As we often hear at The Depression Project, people pleasing is a very common practice for people to engage in (regardless of whether they have depression or not). And, for this reason, we've put together this in-depth blog post, in which we will share with you:
- What "people pleasing" actually means;
- Quotes about the consequences that can stem from people pleasing;
- What the underlying causes of people pleasing are;
- How to break out of common belief systems that fuel people pleasing - such as "if I say 'no' to someone, then it means I’m selfish"; "it’s my fault if [insert person] isn’t happy"; "if someone gets to know the real me, then they won’t like me"; and/or "my needs don’t matter as much as other people’s do".
- And, last but certainly not least, we'll discuss in detail how to stop people pleasing by implementing boundaries - and in particular, implementing boundaries that allow you to still be a helpful, caring, supportive person, but that also protect you from the consequences of people pleasing such as having your own needs and wants sabotaged; from getting burnt out and exhausted; from being used by others; from hiding the “real you”; and/or from having your depression triggered.
With that being said, as soon as you're ready, let's get started!
What Do We Mean By "People Pleasing"?
People pleasing involves constantly attending to other people's needs, feelings and desires, and doing so in a way that is often at your own expense1. In particular, people pleasing can often take the form of, for example:
- Saying “yes” anytime someone asks you to do something for them – even when you don’t really feel like doing it;
- Feeling that it’s your job to make other people happy, and therefore doing things that please those people but that violate your own needs, wants and values;
- Continuously apologising for things that aren't your fault;
- Agreeing with everything everybody says not because you actually share the same views as them, but because you want them to like you;
- Saying “that’s OK” and letting it slide when someone upsets you, because even though you’re really hurt by their behaviour, you don’t want to upset them.
Quotes About The Consequences That Can Stem From People Pleasing
If you are a people pleaser, then with near-certainty, we can say that you’re a caring, thoughtful, loving, sensitive and kind-hearted person – which is really wonderful! However, like we touched upon above, people pleasing also usually comes at a heavy cost to yourself.
On that note, a little while ago at The Depression Project, we asked members of our 3,000,000+ person social media community:
What are some of the consequences that can stem from people pleasing?
And, right now, we'd like to quote you some of the responses:
- "People pleasing sometimes leads to feelings of emptiness, because you have given your all to other people and their needs, but often to the detriment of your own."
- "I am definitely a people pleaser. I feel that the only way to be a good person is to ignore my own feelings to please others. Then I get overwhelmed, miserable and anxious about my incapacity to please everyone."
- "For me, people pleasing triggers a total loss of control. You say 'yes' all the time, just to please, then if you can’t fulfill the commitment, you hate yourself. And, over time, you begin to despise yourself for always saying 'yes'."
- "I enjoy helping others and seeing them smile because of something I’ve said or done - and I think it's good to do this. The problem for me though has been pleasing others in a way that results in me hiding my own feelings or emotions to ensure others don’t get upset. I have learned that this will ultimately lead to me feeling alone and depressed."
- "I no longer know what my needs are. I'm used to living life with the sole purpose of people pleasing, so I am now confused to what I want in life."
- "People pleasing is exhausting and definitely takes its toll. Depending on the situation and the person, I often feel like I’m letting people take advantage of me. I often feel like I'm not being true to or advocating for myself. I am now working on maintaining clear and healthy boundaries for the sake of my mental health."
- "I basically act how I think other people want me to act. I'm afraid of being myself in case I come across blunt or say the wrong thing. Sometimes I can be myself, but then I'm usually the odd one out, so I feel it's better to be someone else when I socialise. But, being someone else is difficult, and I end up never feeling comfortable being me."
- "Pleasing others can lead to too much expectation and then disappointment - because people are often takers, and not grateful for your efforts and putting yourself out for them. This can lead to you feeling unappreciated and depressed."
- "I like to do things for people, but people-pleasing is a different action than just doing things for others. It's where you're ignoring your own needs and who you truly are - which I have learned is bad for you."
- "When I’ve promised something I can’t deliver on, I end up feeling panicky, scared and overwhelmed. When you're a people pleaser, this happens a lot, because your default answer to anyone asking something of you is 'yes'."
- "I do everything I can to please people and when I go out of my way with no appreciation or no acknowledgement, it hurts and triggers my depression BIG TIME! It makes me think I'm unworthy and that no matter how much I try, people will never love me!"
- "In my experience, when you people please, others get used to ignoring whatever you feel, want or need."
- "I feel like I am able to sense what the other person wants me to do and I feel like I have to do that even if I don’t want to. Then I’m frustrated because I’m doing something I don’t want to do."
- "Like other people's quotes have gotten at, you put all your energy into pleasing others, and then end up having no energy for yourself. And, no matter how many times you please other people, they always want more. It's exhausting."
- "I push myself to try to make everyone happy - which I know literally cannot be done. I set my standards so high and then feel like less when I can’t achieve them."
- "In my experience, anyone that is caring and always helping everyone tends to be taken advantage of. We feel guilty if we say no, and when we say yes to keep everyone happy, we feel bad knowing that it's all about their happiness and not ours."
- "People pleasing takes away my ability to practice self-love and spirals me into doing too much for others and nothing for myself. Then, resentment sets in and feelings of despair at the thought that I will never be good enough to be loved for who I truly am. I'm working on this now and am enjoying the journey of self-discovery."
- "Pleasing others puts their needs above your own. That can be at your own detriment, but is greatly helpful to them. However, if there's no appreciation clearly expressed or you are repeatedly helping others and no-one helps you, it erodes your faith in everyone around you. You need to identify who is contributing to your poor mental health and either move on, or stop giving what is expected but not reciprocated."
- "I had taken it as my role in life to be all things to all people at all times. But, this did not lead me to a good place. I love people, and I want to help - however these days, I remind myself that I cannot pour water from an empty glass."
- "When someone asks me to do something for them, I don't want to say 'no' and risk them not liking me. So, I do the 'task', but begrudgingly - and then I get angry at myself for being a doormat."
- "This is what people pleasing is like for me: I feel like if I don't please people then they will have a bad day - so I try to please them, and then feel exhausted, burned out and broken from doing so."
- "People pleasing moves you away from who you really are. In time you lose touch with yourself - for who are you if you're always focused on pleasing others just to fit in and be accepted? Who is the 'real you'?"
- "People pleasing can make me feel inauthentic, unheard/unseen, and over time it can make me feel resentful. It's also detrimental to my mental and physical health."
- "People pleasing always led to me feeling burned out, but I kept on doing it because I thought that not people pleasing would mean I wouldn't be helpful anymore. But I've since learned that this is not true - that you can still be helpful to others while respecting your own wants and needs too. In fact, I have learned that - ironically - when you have boundaries with others and respect your own wants and needs, you actually have more energy to be there for others."
Understanding The Underlying Causes Of People Pleasing
Now that we've looked at what it means to be a people pleaser as well as a variety of quotes about the consequences that can stem from people pleasing, let's now talk about - in no particular order - three common underlying causes of people pleasing.
Cause #1: People Pleasing Helps Satisfy Fundamental Human Needs
One of the main underlying causes of people pleasing is that - albeit in an unhealthy way - people pleasing satisfies three fundamental human needs:
1. The Need To Feel Good About Ourselves
Even though people pleasing can lead to a slew of problems, it can satisfy your human need to feel good about yourself. For example:
- Even though, as was mentioned in the quotes above, saying “yes” every time somebody asks you to do a favour for them can result in you sabotaging your own needs and feeling exhausted, burnt out and depressed, it also makes you feel helpful and useful – which contributes to you feeling worthy and having a positive sense of self.
- If you agree to everything your partner wants you to do even when it’s in conflict with what you want to do, then it can lead to you feeling lonely, disconnected and misunderstood by them – because they’re never really getting to know the “real you”. However, making your partner happy also contributes to you feeling as if you’re a cool, easy-going, worthwhile partner who’s great to be with – which once again, contributes to you having a positive sense of self.
2. The Need For Attachment
Another fundamental human need is to have positive attachments to other people – so that you can feel loved, supported and connected. And, even though people pleasing helps satisfy the need for attachment in an unhealthy way, it still does help satisfy it. To return to the same two examples once again:
- Even though saying “yes” every time somebody asks you to do a favour for them can result in you sabotaging your own needs and feeling exhausted, burnt out and depressed, it also makes those people feel happy towards you, and makes you feel more connected to them – both of which helps satisfy your need for attachment.
- If you agree to everything your partner wants you to do even when it’s in conflict with what you want to do, then like we’ve said, it can lead to you feeling lonely, disconnected and misunderstood by them. However, being in a relationship with a partner who likes being with you also helps satisfy your need for attachment.
3. The Need To Feel Pleasure And To Avoid Pain
Once again, even though people pleasing helps satisfy this need in a damaging way, it does still help satisfy it. To return to our two examples one last time:
- Despite all the negative impacts it can have on you, saying “yes” every time somebody asks you to do a favour for them can make you feel good when the recipient thanks you and says that what you did was really helpful – since their praise contributes to satisfying your need to feel pleasure. It also helps satisfy your need to avoid pain – as saying “no” may have made you feel uncomfortable and awkward.
- Despite all the negative impacts that always agreeing to everything your partner wants can have on you, in the short-term, it also gives you pleasure to see your partner happy. Additionally, it helps you avoid pain, because saying “no, I’d rather do something else” in all likelihood would make you feel uncomfortable; and in some instances, it may also lead to conflict with your partner.
Cause #2: Personality Traits
Another extremely common source of people pleasing is that it’s a natural consequence of common personality traits. In particular, these personality traits include:
1. Being Very Empathetic, Caring And Helpful, While Also Not Having Boundaries In Place To Protect Yourself
Like we’ve said, almost everyone who people pleases is inherently very empathetic, caring and helpful – and like we’ve also said, these are wonderful qualities to have! However, if you don’t also have boundaries in place to protect yourself, then unfortunately, these qualities can lead to you becoming exhausted and burnt out trying to do everything for everyone; to your own needs and wants being sabotaged; to other people using you; to you living a life that’s not aligned with your values; and in the worst cases, to depression.
2. Having Low Self-Esteem
If low self-esteem is something you struggle with, then it’s likely also one of the reasons why you people please. This may be because:
- Like we've mentioned, pleasing other people can help you improve your self-esteem (albeit in an unhealthy way) by making you feel good about yourself.
- People pleasing can be something you do to try to be liked – particularly if, due to low self-esteem, you’re scared that if you aren't constantly pleasing others, that you won't be liked.
Cause #3: People Pleasing Can Stem From Your Childhood And Upbringing
To see how your childhood and upbringing could have influenced you to become a people pleaser, let's now have a look at two common examples:
- Example #1: When you were a child, a parent or guardian may have praised you when you were a “good boy / girl” (i.e., when you behaved in a way they perceived to be positive), and they in all likelihood scolded or punished you when you were a “bad boy / girl” (or in other words, when you didn’t behave in a way they perceived to be positive). Then, when you went to school, a similar thing may have happened, and as a result, it’s possible that you generalised these interactions to draw conclusions about the world like "when I do what people want me to do, I’ll feel pleasure" (i.e. other people will praise me, reward me, be extra nice to me, etcetera); and "when I don’t do what people want me to do, I’ll feel pain" (i.e. other people will punish me, yell at me, be angry with me, etcetera). If you drew these conclusions at a very young age and have lived by them ever since without modifying them at all, then they would have almost certainly influenced you to become a people pleaser.
- Example #2: Another common way that your childhood could’ve led you to become a people pleaser is if you were neglected (for example, by your parents), or if you were bullied (for example, by other people at school). In these ways, you may have been conditioned to believe that your needs don’t matter, and because you’d been conditioned to believe that your needs don’t matter, in your later relationships, you may have focused on helping everyone else get their needs met at the expense of your own.
What Does Stopping People Pleasing Look Like?
Like we've said, if you are a people pleaser, then with near-certainty, we can say that you’re a caring, thoughtful, loving, sensitive and kind-hearted person.
And, when it comes to stopping people pleasing, our objective is not to turn you into a person who is, for example, mean, selfish, unhelpful, and who doesn’t care about anyone other than themselves.
On the contrary, our objective is to help the caring, loving, supportive, generous, kind-hearted person you are to implement boundaries to protect yourself, so that you can:
- Feel less stressed out, less exhausted and more at peace with your life as opposed to feeling burnt out and exhausted from constantly over-extending yourself;
- Prevent toxic people from taking advantage of you;
- Develop deeper, more authentic relationships;
- Feel more connected, better understood, and less lonely;
- Live a life that’s more aligned with your own needs, wants and values;
- Take a big step closer towards overcoming depression (if, like most people in The Depression Project's community, depression is something you're suffering from).
Before we start talking about the different boundaries you can implement to stop people pleasing, though, it's important to first address and help you break out of any belief systems that may prevent you from doing so. So, in the next part of this blog post, that's exactly what we're going to do!
Stopping People Pleasing, Part 1: Breaking Out Of The Belief Systems That Fuel People Pleasing
When it comes to implementing the boundaries that you need to implement in order to stop people pleasing, it's common to be held back by one or more belief systems. For example, to quote some members of The Depression Project's community:
- "If I say 'no' to someone, then it means I’m selfish."
- "It’s my fault if [insert person] isn’t happy."
- "If someone gets to know the real me, then they won’t like me."
- "My needs don’t matter as much as other people’s do."
If you can relate, then we'd now like to walk you through some cognitive behavioural therapy-based strategies to help you challenge and overcome these belief systems.
Strategy #1: Ask Yourself: What Is The Evidence That Disputes The Belief Systems That Contribute To Me People Pleasing?
This is a common cognitive behavioural therapy strategy2, and to see how it works, let's look at a handful of common examples:
- Believing "if I say 'no' to someone, then it means I’m selfish." However, evidence to the contrary would be, for example, all of the kind-hearted, supportive, caring things you’ve ever done for people – which prove that you are far, far from selfish.
- Believing "it’s my fault if my partner isn’t happy." However, a reason why this belief is false is because your partner is the one who’s primarily responsible for their own happiness – not you – which means that if they aren’t happy about something, then it doesn’t automatically mean that it’s your fault. For example, they could be unhappy about the lack of progress in their career, a confrontation they had with a friend, or something their parents said to them – none of which have anything to do with you.
- Believing "if someone gets to know the 'real me', then they won’t like me." However, evidence to the contrary is that if you’re a kind, caring, loving, supportive person - like you almost certainly are if you're a people pleaser - then many, many people are indeed going to like you! After all, wouldn’t you like someone who’s kind, caring, loving and supportive?
- Believing "my needs don’t matter as much as other people’s do." This belief is simply not true, because your needs absolutely do matter just as much as anyone else’s. If you have low self-esteem, then it’s going to be hard for you to believe this right now – but, the more you build up your self-esteem, the more and more you’ll feel that this is indeed the case.
Strategy #2: Ask Yourself: Is There A More Positive, Less Self-Critical Way That I Could Be Viewing This Situation Or Circumstance?
In cognitive behavioural therapy, answering this question is an example of practicing what's known as cognitive reframing3, and in most cases, there usually is indeed a more positive, less self-critical way of viewing things. To illustrate this, let's consider the following example scenario, along with your friend’s potential reactions; your consequent negative thoughts; and the more positive, less self-critical ways in which you could view each circumstance.
Example: On Friday afternoon, your friend rings and asks you to drive them 90 minutes to the airport at 7 a.m. on Saturday, but because you’ve had a really long, tiring week, you know that the best thing you can do for your mental health would be to sleep in and have an easy morning. So, instead of saying “yes” like you usually would, this time, you choose to protect yourself, and politely say “no”.
Possible Reaction #1: Your friend passive aggressively says “thanks for nothing”, that they’ve “got to go”, and then hangs up the phone. Consequently, this leads you to think “oh no, I should’ve said ‘yes’! I’m a bad, selfish friend for saying ‘no’!”
However, more positive, less self-critical ways of viewing this situation could be:
- "My friend is actually the one who’s being selfish – for expecting me to compromise my mental health just to do them a favour."
- "Their passive aggressive reaction to me saying 'no' shows that they’ve been spoiled by my generosity and willingness to help them in the past. Not only that, but if they’re going to take my generosity and willingness to help them for granted and not appreciate it, then they no longer deserve it."
Possible Reaction #2: Your friend politely says “that’s OK, you rest up and take care of yourself!” and then later on, you learn that another one of your friends has agreed to take them to the airport. Consequently, this leads you to think “If my friend has someone else that can do favours for them, then it means that I’m replaceable and worthless to them.”
However, a more positive, less self-critical way of viewing this situation could be:
- "My friend has accepted my boundaries and adapted to them, which means that they respect me, care for me, and aren’t 100% dependent on me – all of which is actually really good news!"
Possible Reaction #3: Your friend gets angry, and blames you for the fact that they’re now going to have to spend $75 on a taxi. Consequently, this leads you to think “it’s my fault they’re going to have to spend money on a taxi! I’m a terrible friend for not saying ‘yes’! Now they’re not going to like me or want to be my friend anymore!”
However, more positive, less self-critical ways of viewing this situation could be:
- "It’s my friend’s responsibility to get themselves to the airport, not mine. If they really needed my help to get them there, then they could’ve asked me well in advance if I could drive them – rather than dumping it on me at the last minute with no regard for how I’m feeling at the time. They could’ve also asked me before they booked the flight, to see if I’d mind getting up so early on a Saturday, and whether or not I’d prefer them to take a later flight. The fact that they never did either of these things proves that they were only thinking about themselves and never about me throughout this entire process, and rather than now blaming me for having to spend money on a taxi, they should be blaming themselves for not having been more organised. Not only that, but they also owe me an apology for taking me for granted, and for being so rude and disrespectful to me on the phone."
- "If they don’t apologise to me for their behaviour or want to be my friend anymore after this incident, then it means that they were never actually a true friend – but rather, someone who was just using me to do favours for them. If that’s the kind of person they are, then I’m much, much better off without them, and I’ll be grateful that this situation exposed them as being this way."
Strategy #3: Ask Yourself: If A Friend Was In My Position, Would I Be Telling Them The Same Negative, Critical Things That I'm Currently Telling Myself?
Asking yourself this cognitive behavioural therapy-based2 question has the effect of distancing yourself from your thoughts and beliefs, and looking at them from a different, more objective angle – and when you do this, you’ll often realise that you’re being really, really hard on yourself.
For example, if your friend said “no” to driving one of their friends to the airport at 7 a.m. on a Saturday when they’d had a long and tiring week, would you think of them as a “bad, selfish friend”? You almost certainly wouldn’t, right? And, if that’s the case, then there’s no fair reason for you to think that about yourself, either!
Strategy #4: Reminding Yourself Of All The Long-Term Benefits Of Implementing Boundaries
For example, let’s say that your child asks you if they can have an ice-cream before dinner, and after you tell them “no”, they start crying, and you have the negative thought that you’re a bad parent for making them cry. However, you can challenge this negative thought by reminding yourself of the long-term benefits that will come from you saying “no” in this circumstance. For example, that your child will learn that they can’t always get their way all the time (which of course, is something that’s very important for them to know).
Strategy #5: Ask Yourself: If Someone Has A Negative Reaction To My Boundaries, Then What Does That Say About The Type Of Person They Are?
When someone has a negative reaction to your boundaries, then if you’re a people pleaser, you’re likely to blame yourself, and think that you’re in the wrong for making that person angry or upset. However, this completely ignores the fact that on many occasions:
- The person’s request of you was unreasonable;
- By objecting to your boundaries, they’re not respecting your needs, wants or values;
- That person is just trying to use you and take advantage of the fact that you’re so kind, caring and helpful.
And, if they’re doing any of these things, then what does that say about them?
For example, let’s say that a friend is trying to pressure you into loaning them $200 when you’re tight on cash yourself, and when they still haven’t paid you back the previous $200 they borrowed from you. In such an instance, instead of concluding that you’re a “bad friend”, a “selfish person”, an “unhelpful person” or anything else negative for saying “no”, ask yourself what this person trying to pressure you into loaning them more money says about them. In this instance, asking yourself this question may lead to you drawing the following conclusions, for example:
"It’s unreasonable for a person to expect me to loan them $200 when they still haven’t paid me back the first $200 I loaned them – particularly when I don’t have a whole lot of money myself. Not only that, but the fact that they’re trying to pressure me into doing so and objecting to me saying “no” shows that they have no consideration for my feelings, my own financial security, and the boundaries that I have in place regarding money and trusting other people. That’s actually very selfish of them, and if that’s how they’re behaving, then they don’t deserve for me to do anymore favours for them, and the only person they should feel angry at is themselves for alienating me in this way.
Strategy #6: Ask Yourself: Does This People Pleasing Behaviour Align With Where I Want To Be In Five Years’ Time?
Like we've said, when it comes to people pleasing, one of the reasons why stopping can be so scary and difficult is because rather than focusing on the long-term benefit of doing so, it’s tempting to focus on the short-term cost of doing so. However, in any given situation, if you ask yourself whether or not this people pleasing behaviour aligns with where you want to be in five years’ time, then it helps shift your focus to those long-term benefits, and can help motivate you to not people please in the present.
Strategy #7: Ask Yourself: What Would My “Dream Self” Do In This Scenario?
Right now, you may feel unworthy, unsure of yourself, nervous about putting in boundaries, and scared of the consequences that may arise from doing so. For this reason, it can give you a helpful shot in the arm of confidence and a boost of inspiration to envision your “dream self” in the future, and to think about what they would do in this particular situation or circumstance.
For example, if your dream self was helpful and supportive, but also confident, assertive and had boundaries in place to protect themselves from getting used and taken advantage of, then would they people please in this particular instance?
Again, you may not feel like that confident, assertive, future version of yourself yet, but the more you try to act like them, then the easier it will be for you to gradually grow into them.
Stopping People Pleasing, Part 2: Implementing Boundaries
Now that we've tried to help you undo some of the common belief systems that can fuel people pleasing, it's time to talk about how to actually stop people pleasing - which like we've said, involves implementing boundaries.
Or, to be more specific: implementing boundaries that allow you to still be a helpful, caring, supportive person, but that also protect you from having your own needs and wants sabotaged; from getting burnt out and exhausted; from being used by others; from hiding the “real you”; and/or from having your depression triggered.
With this objective in mind, let's now have a look at some of the different types of boundaries that you can implement.
A) Boundaries On Your Time
Let’s say that your friend rings you up and asks if you can spend the upcoming Sunday helping them move house. Now, if doing so wouldn’t sabotage your own needs and wants, exhaust you, or cause you any other form of harm, then it’s great to help your friend out and say “yes”. However, there are many scenarios in which saying “yes” would come at a cost to you, and why as a result, it won’t be in your best interests to do so. For example:
Because you want to spend Sunday morning at church;
Because you've had a tiring week at work, and you want to have a proper sleep-in on the weekend to help re-charge your batteries and prepare you for the next week.
In these instances, an effective boundary to implement would be one on your time. For example, by saying to your friend:
“I’d be happy to help you move – but I’m only free from 12 o’clock onwards.”
B) Boundaries With Your Possessions
In this instance, let’s say that your friend asks to borrow $200 from you. Now, there may be many occasions in which you’d be happy to loan your friend the money – in which case, no problem! However, there may also be many instances in which you don’t want to do so. For example:
If your friend has borrowed money from you in the past but has never paid you back.
If you feel like you can only afford to loan them $100.
In these cases (as well as many others), to avoid you doing something that you aren’t comfortable with, you could establish boundaries with respect to your possessions. For example, by telling your friend:
“I’m sorry, but you still owe me money from before, and until you pay that back, I’m not comfortable loaning you anymore.”
“I’d be happy to loan you $100 – but right now, I can’t afford to give you anymore than that.”
C) Boundaries Based On How You Feel
To return to our first example, let’s say that your friend asks you to help them move house on Sunday. Now, like we said earlier, if you have other things you want to do on that day, then you can establish boundaries with regards to your time (i.e. you can restrict your availability to the times when you’re happy to help out). However, there might also be occasions when you don’t have any other commitments on, but for whatever reason, you just don’t feel like spending the day helping your friend move. In this case, the best thing you can do to protect yourself is say "no" to your friend – for no other reason than because you simply don’t feel like helping them move house.
D) Boundaries Based On Your Likes And Dislikes
In this example, let’s say that your friend invites you to go and watch a football match with them, when little do they know, you don’t actually like watching football at all. In this case, if you really want to spend time with that particular friend, then you may decide to say “yes”. However, if you know that you just wouldn’t enjoy the match at all even in your friend’s company, then rather than going just to please them, you could instead say:
“I’d love to spend time with you, but to be honest, I really don’t like football. Is there something else you feel like doing that we would both enjoy?"
Even though you’re not actually stating it, responding in this way implicitly enforces the boundary that you will not do things that you don’t like doing, just so that you can please someone else.
E) Boundaries Based On Your Values
This type of boundary is all about what behaviours you will, and will not tolerate from other people. For example:
I will not allow my partner to talk to me disrespectfully. If they do, then rather than keeping silent because I don’t want to upset them, I will speak up and tell them that I won’t accept this behaviour.
I’m more than willing to help my friends out when they’d like me to, but in return, I expect them to be appreciative – not to just use me and take my support for granted. I deserve better than that, and if that’s how they’re going to behave, then they don’t deserve my help or my friendship.
I will always do my best to make my partner happy, and to help them get their needs and wants met. However, in return, I expect them to do their best to make me happy as well, and to help me get my needs and wants met too.
I deserve to be treated as well as I treat other people, and I will not settle for anything less.
I have no room for toxic people in my life, so if someone behaves selfishly towards me or in a way that shows they have no regard for my needs, wants or values, then I’m going to disassociate myself from that person.
Having boundaries based on your values are arguably the most important boundaries you can have to stop people from mistreating you, and to surround yourself with people who will treat you with the respect, love and care you deserve. For this reason, it’s really, really important that you carefully think about what your own value-based boundaries are and then implement them!
F) Boundaries On Topics Of Conversation
Let’s say you have someone who constantly rings you up to complain about their life – which is something that you find extremely negative and draining. In this scenario, it’s beneficial to put in boundaries to protect yourself from this, such as by, for example:
- Telling them how their constant complaining makes you feel, and how while you’d be happy to help them try to constructively solve the problems in their life, you’re no longer willing to continue listening to them doing nothing but complain.
- Alternatively, you could listen to them, but simply stop the conversation when you’ve had enough of it.
How To Implement Boundaries To Stop People Pleasing As Effectively As Possible
Once you’ve decided on the boundaries you’re going to establish to stop people pleasing, the next step will, of course, be to actually implement them. And, to help you do so as smoothly as possible, we’d now like to give you some additional tips that we think will really help!
Tip #1: Communicate Your Boundaries Clearly
Firstly, when you implement your boundaries to stop people pleasing, one of the most important things you can do is to be as clear as possible about what your boundaries actually are. For example:
“Yes, I’d be happy to help you move house, but I’m only free until three o’clock,” is likely to be more effective than “yes, I’d be happy to help, but I might have to leave a little bit early.”
The reason why it’s important to define your boundaries as clearly as possible is because when you do so, people are less likely to object to them, or to try and pressure you into giving them what they want. Or, to put it another way, when you lay the ground rules unambiguously, there’s much less wiggle-room for someone to get around them.
Secondly, when you’re establishing boundaries that involve asking another person to change their behaviour, then it’s important to clearly explain:
- Exactly what behaviour you want them to change;
- The reason why that behaviour is negatively affecting you;
- What you’d like them to change their behaviour to;
- When you’d like this change to take effect.
For example, telling your partner: “I don’t like it when you make decisions about what we’re gong to do on the weekend without asking me first, because sometimes I don’t want to do what you plan, and it makes me feel like I don’t have any freedom. So, from now on, I’d really like it if you’d consult with me first.”
Explaining your feelings and your boundaries as clearly as possible in this way maximises the chance that the person you’re talking to will understand the problem that you have with them, as well as what they need to do to fix it.
Tip #2: Consider Implementing “Small” Boundaries Before Building Up To “Big” Ones
To help you gradually get used to implementing boundaries, you might find it beneficial to implement “small boundaries” before building up to “bigger ones”. If you decide to go this route, then we encourage you to create what’s called a “fear hierarchy”. In this context, this is where you would make a hierarchy of the boundaries you want to implement – starting with the ones that you find the least anxiety-provoking and leading to the ones you find the most anxiety-provoking. For example:
- Instead of remaining silent, telling a waiter that they got your coffee order wrong.
- In a political discussion, telling your friend that you disagree with them and then sharing your own opinion – rather than just pretending you agree with them like you usually would.
- Instead of just going along with what your partner wants to do like always, telling them that you’re not actually very interested in the movie they’ve asked you to see, and then suggesting an alternative.
- Saying “no” to your co-worker who often asks if you can “do a favour for them” before piling extra work on you.
- Telling your parents that you don’t like how critical they’re being of you, and asking them to be more polite, kind and respectful.
Once you’ve created your own fear hierarchy, then like we said, start by implementing the least anxiety-provoking boundary, and gradually work your way up the hierarchy until you reach the most anxiety-provoking boundary – at which point, as a result of gradually exposing yourself to the previous boundaries and building up your confidence along the way, you’ll be in a much better position to be able to implement it.
Tip #3: Instead Of Your Default Answer Always Being “Yes” To Everything, “Stall” Instead
When you’re a people pleaser, your default answer to someone asking you to do something for them is almost always “yes” – only for you to then suffer the consequences later on when you realise that you don’t actually have time to do what they want you to do, or that for whatever reason, you don’t actually want to do it. Accordingly, while you’re getting used to implementing your boundaries, we encourage you to change your default answer from “yes” to “stalling” instead. For example:
- “Right now, I can’t commit to driving you to the airport next week. Let me have a closer look at my schedule, and then I’ll let you know tomorrow.”
- “At this point in time, I don’t know if I’ll be able to take on that new project next month. I’ll be in a much better position to let you know next week.”
Stalling in this way is a very effective strategy, because it prevents you from just saying “yes” to everything in the heat of the moment, only to regret doing so later on. Instead, it gives you time to clearly think things through, and decide whether or not this is something you actually want to do for the person in question.
Tip #4: Understand And Prepare For The Possibility That There May Be Resistance To Your Boundaries
If someone’s used to you not having boundaries – particularly if they’ve been behaving a certain way for a long time and you’re now asking them to change it – then there’s a chance that they might at first object to your boundaries. In particular, let's now look at five common ways that people may do this.
By Getting Defensive
This can often occur when you tell someone that you’re unhappy with their behaviour, and that moving forwards, you’d like them to change it. For example, when you tell your partner that they’ve been snapping at you a lot lately and that you’d like them to stop doing so and instead be more patient and polite – to which they respond “that’s not true! I haven’t been snapping at you!”
In some cases, this defensiveness isn’t coming from a "bad place" per se, but rather, because they’re just shocked or confused by what you’re telling them, and their first instinct is to think that they haven’t done anything wrong. For this reason, it’s important that you go into the conversation knowing that this is a possibility, and instead of giving up and thinking “they’ll never understand” in response to this happening, we encourage you to instead be patient – but firm – with them, and continue to communicate your feelings. Sooner or later, they’ll hopefully understand what you’re saying, and moving forwards, respect your boundaries and do their best to abide by them (and if not, then it's a sign that you may be better off distancing yourself from them).
By Getting Angry
An example of this occurring is the scenario we looked at earlier in this book, where you friend asks you to loan them $200 when they still haven’t paid you back the first $200 you loaned them, and then they get angry at you for saying “no”. Unfortunately, there may be times when something like this happens, but as tempting as it may be to lower your boundaries and give in to the other person’s pressure, we really encourage you to stay strong and enforce them. After all, in our example – and the majority of other situations when someone gets angry at you for implementing boundaries – that person doesn’t actually have any right to be angry. On the contrary, they’re just frustrated because they’re not getting what they want, and they’re taking their anger and frustration out on you.
As regards the angry person, hopefully given time, they’ll calm down and realise that you didn’t do anything wrong; apologise to you as a result; and moving forwards, have more respect for you and your boundaries. However, if they continue being angry or resentful towards you, then it’s a sign that moving forwards, they don’t deserve for you to do any favours for them, and that you may be better off without them.
By Trying To Manipulate You Into Relaxing / Discarding Your Boundaries
An example of this occurring is when you say “no” to helping your friend move house on Sunday because you’ve had a long and tiring week, and they respond by trying to convince you that your week wasn’t actually that long and tiring, so that they can manipulate you into changing your answer to “yes”. However, in these cases in particular, we really encourage you to remain firm with your boundaries, and not allow someone to manipulate you into relaxing or discarding them. This is because:
- Your reasons for implementing your boundaries are your reasons, and even if someone else doesn’t agree with them, then they should at least respect those reasons and your boundaries that stem from them.
- When someone is trying to manipulate you into relaxing or discarding your boundaries, they’re usually just thinking about themselves, and giving little if any regard to you and your feelings. And, you deserve better than this!
By Trying To Guilt-Trip You
Two common examples of this happening include the following responses to you trying to set or enforce your boundaries with someone:
- “If you loved me, you’d do this for me” (often from a partner).
- “Is this the thanks I get for everything I’ve done for you?” (often from a parent).
Someone guilt-tripping you like so is a way of them trying to manipulate you into altering your boundaries, and in the face of it, we again encourage you to remain firm with your boundaries and not cave in to their guilt-tripping. In practice, this can be done by saying:
- “I do love you, but [mention your reasons for implementing your boundaries], and I shouldn’t have to do something that I’m not comfortable doing just to prove my love for you.”
- “I’m very grateful for everything you’ve done for me, but [mention your reasons for implementing your boundaries], and I shouldn’t have to do something that I’m not comfortable doing just to prove that I’m grateful to you.”
By Blaming You
This is what happened in one of the earlier examples we looked at, when at the last minute, your friend asked you to drive them all the way to the airport, and because it was an inconvenient time for you, you said “no” – and were consequently blamed for them now having to spend $75 taking a taxi instead. In scenarios such as these, “blaming” you is a combination of the angry, manipulative and guilt-tripping reactions that we’ve already talked about, and just like with those reactions, it’s important that you:
- Remind yourself that you haven’t done anything wrong; that it’s your friend’s responsibility to get themselves to the airport on time, not yours; and that the only person they have to blame is themselves for not being more organised and lining up a lift much earlier in advance.
- Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated into abandoning your boundaries – instead, protect yourself by staying firm with them.
Tip #5: Know What The Consequences Will Be If Someone Doesn’t Respect Your Boundaries And Oversteps Them
This is an extremely, extremely important aspect of implementing your boundaries – because if people overstep your boundaries and you don’t do anything about it, then the end result is that you’re still people pleasing in the same way you were before you set your boundaries. So, for each one of the boundaries that you’re looking to implement, we encourage you to think of what the consequences will be if they aren’t respected and abided by. For example:
- If your partner continues to criticise you after you’ve told them that you’re no longer going to tolerate such behaviour, a possible consequence of them continuing to overstep this boundary would be for you to end the relationship.
- If your friend continues to arrive late when they’re meeting up with you after you’ve told them not to, then a possible consequence would be for you to stop seeing them.
Key Takeaways When It Comes To People Pleasing
In this blog post, we've covered a lot of ground when it comes to people pleasing - including what people pleasing means, quotes about the consequences that can stem from people pleasing, what the underlying causes of people pleasing are, how to break out of common belief systems that fuel people pleasing, and how to implement boundaries to stop people pleasing. And, before we bring this blog post to a close, we'd just like to reiterate perhaps the most important point that we have made:
It's possible to implement boundaries to protect yourself from all the consequences of people pleasing, while still being the caring, loving, supportive, generous, kind-hearted person that you want to be.
From the bottom of our hearts, we really hope that you've found this blog post about people pleasing helpful.
All our love,
The Depression Project Team.