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People Pleasers in Relationships: Love without Losing Yourself

People pleasers in relationships

Making our partners happy is a natural part of any healthy relationship, but sometimes the desire to please can become overwhelming and turn into an unhealthy pattern of pleasing people. People pleasing describes when individuals prioritize their partner’s needs over their own.

While it may appear to be a positive trait, people pleasing can often be more harmful than helpful, creating an unhealthy dynamic that undermines the foundation of a strong, balanced partnership.

In this article, we will explore the characteristics that define people pleasing, uncover the reasons behind this behaviour, discuss its impact on relationships, and provide guidance on overcoming it. Whether you find yourself in a relationship with a people-pleaser or identify as one yourself, this article will assist you in building healthier and more genuine connections with your loved ones.

Understanding People Pleasers

People pleasers are kind, caring individuals who always put others before themselves, often driven by a strong desire to make others happy and gain their approval. This can be a positive trait, as it often leads people pleasers to be helpful and supportive friends, family members, and coworkers. However, their eagerness to please can sometimes become excessive, leading them to neglect their needs, boundaries, and well-being.

Characteristics of People Pleasers

Eager to please

One of the most obvious traits of people pleasers is their strong desire to make others happy. They often go above and beyond to accommodate their partner’s needs, even if it means neglecting their own well-being or sacrificing their personal interests.

Difficulty saying no

Saying no can be a significant challenge for people-pleasers, especially when it comes to their loved ones. They often find it difficult to decline requests or assert their boundaries, resulting in an over-commitment of time, energy, and resources that leaves them feeling depleted and overwhelmed.

Need for approval

People pleasers crave validation and approval from others, basing their self-worth on the acceptance and appreciation they receive. This need for approval can drive them to prioritize their partner’s happiness over their own, even when it’s detrimental to their own mental and emotional health.

Fear of conflict

Conflict is something that people pleasers often avoid at all costs. They may suppress their own needs, desires, and opinions to maintain harmony in their relationships, fearing that expressing their true feelings might lead to arguments or, worse, the end of the relationship.

Taking responsibility for others’ emotions

People pleasers will often feel responsible for the emotions of others. When their loved ones are upset, they may feel they are responsible for cheering them up or fixing their problems.

Why People Become People Pleasers

Childhood experiences

Many people pleasers develop this behaviour as a coping mechanism during childhood. They may have grown up in families where their needs were consistently overlooked or where they were expected to be overly accommodating to others. Over time, this pattern of behaviour becomes ingrained and continues into adulthood.

Self-esteem issues

Low self-esteem is a common contributing factor to people-pleasing. Individuals with low self-worth may feel undeserving of love and attention unless they constantly meet the needs of others. This can create a vicious cycle where people pleasers further neglect their own needs in an attempt to gain approval and validation from their partners.

The desire for validation and approval can also become a significant motivator for people pleasers. They find their self-esteem in the positive feedback they receive from others. This external validation becomes addictive, and they continue to seek it at the expense of their own needs and well-being.

Finding satisfaction and fulfillment by making positive contributions to the lives of others can be gratifying, showcasing our empathy, compassion, and kindness. However, relying solely on external validation for self-esteem is inadequate. This reliance leaves us vulnerable to the ups and downs of relationships and hampers the development of a resilient and unwavering sense of self-worth that originates from within. In the long run, people-pleasing is damaging to self-worth.

Cultural factors

Cultural upbringing and societal expectations can also play a role in the development of people-pleasing behaviour. In some cultures, self-sacrifice and maintaining harmony are highly valued, which can encourage individuals to prioritize the needs of others over their own.

The Impact of People Pleasing on Relationships

While people pleasers have good intentions, their behaviour can have significant repercussions on their relationships.

Lack of Boundaries

People pleasers often struggle to establish and maintain healthy boundaries. They may find it challenging to express their limits, resulting in others unknowingly taking advantage of them. This lack of boundaries can lead to feeling overwhelmed, depleted, and taken for granted.

In addition, constantly giving in to a partner’s demands can create an unhealthy power imbalance in the relationship. This dynamic can lead to one partner unknowingly taking advantage of the other’s accommodating nature, potentially fostering codependency or even abusive behaviour.

Lack of authenticity and emotional intimacy

People pleasers often suppress their true feelings and desires in an attempt to maintain harmony in their relationships. This can result in a lack of authenticity and emotional intimacy, as partners may not fully know or understand each other’s true selves.

This lack of authenticity hurts both the people-pleaser and their partner because it results in a lack of emotional intimacy. Partners are robbed of the chance to fully know and love their partner’s true self.

Resentment and Frustration

Constantly prioritizing others’ needs and desires can lead to pent-up resentment and frustration. People pleasers may feel unappreciated when their efforts go unnoticed or when their own needs are consistently overlooked. Over time, this can create a strain on the relationship, causing emotional distance and dissatisfaction.

Communication problems

People pleasing can impede open and honest communication within a relationship. Individuals who fear conflict may be reluctant to express their needs or engage in healthy conflict resolution, leading to unresolved issues and the potential for passive-aggressive behaviour or emotional withdrawal.

Personal space and setting boundaries

The Importance of Setting Boundaries

Breaking free from people-pleasing patterns starts with establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries.

Recognizing Personal Limits

People pleasers must first become aware of their own limits and needs. This self-reflection allows them to identify when they are compromising themselves and prioritize their own well-being.

Communicating Boundaries Effectively

Setting boundaries involves effectively communicating one’s limits and needs to others. This may involve learning to say “no” when necessary or expressing preferences and desires without fear of disapproval. Assertive communication is a vital skill that helps people pleasers maintain their autonomy and self-respect.

Respecting and Enforcing Boundaries

Establishing boundaries is only effective if they are respected and enforced. People pleasers must be willing to assertively reinforce their boundaries, even in the face of resistance or guilt. This reaffirms their self-worth and sends a clear message that their needs are valid and deserve respect.

Improving Communication in Relationships

Effective communication is the cornerstone of healthy and fulfilling relationships. Here are some strategies for improving communication as a people pleaser.

Expressing Needs and Desires

It is crucial for people pleasers to practice expressing their own needs and desires openly and honestly. This can be challenging at first, but by expressing themselves authentically, people pleasers can foster deeper connections and ensure that their own needs are met within the relationship.

Active Listening

Active listening is a powerful tool for enhancing communication. People pleasers should focus on truly hearing and understanding what their partner is saying without immediately jumping to please or appease them. They can demonstrate empathy, validate their partner’s feelings, and establish a stronger emotional bond by actively listening.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict is an inevitable part of any relationship. People pleasers often shy away from conflicts, fearing that disagreements will jeopardize the relationship. However, avoiding conflict can lead to unresolved issues and resentment. Learning healthy conflict resolution skills, such as effective communication, compromise, and empathy, can help people-pleasers address conflicts constructively and strengthen their relationship.

therapy for people pleasing

Seeking Professional Help

Overcoming deeply ingrained people-pleasing patterns may require professional support. Seeking therapy or counselling can provide individuals with valuable tools and strategies to break free from these behaviours.

Therapy and Counselling Options

Therapy and counselling offer a safe and supportive space for individuals to explore the underlying causes of their people-pleasing tendencies. A qualified therapist can guide individuals in developing self-awareness, building self-esteem, setting boundaries, and improving communication skills. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can be an effective approach for developing coping skills for addressing people-pleasing behaviours. Psychodynamic and insight-based therapies can help you get to the root of why you became a people-pleaser in the first place.


People pleasing in relationships can be a destructive pattern that leads to imbalances of power, lack of authenticity, resentment, stress, and communication problems. By identifying the issue, setting boundaries, practising assertiveness, seeking therapy, and building self-esteem, you can break free from the cycle of people-pleasing and cultivate healthier, more fulfilling relationships that respect the needs and desires of both partners.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you have a healthy relationship with a people pleaser?

Of course! A healthy relationship is possible with a people pleaser, but it requires open communication, setting boundaries, and fostering mutual understanding and growth.

What are the downsides of dating a people pleaser?

Dating a people pleaser can lead to imbalanced dynamics, neglect of personal needs, difficulty expressing authentic emotions, and potential resentment or burnout.

What to do when your partner is a people pleaser?

Encourage open dialogue about their needs and feelings, support their self-care and self-expression, promote healthy boundaries, and encourage them to prioritize their well-being.

How is being a people pleaser selfish?

While it may seem selfless, being a people pleaser can be considered selfish because it often stems from a desire for external validation and fear of rejection, neglecting one’s own authentic needs and well-being. It can also be toxic for relationships because it leads to inauthenticity and resentment.

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