Why Being A People-Pleaser Is Bad For You (And How to Stop)


Are you a people pleaser? Would you even know if you were one? (Gif: Paramount Pictures)

Being concerned about others’ feelings and always being ready to jump in and help are terrific traits in a friend and partner. But when it comes to your health, being a people pleaser can backfire.

“People pleasers value taking care of other people, and that’s a great thing to value,” Sherry Pagoto, a licensed clinical psychologist and associate professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, tells Yahoo Health. “It would be a better world if we all did, but [for people pleasers] it’s to a point where it can be self-destructive.”

In fact, some people are more concerned with other people’s pain than even their own. In a recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, researchers looked at how much money people were willing to sacrifice to reduce the number of painful electric shocks delivered to themselves or an anonymous stranger. The researchers were surprised to find that most people were willing to pay more money to diminish a stranger’s pain than their own discomfort.

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People pleasers are also more likely to overindulge, which can add up to unhealthy weight gain. A 2012 Case Western University study found that pleasers tend to cave to social pressure if a friend is having dessert by matching the amount of food the friend eats just so the friend won’t feel uncomfortable. It’s a way that pleasers maintain social harmony, avoid conflict, and gain the acceptance they’re always striving for.

“Often, people pleasers are afraid of confrontation and will just agree and say yes to most anything to avoid an uncomfortable argument or disagreement,” Susan Newman, social psychologist and author of “The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It—and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever,” tells Yahoo Health. But being so focused on taking care of others and feeling guilty or selfish for doing something for yourself, like hitting the gym, means your health and wellness often take a backseat. “It can create incredible anxiety not only because you’re doing too much but also because you’re worried about doing it right and doing it perfectly,” explains Newman. “You’re in a constant state of stress trying to be all things to all or some people. You’ll be tired and your resistance will be lowered, making you more susceptible to colds.”

So how do you know if you’re a tried-and-true people pleaser? Ask yourself these 10 questions:

1. Do you feel guilty or that you’ve let someone down if you were to say no?

2. Are you the go-to person for family and close friends?

3. Do you agree to help others even when you don’t really have the time or resources to do so?

4. Are you often pressed for time or late?

5. Are you afraid of being called selfish?

6. Do you avoid conflict and confrontation?

7. Does your relationship or friendships feel one-sided, that you do most of the work?

8. Do you fear that people will stop liking you or wanting to be your friend if you say no?

9. Do you feel taken advantage of?

10. Do you sometimes feel angry or resentful of the person asking for your help but would never say anything?

If you answered “yes” to several or more of these questions, chances are you’re a classic people pleaser. That means you’ve got some work to do, including learning how to say that dreaded “no” more often so you can prioritize yourself and your health.

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How To Stop Being A People Pleaser:

Here’s the good news: You don’t have to stop being a nice person. Instead, here’s how to strike a balance between helping others and finding time to take care of priority No. 1 (that’s you):

  • Before saying yes, ask yourself some questions. When a friend asks for help or a favor, Newman suggests checking in with yourself with these questions: Why am I agreeing to this? What do I have to give up in order to please the person who is asking? Am I going to feel resentful of myself or the other person if I say yes? And lastly, is my relationship with the person who is asking me for help starting to feel unbalanced, rather than give and take?

  • Remind yourself that people won’t fall apart if you say no. “Everybody is used to hearing no,” says Pagoto. “We think we’re going to devastate them with our no and have so much anxiety about a person’s response, but no one is going to be that upset. They may be disappointed, but in an hour they’ll be over it.” Simply turn them down in a nice way, such as, “I’d love to help but I can’t.” “You don’t have to justify it or make a strong case for your no,” adds Pagoto.

  • Practice saying no — and stick with it. “If someone knows you’re a people pleaser, they won’t take your first no,” says Pagoto. “That can be where the negotiation begins. The person can come back with another request, not hearing your no. You may feel the desire to cave. You have to stand by your no.”

  • Be a good role model of self-care. Since people pleasers are motivated by the reward of helping others, think of taking good care of yourself as setting a healthy example for your family. “If you’re crashing every day from exhaustion and are unhappy and stressed out, your kids see that and that’s how they learn,” says Pagoto. “Think about how do you model living a balanced life?”

  • Take care of yourself first — so you can help take care of others. Remind yourself that getting a good night’s sleep and fitting in time to exercise, even if it’s just taking a 20-minute walk, aren’t luxuries, but actually necessities that keep you going. “By taking care of yourself, you’ll be strong, more equipped, and have more energy to care for others,” says Pagoto.

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