Neuro Harmony, LLC
Licensed Clinical Counseling in Charleston, Illinois

Neuro Notes

Are you a people pleaser? It could be the result of a past trauma...

Jul 22

Chances are, at one point or another in your life, you have tried to make another person happy.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it can be a sign of dealing with unresolved trauma. How so? Let me explain.

When we are children and growing up, we have needs. Being protected and provided for are at the forefront. For some of us, though, we grew up in a less than ideal environment. An unsafe, unstable, or abusive environment that gave us stress and suffering. To feel safer, we learned to please those (or at least attempt to) closest to us, our parents, siblings, or other authority figures in our lives. 

Therefore, people-pleasing can be seen as a trauma response, an adaptive coping mechanism that serves a tremendously important reason: to help us deal with situations our well-being or even survival depends on.

The problem? Even now as adults many of us still unconsciously engage in this behavioral pattern, when we don’t really need to. People-pleasing has become our second nature, and, whether we realize it or not, it is negatively affecting our lives.

Before we look at how the negatives of this pattern affect us, let's look at common habits of people pleasers. Here are a few, but there are many, many more:

  • Saying “Yes” at almost all times, even when you want to say no.
  • Constantly apologizing, even when you are not at fault.
  • Suppressing anger, sadness, or other emotions in fear of hurting or upsetting others.
  • Wanting to appear “perfect” in the eyes of others.
  • Avoiding conflict, at almost all costs.
  • Flattering other people, even those they don’t like.
  • Worrying about what other’s think of them, to a fault.
  • Not expressing real and genuine thoughts.
  • Trying to help others, all the time. Even when help is not needed, asked for or wanted.
  • Being afraid of making themselves look like a fool.
  • Feeling hurt when someone criticizes them for something they did or said.
  • Being overly vigilant of other people.
  • Not distancing themselves from abusers.
  • Feeling unworthy of love and respect.
  • Letting other’s direct them how to live their lives.
  • Believing everyone knows better than them.
  • Showing compassion to everyone, except themselves.

It’s safe to say that these are not healthy behaviors for us. They are, bottom-line, detrimental to us and the relationships we have with others. Here are a few negatives these behaviors can have on us:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Physical Illness

People pleasers will do about anything they can to make others happy, often, at the sake of their own happiness. They suppress their own true emotions. They might want to cry in sadness, scream in anger… but they don’t. They put on a “fake smile” and go about life as if there is nothing wrong. Whatever it takes to avoid conflict.

They might want to say “no” and step away from a relationship, but they instead choose to comply and stay with someone who’s abusing them. As a result of this ongoing emotional suppression, people pleasers experience chronic stress, which can lead to fatigue as well as mental and physical illnesses. In addition, because people pleasers are fixated on controlling people and situations, they tend to experience a lot of anxiety, as well as disappointment when things don’t turn out the way they wish.

  • Resentment/Regrets

When we ignore our gut feelings, and do what is better for everyone else, we are betraying ourselves. When we dismiss our own feelings, thoughts, and values, we ultimately reject our true inner peace. When we’re constantly trying to please others, we usually end up finding that they take us for granted, which can make us feel unappreciated. Resentment is often the result.

These things can lead to big problems. You might find that most, if not all, relationships you are in become one sided and quite dysfunctional. While their behavior is not meant to be malicious at all, people pleasers are, for lack of a better term, liars. They don’t lie to hurt others, but to protect themselves from rejection. They are like chameleons, changing their appearance to adapt to their environment, so that no one gets to know their true colors; at least, in the beginning of a relationship. This often results in communication problems, and once the truth comes out, it can lead to serious interpersonal conflict. Another reason why people pleasers end up finding themselves in messed up relationships is that, due to their lack of assertiveness and weak interpersonal boundaries, they tend to attract narcissists and bullies into their lives. But because of the manipulative tactics of the latter, they might still feel accepted, loved, and wanted, which is often what keeps them stuck in toxic relationships.

People pleasers often experience a lack of freedom, joy, meaning or purpose. For the most part, they are living in a way that prevents them from being authentic. They find it extremely hard to let go, enjoy themselves, pursue their dreams, or just speak out their mind and heart, for they are constantly concerned about what others think of them. As a result, they feel that their lives lack joy, freedom, meaning and purpose. Because of that, they tend to experience a sense of emptiness within, which they often mistakenly try to fill by pleasing others instead of taking care of their own needs.

So, now that we might have a slight understanding of people pleasing tendencies, how do we attempt to stop them and change our thought patterns?

Become conscious of your thoughts and behaviors.

We all want to make others happy. The key here, though, is why are we doing it?

Don’t blame yourself for wanting to be liked, needed, or accepted.

These are all basic human desires. Just be aware of what you are sacrificing to achieve them.

Always listen to your gut feeling.

Our intuition is usually accurate and is designed to keep us safe. Take time to understand what you are really wanting/feeling. Spend time with thoughts and feelings and then communicate them with others.

Respond, don’t react.

People pleasers often react out of habit, saying and doing things they don’t really want to. To break that habit, you need to learn to pause, reflect on your needs, and respond according to each situation. For example, if someone asks you to do them a favor, take a few moments to consider whether you want to or not, instead of immediately saying “yes” out of habit.

Practice honesty.

Seems easy enough, right? Remember, you are lying to everyone, including yourself when you are constantly people pleasing. Hence, our relationships remain fake and skin-deep. So, I will ask you: Do you want people to like you for being someone you are not? Wouldn’t it be better if you could connect with people who like and accept you as you are? By realizing the importance of honesty in forming genuine, intimate relationships, you’ll start opening up more to others, and see your relationships becoming much more satisfying.


This will look different for each of us. Know what you need to be reasonably happy, and don’t allow other people to cross your boundaries.

Full Blog