Finding Freedom from People Pleasing

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By Stephenie Craig, LCSW

Stephenie Craig, Lcsw

You cook, you travel, you buy, you get the outfits, you smile, you take pretty pictures. You hope your family behaves well. You clean, you decorate, you do your best to get along. You work so hard and hope people are proud of you, like you, think you’re enough. Then the end of the holiday season arrives, often leaving you feeling exhausted, disappointed, and asking yourself, “Why am I so tired and what’s missing from this picture?”

You expect time with family and friends during holidays to be fun and instead your people pleasing feels sad, critical, and like no matter what you did for others, it wasn’t enough. People pleasing is the practice of seeking approval from others by doing what you think they want you to do. People pleasing tricks you into believing you will feel good about yourself if you can just make the next person happy. Sometimes people pleasing feels like it’s really working for you. You might receive some praise and approval at times inviting you to believe doing what others want you to do is the pathway to fulfillment. Eventually, you can’t keep everyone happy and something falls through the cracks resulting in disappointment, criticism, and feelings of failure.

The uncomfortable and wonderful truth is you are not capable of making everyone happy and you can stop trying to get their approval. Some people will not be pleased and there will always be someone who doesn’t like your choices. Your purpose was never pleasing others. Your purpose is to be uniquely you, bringing your strengths, love, and authentic self to your life, relationships, and community.  People pleasing makes false promises of fulfillment and leaves you feeling empty, bitter, and lonely. So, how are you supposed to let it go and find joy in who you really are?

5 Ways to Begin Letting Go of People Pleasing as Identity

  1. Use resentment as a red flag. People pleasing leads to resentment. You work hard to make others happy and when they aren’t, you find yourself bitter and wondering why you worked hard for someone so ungrateful. Resentment can be your guide to noticing when you have your sense of self wrapped up in pleasing others.
  2. Consider both what you need and what will benefit others. Instead of immediately trying to anticipate what will make others happy with you, slow down. Ask yourself what will show healthy love and kindness toward others with boundaries. Ask yourself what you want, what you need, and what is healthy for you. Find the overlap in what feels both authentically loving, kind, and healthy for others and yourself.
  3. Make healthy decisions even if you believe someone else will be unhappy about it. Even if you’ve considered what is loving and healthy for the other and yourself, sometimes the other wants you to do what is only good for them. Proceeding to make the healthy decision and setting a boundary with kindness is the healthy path forward for any relationship. “Mom, I understand you’d like for us to be at your house all of Thanksgiving Day, however, it is important to us to be at our house in the morning. We will be happy to join you in the afternoon at your house.”
  4. Work through your discomfort when someone is disappointed by your decision. Maybe they invite you to feel guilty, maybe they give you the silent treatment, maybe they say mean things. It will feel like you can’t survive this, but I promise, you can. Sit through the discomfort and you will find  the sun will still rise and set. People who want to respect you and their relationship with you will learn to respect you when you make decisions that displease them.
  5. Enjoy being more truly yourself. When you stop seeking unhealthy approval from others, you have more space to understand who you are, what creates joy for you, and ways you can bring genuine love and joy to others. Find confidence in your decisions and enjoy the authentic space you’ve created to be you and to feel like you’re enough.

Letting go of deeply ingrained habits requires grace, patience, and time. When you commit to the long work of change, the resulting freedom is worth your commitment and effort. As you walk through letting go of people pleasing and other life patterns that have left you feeling exhausted, remember to connect with us at for support along your journey.

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