The Pitfalls of People-Pleasing: A Guide to Self-Acceptance and Boundaries

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Do you often find yourself saying "yes" when you really want to say "no"? Do you constantly prioritize others' needs over your own, even at the expense of your own well-being? You may be trapped in the cycle of people-pleasing, a common behavior that can have detrimental effects on your mental and emotional health.

As a therapist, I've seen firsthand the toll that people-pleasing can take on individuals. It often stems from a deep-seated fear of rejection or a desire for external validation. While seeking approval from others is natural, constantly sacrificing your own needs and desires to please others is not sustainable in the long run.

Here are some insights on how to break free from the people-pleasing trap:


  1. Remember That Prioritizing Yourself Isn't Selfish: Contrary to popular belief, prioritizing your own needs and well-being isn't selfish; it's essential for your overall happiness and fulfillment. While it's natural to want to be appreciated and valued by others, constantly sacrificing your own needs to please others can lead to resentment and burnout.
  • Tip: Ask yourself, what is something that you would like to do but have been telling yourself you don’t have time for. Often, I find people spend so much time thinking about the things they “should” be doing or “have” to do that they don’t spend time reflecting upon what they actually want. Ask yourself, what are your priorities? Are you living your life based off of the priorities of others?
  1. You Can't Please Everyone: Trying to make everyone happy is impossible! No matter how hard you try, it's not possible to be liked by everyone. Seeking approval and positive feedback from others is natural, but it's important to recognize that your worth isn't determined by others' opinions of you.
  • Tip: Many people-pleasers have underlying beliefs that they are not worthy of love or acceptance unless they meet certain expectations. Or there may be a fear of someone being unhappy with you. Assess if these beliefs you have are valid. Say to yourself, “I’m have the thought that (ex: if I say no to these plans they’ll be unhappy with me)” – But is that fear actually true in reality? If you turn down plans will that ACTUALLY be upset with you or will they just be a little disappointed?
  1. Embrace Discomfort: Confronting uncomfortable situations or speaking your truth may feel daunting, but it's a necessary step toward personal growth and self-empowerment. Embrace the discomfort as an opportunity for growth, rather than avoiding it out of fear of conflict or rejection.
  • Tip: The truth is that some people may really not accept if someone is speaking up for themselves or has different view. If the reality is that you’re interacting with someone that doesn’t accept the boundaries you’ve tried to set – Ask yourself, “Do I benefit from having this person in my life” or “Do I need to keep having this person in my life in this way?” Sometimes you may need to assess your relationships if you find someone is not adhering to your boundaries.
  1. Confrontation Doesn't Have to Mean Conflict: Many people-pleasers fear confrontation because they believe it will inevitably lead to conflict. However, it's possible to have honest conversations with others without it turning into conflict. Approach these conversations with empathy and a desire for resolution.
  • Tip: Very often we try to plan for the worse case scenarios in our mind. Ask yourself – Am I imagining the worst case scenario or the most likely scenario? It’s worth it to give some thought to the most likely scenario instead of spending time overthinking about the one that’s the least likely to happen.
  1. You Can Control Your Actions, Not Others' Reactions: It's natural to want to control how others perceive us, but the reality is that we can only control our own actions and behaviors. Focus on expressing yourself authentically and respectfully, and let go of the need to control how others react.
  • Tip: Consider, “How did I feel about my role in the interaction?” Did you react with empathy and compassion for the other person? Did I feel I said what I wanted to convey? Just because you may not have gotten the reaction you wanted doesn’t mean that you didn’t communicate “correctly”. Sometimes you can act with empathy and compassion and it isn’t received the way you wanted. So instead of judging yourself based on the outcome, think about how you felt about how you engaged with the other person. You can’t control how someone reacts to you.
  1. Practice Self-Compassion: Finally, it's important to have compassion for yourself and recognize your own worth and value. You’re allowed to have your own perspective and your own unique likes and dislikes. It's okay to care about others, but not at the expense of your own well-being. Set boundaries, prioritize your own needs and wants, and honor your own needs and values.

BONUS TIP: PAUSE! If someone asks you a question, whether it be your opinion on something or asking you to do something – PAUSE! You don’t have to feel pressure to word vomit an answer right away (Trust me! I’m guilty of this myself). You can pause and politely say “I’m going to need time to think about that," “I’m not sure. I’m going to need to get back to you on that,” “I’m going to need time to think about it.” Many people respect that you want to give them a thoughtful answer and that’s okay. You don’t have to feel pressured to respond immediately.

Remember, you deserve to prioritize your own happiness and well-being, and consider that anyone who can't accept that may not be worth your time or energy.