The Problem With People Pleasers

Katie Young
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Wednesday - January 17, 2007
| Del.icio.us

My friend Shelly feels like she has spent a lifetime trying to please everyone. She told me this after a day of people-pleasing left her mentally and emotionally exhausted.

“My whole life!” she said, exasperated. “That’s a long time to try to make everyone like you.”

I reminded Shelly that she was only 32 years old and she still had a long way to go in life.

“It doesn’t matter,” Shelly concluded, shaking her head. “I’m done. No more trying to please every person I meet; no more trying to make them like me. I’m just going to speak my mind and not care how anyone else feels about what I have to say.”


It sounded like a good plan to me, but I thought it might be easier said than done for someone like Shelly, who had been people-pleasing for so long. When you’ve spent your life doing things a certain way, it takes a strong mental effort to change that.

She surprised me though. I guess she was truly fed up with making herself unhappy just to make others more comfortable.

Shelly’s sudden carefree attitude was spurred by a mutual acquaintance of ours - a woman who did not care too much for Shelly.

For months Shelly tormented herself trying to figure out what she had done to wrong this particular person.

“Did I say something?” Shelly had asked me. “Did you hear me say anything that might have offended her?”

“Maybe you were too nice to her boyfriend,” I joked. “Or perhaps you sat in her seat that one time at the restaurant.”

I really had no clue why this woman disliked Shelly. If it were me, I would have shrugged my shoulders and said, “Oh well, you can’t make everyone like you.” And gone on with my own business.

But for Shelly this situation was unbearable. Anytime someone didn’t like her, Shelly’s mind would automatically send signals to her brain that this was an unpleasant experience that needed correcting.

So in this particular case (and all other similar cases) Shelly went into people-pleasing over-

drive, going out of her way to be especially nice to this woman every time our circle of friends would meet up. After months of kindness failed to produce any change in this woman’s unpleasant demeanor, Shelly finally called it quits.


She was 32, an accomplished career woman with a great group of close friends who really understood and loved her. Why did she need the approval of a moody woman she didn’t even really care for herself? And for that matter, why did she need the approval of anyone at all?

A light bulb went on in Shelly’s head. She was too old to people-please. She had worked hard to become a good person. She was more sure of herself and her beliefs than ever. She could disagree with someone and still be able to be their friend.

More importantly, Shelly didn’t have the energy to waste on someone who was acting petty. She wanted to spend that energy on more positive endeavors and people.

“You know what I learned?” Shelly told me. “You should never let someone else’s rejection of you be the standard. Because the only opinion that really matters in the end is your own.”

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