people pleasing

I’m good with whatever. This phrase has been a mantra for the majority of my life. When I am at my best, I can be adaptable, spontaneous, and free-spirited. At my worst, I am a relentless people pleaser.

In my work as a counselor, few clients come to me with the primary goal of working on their people pleasing. And yet, I see its fingerprints on the lives of nearly every woman I work with. On the surface, it often presents itself as a fog of emotional fatigue resulting from the constant work of balancing the needs, wants, and expectations of others. It fuels many struggles with depression and anxiety. It colors relationships with underlying bitterness and resentment.

At its core, people pleasing is rooted in fear. We worry about how our choices might impact or inconvenience others. Instead of asking the people in our lives for what we need and desire, we say no for them. We find ourselves settling for a role as a background character in others’ stories because we’re scared — often for good reason — to show up in our own.

My people pleasing journey began early. Like many young children of divorce, I entered elementary school with an extra dose of insecurity. To top it off, I was a super sensitive kid who did not cope well with even the mildest disapproval or casual mistake. Classrooms and playgrounds provided the perfect environment for me to hone the skill of perception management to avoid that stinging shame.

We find ourselves settling for a role as a background character in others’ stories because we’re scared — often for good reason — to show up in our own.

people pleasing story

Today, my husband has most often been the recipient of my people pleasing efforts — which has only intensified since becoming parents. He works hard, is a wonderful, attentive father to our two little boys, and carries a big chunk of the household duties which keep our world functional.

When he checks in with me about doing things during a morning, evening, or weekend — going for a run, meeting up with some guy friends, getting some extra work done — I almost always say yes. No problem. I’m good with whatever.

Throughout the decade we’ve been married, I’ve begun to notice a pattern. It most often begins with feeling anxious and overwhelmed by the “Have-Tos” of life. I then respond by checking out emotionally when it all just feels like too much. This typically follows with passive-aggressive behavior, complaining, and — every once in a while —rounds out with a nice, tear-filled breakdown in which I spew blame upon my poor husband.

We recently had a conversation in which I bemoaned the lack of relational connection in my life. As I processed this, I found myself saying, I would have more time for friends in my life if YOU didn’t spend all of our free time running, working, and spending time with your friends.

The second these words escaped my mouth, I knew just how wrong I was. It wasn’t his fault. I was bitter that he had the courage and the forethought to ask for what he needed and wanted and I didn’t.

people pleasing price

What I discovered was this — my knee-jerk yeses and whatevers often become excuses to not take ownership of my own life. Managing the expectations and anticipating the needs of others is a full-time job that has robbed me of a full life and meaningful relationships. It’s too high a price to pay.

I also have learned that self-care isn’t enough. While I’m all for a good bubble bath and glass of wine, I think what we people pleasers need most is a supportive shove. We need people in our lives who will cheer us on as we commit ourselves to some of those things we always say we’d do if we had more time. We need to be held accountable to making space for those dreams that perpetually remain on the back burner. The fact that you are reading these words today is the result of a handful of people who have lovingly pushed me to take a risk.

The truth is, the people in our world will gain far more from our courage to live with authenticity and purpose than they would ever receive from our mere accommodation and fear of disappointing them.

It’s time to be done with someday. It’s time for the world to stop missing out on us. Let’s make some waves today.

Is people pleasing an issue for you? What do you think is at the root of it?

Images via Arielle Vey



  1. Am happy that you wrote your heart out here Melissa. In my case, m still overcoming from my people-pleasing trait. And I say yes whenever… especially at meets and events. That’s kind of weird that I do that only with strangers and not with people I admire and are close to me. May be it is all about making a good impression at the first meet by not staying truthful to self or not giving self as a bit of priority and be open about my set of opinions. I guess the root is fear of rejection or being called as uninteresting….

  2. This post is simply amazing and the truest piece I have read – that fits my perspective, anyway! So – thank you so much!! I have spent so much time sorting through other areas of challenge in my life, but I truly believe so many struggles in life come from this exact concept. I would love to hear/read about resources you may recommend for women that are looking for some guidance in this area – how to simply show up and be OK with that. NO matter what it look like. So much easier said than done – thank you again for this enlightening and hopeful piece. I love it!

  3. This post really hit home for me. I’ve always been a people pleaser, and I’ve kind of always known that it’s a problem, but I constantly avoid addressing it. I’ve really started to think about the little changes I can make to start to put my own needs first sometimes.

    After reading this, I was curious how people pleasing relates to gender. I found some interesting info and wrote a bit on that and on my own struggle with people pleasing as well:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  4. This is so good!! I can strongly relate bc I have been married about three years( we’ve known each other for about 8yrs) and often blame him for “checking out” bc he makes time for fun and friends and I don”t, at least not often enough. It’s really hard as a mother to balance every one else’s needs with your own. You are right about self care not being enough, it takes courage and showing up to those long forgotten dreams. I recently celebrated my first cancerversary and wrote a post about the scarcity mentality and vulnerability that follows the same vein of living with courage.

    Thank you for having courage and sharing with the rest of us!

  5. Hi Melissa,

    This is a well-written piece, that touches every aspect of people-pleasing. I, too struggle with this and actually just shared my story on my blog today! I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I decided to visit Darling Magazine on a whim, and the first article I saw was this.

    My favorite quote: “The truth is, the people in our world will gain far more from our courage to live with authenticity and purpose than they would ever receive from our mere accommodation and fear of disappointing them.”

    Here’s the link to my post:



  6. This is such a well written article, one that I can relate to on so many levels! Much of my actions and “yes’s that mean no – no’s that mean yes’s” are stemmed from a fear that somehow my life will crumble and fall apart if I don’t say yes, If I don’t do whatever. The thing is, those we love want to hear our opinions, our desires, and our dreams, but they won’t ever be heard if we keep pushing them aside.
    Thank you so much for this.


  7. For me, people-pleasing results from an aimlessness residing in place of a definite identity. It’s not that I do not value my wants and needs; I just don’t know what they should be. In the midst of still answering my own questions, I take on a variety of expectations, and success in those areas gets me by.
    I surely agree, though, that it does start with taking ownership of your life.
    Thanks for the article, and best of luck making waves!

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