2 Nov 2023

The Perils of People Pleasing

We all value good manners and believe that common courtesy is about being aware of other people’s feelings, being observant, and trying to moderate our behaviour so that it doesn’t impact negatively on the people around us. However, there is a risk that this sort of behaviour could morph into “people pleasing”, a common phenomenon when, to appear “good”, “thoughtful” and “kind”, we repress our own needs and emotions, are over-acquiescent around other people, and avoid conflict at all costs because we fear being rejected, discounted or overlooked.

There is a danger when you compulsively present your best face to the world that you are bottling up your true feelings and projecting an inauthentic version of yourself. Your friends may become frustrated by your bland agreeableness and suspect that you are masking your true emotions. Eventually, the pressures of being a people pleaser will build up and may well lead to outbursts of aggrieved anger and resentment, as well as stress and burnout. If you spend all your time trying too hard to solve everyone else’s problems, there will be very little mental energy left for yourself.

It is easy to confuse people pleasing tendencies with being a kind, considerate, well-mannered person, but that would be a mistake. Good manners are never about eradicating your own personality or deferring completely to the people around you. Instead, you must find acceptable ways of communicating your true self and your feelings and opinions to the world. If you can do so without intemperate rage, and without haranguing or dominating other people, you will not cause offence. A little grit in the oyster – disagreements, disappointment, self-assertion, anger, irritation – is all part of building well-rounded relationships with other people.

What are the Signs of People Pleasing?

•You always agree with everyone and are alarmed by the prospect of deviating from the common consensus.

•You find it extremely hard to say “no” when you are asked for help or favours, or when you are being enlisted to do something that you would rather not do. Saying “yes” is your default position.

•You tend to put your own needs on hold when you are with other people, and you are unwilling to assert or prioritise yourself.

•You feel an anguished sense of responsibility for other people’s emotions. If you are with someone who is in a bad mood, or feeling tetchy, for example, you leap to the conclusion that it must be because of something you’ve done or said.

•You’re a social chameleon: you’ll do whatever it takes to make other people comfortable in social situations, even if it means behaving in a way that makes you uncomfortable (eg agreeing to go on a wild night out of clubbing and drinking when what you really want is a quiet dinner in the local restaurant).

•You avoid conflict at all costs. If there is a heated disagreement amongst your friends, you have a tendency to sit on the fence, or plead ignorance.

•You are a compulsive apologiser, mainly because you feel that – when things have gone wrong, whatever the reason – it is your fault.

How to Say No

•First, you need to acknowledge that you have people pleasing tendencies. Try to examine the times recently you’ve said “yes” when you really mean “no” and think about the number of times in the past few days you’ve acted on other people’s expectations rather than your own wishes.

•You’ll probably find that you naturally default to saying “yes” to everything, so experiment with buying yourself a bit of time by pausing. You could say “I’ll have to think about it”. Use the time to ask yourself “do I really want to do this?” before giving your reply.

•Make small incremental changes. Experiment with saying “no” to a small request and seeing how this makes you feel. You might feel better if you mitigate the negative with a short, and truthful, explanation: for example, say “no thanks” to the offer of an after-work drink, with the brief “I’m just too tired to socialise tonight.”  You will be surprised and gratified to find that your explanations will be accepted and your decision to take note of your own feelings will not endanger your friendships.


MPA House
66 Baker Street
Weybridge KT13 8AL
United Kingdom
Get In Touch
Subscription Enquiries
+44 (0)330 3339699
General Enquiries
+44 (0)20 3950 5240
Join our weekly newsletter
Subscription Form
MPA House
66 Baker Street
Weybridge KT13 8AL
United Kingdom
Designed by Anna Ocipinska. Developed by BuiltByGo. © 2022 Debrett’s. All Rights Reserved
My cart
Your cart is empty.

Looks like you haven't made a choice yet.