The People-Pleasing Dilemma: Our Need to Please & Be Liked

What is people pleasing?

People pleasers often go out of their way to accommodate the emotional needs of others in an effort to be liked, to ‘keep the peace’, not disappoint the other and fundamentally avoid conflict at all costs. At the core of people-pleasing lies a deep-seated fear of rejection and abandonment. There is an underlying belief that worthiness and lovability are contingent upon meeting others' expectations. Disappointing others or being met with disapproval can evoke intense anxiety and elicit a need to please.

People pleasing can look like:

  • Struggling or feeling bad for saying no.
  • Difficulty setting appropriate boundaries or expressing limits to what we are willing to accept.
  • Not expressing a contrary opinion to minimise our own anxiety about being perceived in an unfavourable light.
  • Believing never disagreeing will provide validation and approval.
  • Constantly apologising and taking responsibility for actions and events we are not, to minimise awkwardness and discomfort.
  • Hiding our real feelings to avoid conflict and, or hurting the other
  • Using different personas with different people. Often we can see this ‘chameleon like’ behaviour as being ‘adaptable’ but we sacrifice our own true opinions, values, beliefs and self.
  • Feeling exploited. We can start to feel taken advantage of and resent the other for not being aware of the imbalance in the relationship and/or not noticing our needs.
  • Burnout - apparent ‘harmony’ comes at the expense of our genuine feelings and thoughts and can eventually lead to harbouring resentments and our own mental and physical burn out.

Early Attachments and Developmental Influences

Our earliest experiences with attachment and connection lay the foundation for how we relate to others later in life. Individuals who grew up in environments where their needs weren't consistently met or where their caregivers were emotionally unavailable may develop a strong inclination towards people-pleasing behaviours.

The need to please others can also stem from unmet psychological needs for validation, acceptance, and belonging. Those who struggle with low self-esteem or a lack of self-worth may seek external validation as a means of bolstering a fragile sense of self. Underpinning the constant striving to meet others' expectations and gather praise is the desire to fill the void within and find the sense of belonging and acceptance deeply craved.


In psychotherapy, individuals struggling with people-pleasing tendencies are encouraged to explore their underlying beliefs, fears and emotional patterns driving the need to be liked. Through this examination we can begin to name and challenge the motivations behind the need to please so much and cultivate a deeper understanding of our own sense of worthiness and intrinsic value.

By cultivating self-compassion and self-acceptance we can challenge the harsh self-criticism and perfectionism that is often associated with people-pleasing behaviour. Therapy can also assist in developing assertiveness skills to communicate needs, preferences, and boundaries effectively, while still respecting the autonomy and boundaries of others.

Ultimately, the journey towards healing from people-pleasing involves embracing authenticity, self-compassion, and empowerment. By recognizing and challenging the core beliefs and fears driving our behaviour, we can reclaim agency over their lives and cultivate fulfilling relationships based on mutual respect and authenticity.

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