How to stop being people pleasers and still be nice?

people pleaser

We people pleasers share similar experiences growing up with our families. I grew up in a family system that was chaotic and unpredictable. And for the most part, communication with my parents was based on anger or shame. Obviously, as a kid, I didn’t have the cognitive capacity to differentiate the emotional climate at home from my own. And being the curious and smart kid I was, I soon found out that adaptation was going to be my saving grace.  

To cope, I fell into the following pattern: If I please my parents, then they will like me, they won’t get upset, and others will like me and approve of me. 

Fast-forward into my adulthood during years. I frequently found myself going above and beyond in the most simple tasks, feeling that I didn’t have free time, overwhelmed, and struggling with the inability to say no. When I put too much effort into something, the stress would be gone temporarily, but my desire for belonging was never met. I was trapped in a nice-ness cage where my compulsion to be valued locked me up in a trap of my own making.

Becoming people pleasers

People pleasing is a behavior learned in childhood – among other adaptive behaviors – that unconsciously gets brought into adulthood.  While growing up you needed to be agreeable, do and say what your parents told you without a choice to say no or to keep peace at home. You developed a chameleon-like attitude to fit it. 

You learned at a very early age that you need to trade authenticity for attachment. As a child, you had to become something to get your most basic needs met, such as dignity: belonging, acceptance, food, shelter, and being of value to the system you are were. You had to adapt your personality and create a persona to attune to what the system needs to be accepted. 

After years of adaptable training, you may become a conflict-averse person: experiences difficulty saying no, feels constantly overwhelmed, quickly takes the blame, has difficulty saying no, and always apologizes. 

People pleaser, boundaries, and learning to say no

If you identify yourself as a people pleasers, you probably lack strong boundaries in certain aspects of your life.

A boundary is a life skill, it provides the necessary foundation for every healthy and long relationship – and most important the relationship with yourself. It protects you from what feels uncomfortable, inappropriate, unsafe, unacceptable, or simply that you don’t want to do it. 

When boundaries are in place, you will be more confident and free to express your authentic self as well as your wants and needs. 

Boundaries are important but they can also be intimidating, especially when you come from a family dynamic where your needs are constantly violated and boundaries weren’t a thing. 

In my experience, I only could say no when I couldn’t take it anymore. I was grumpy and often felt guilty, and I apologized for my needs or I over-explained.

In the end, boundaries are a skill we all have to learn. It is a daily practice. The reality is that not being nice…is being true to yourself. It is less about being rude or inconsiderate and more about knowing what you want, what your limits are, and communicating kindly and directly.

Every time you say no, you pave the way for a more mature, honest relationship with yourself and other loved ones. 

Finding help to overcome your tendencies of being a people pleaser 

Engaging with a therapist will help you see what is underneath the people-pleasing, begin a therapeutic process and have a safe place to express your emotions. It is the first step to digging into frozen emotional content and starting your healing journey.

Healing from being a people pleaser 

Start redesigning the ways you find validation and attachment, and take baby steps when necessary. You may start by simply looking at the most common places where you feel your boundaries have been challenged. 

  • Practice saying no with conviction.
  • Realize you have choices.
  • Say you need more time alone.
  • Share sincere disagreements. 
  • Practice: “I am sorry I can’t.” “I don’t have time.” “Today I can’t.” “I disagree with you.” ” I need some time to …”
  • Don’t give several excuses.
  • Get clear about values.
  • Celebrate your wins.
  • Avoid performing all the time.

Here is more about excessive niceness and people pleasing from Dr. Aziz Gazipura, who wrote the book Not Nice.

I will leave you with this question for reflection.

My go-to people-pleaser behavior has been…?

To your growth and success,



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