A realistic take on people pleasing

I’m a people pleaser. No doubt about it. 

But I’m working on it. 

Frustratingly, it’s tough to undo. After all, I’ve been refining this skill since I was young. 

As children we all craved attention. We loved it when people cared for us, oogled at us, or (for some of us) told us off – as long as it meant we were being noticed. 

Where does this people pleasing come from?

I found, that if I did more of what the adults deemed ‘cute’ or ‘right’, I’d get more attention. So off I went, doing what pleased the people around me because I’d get a smile of approval or asian relatives saying how chubby yet adorable I was (I tended to focus on the latter). 

Interestingly, this people pleasing also stems from my dislike for conflict and arguments. At home there’d be some here and there, and to pacify this, I’d get on the good side of both ‘sides’. Growing up, no matter where I was, I always tried to keep the peace. 

So people pleasing can stem from conflict avoidance, or attention seeking as I mentioned. But it could go further, like trying to undo a wrong made in the past. 

…or simply the presence of school. 

The impact of school

In school, teachers would praise you when you did something right, when you followed the rules. I lapped that up and wanted to be liked. To follow the rules, and therefore be included in a community. 

But personally, the most harmful source of people pleasing is other fellow students. 

This external pressure to be ‘normal’, coupled with our internal pressure is quite pervasive. I didn’t want to be labelled ‘weird’ or ‘out there’. I didn’t want to be an outsider.  

This people pleasing can be subconscious, where we’ll subtly tweak our preferences to fit in. 


For example, if you’re part of a ‘friendship’ group which doesn’t share the same values as you. You’ll accomodate and adjust yourself to them, because alienation and exclusion seems far scarier. 

This is not about making people like you. But because we care deeply about what people think of us, we will often change who we are (just slightly) to fit in.  

Interestingly, so many people ‘change’ quite significantly after high school. It’s not necessarily that they’ve changed as a person, but rather have overcome some resistance of high school people pleasing – to let their hidden true values come out. 

A new outlook on people pleasing

Treat it like a spectrum, not a 0 or 100. 

No one is either a people pleaser, or not a people pleaser. Instead, they’re along something like this:

Everyone wants to be liked, and will try to make the people around them happy, or laugh or whatever. We want to please people, make their lives better somehow. We want attention. 

This is natural people pleasing. 

What I’m trying to encourage is this healthy point in the middle. For me and for all of you. 

So why are you bringing this up?

It’s tough not giving a damn of what others think of you, and I look up to those who can live true to themselves even with societal expectations. 

People pleasing has been a learned behaviour that I’m working to unlearn. It’s helpful for me to ask these questions:

      – Am I living a life for me, or for others? 

      – Am I trying to live safely, or riskily at the expense that I’ll get weird looks from others for being slightly different? 

Why is people pleasing a bad thing?

People pleasing has a negative connotation. That you’re a fake, trying to suck up to people and get on their good side. People focus on the extremes of the spectrum. 

But I believe that with everything, there’s a positive and a negative. That people pleasing can either help, or hinder us. 

People pleasing is not something to be ashamed of. 

It’s a natural behaviour. A way to be included in a community and to help those around you.

When is people pleasing OK or NOT OK?


People pleasing can easily become something harmful, or at least, not helpful. 

So for people pleasing, I consider these points:

1. WHO we’re people pleasing, and

2. Whether we’re staying true to our own values when people pleasing

I am not here anymore to please people I either don’t know or don’t personally care for. Of course, I’ll try and please people close to me – my family and close friends, or people I respect. 

But that’s not at the expense of losing integrity to be one with the pack. 

If I am hiding who I am to fit in, that’s a red light to step back. If I am ‘making’ people like me, and being someone I’m not to achieve that…

Stop, do not pass GO, and turn back. 

Let's conclude:

People pleasing is not bad. It’s natural and shouldn’t be criticised as much as it is. It is learning when and how much to indulge in it. It is knowing the balance between hindering or helping us.

And I’m not personally wanting to get to the bottom of the spectrum. I like people and will treat them like such. 

BUT, I hope to achieve that healthy middle. To respect myself enough to not follow the crowd if it isn’t true to myself. 

This topic interests me a lot and I hope it’s helped reframe people pleasing in a healthy manner. 

Feel free to start a discussion if you’d like, and especially if you don’t agree with what I’ve said. Would love to know your perspective. 

Jo x

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