Esteem if you're looking for a complete overview of how to beat low self-esteem. 

If you’re interested in getting coaching to overcome self-esteem issues and start living with confidence, make sure to check out the Confidence Coaching page on Life Transformation UK and get in contact.

Alternatively, you can get in touch with me on the LTUK Facebook Page


people pleasing, self esteem

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