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How to stop being a people-pleaser. It’s about retraining yourself

Neglecting our own needs to do things for others can affect our wellbeing

What is people-pleasing?

People-pleasers put others’ needs before their own. Sometimes preoccupied with others’ good opinion of them, people-pleasers can find it hard to say “no” and can feel guilty if they do. A people-pleaser may even pretend to agree with something rather than vocalise their views. Neglecting our own needs to do things for others however can have detrimental impact on our wellbeing.

How does it start?

Not valuing our own desires and needs can stem from low self-worth, says psychologist Keelin O’Dwyer of fettle.ie. “People-pleasers may lack confidence and require external validation. Or sometimes it can come from perfectionism,” says O’Dwyer. “They may want everything to be just so and this can extend to how other people think about them.” Having a cold parent who became kind and caring when you helped may have taught you this was the way to get a positive response from others, she says. “That can start at a young age and the behaviour becomes entrenched.”

Why is it bad?

People-pleasing is draining and can cause anger and tension to mount, says O’Dwyer. “Someone who keeps pushing against your boundaries might not know it because you haven’t vocalised anything,” she says. “When you lose your temper, they can feel lost as to why.” Not putting your needs first can lead to stress, self-neglect and burnout. “If you are giving more than you are receiving, that means you are foregoing things that you need,” she says.

How do I stop?

Start by asserting yourself in small ways. It can be easier to say “no” to someone you don’t know, says O’Dwyer. “If a shop assistant is trying to sell you something, say, ‘No thanks. I’m not interested’. Build up over time.” With friends, say no to smaller requests, or try expressing your opinion about something small, says O’Dwyer.

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“It’s about retraining yourself. If your friend wants to see one movie but you want to see another, you could say, ‘I was looking forward to seeing that movie’. If your WhatsApp group is organising a party and you don’t want to go, say, ‘No, I’m not available’,” she advises. If you visit a relative three times a week but want to scale back, you could say, ‘I have a lot going on, we’ll have to meet on Fridays for now’. “You will start to gain greater confidence in yourself and take back control of your life,” she says.

What are the benefits?

Saying no is a great way to practise self-support, says O’Dwyer. “It is great for our mental, emotional and physical health because you need to fill up your own cup first. It’s important that we give some of the kindness that we give so freely to others to ourselves.”

Won’t others be displeased?

They might be. Surround yourself with kind and caring people, she says. “Let them know this is something you are working on. That it’s important to you. True friends will understand and will want to support you.”