Why We Please People and 4 Ways to Change

Photo by Drew Hays

Do you struggle to follow your heart because you fear disappointing other people? Does it seem what others want from you is rarely what you want for yourself? Do you feel doomed to make decisions that will disappoint someone no matter how hard you try?

You're not alone.

There are reasons we people please and practical ways we can change.

But first -- people pleasing is not all bad.

It means you care enough about others to consider their thoughts and feelings. Only sociopaths escape at least some desire to please other people. So take a moment to be grateful you are not a sociopath.

And... you are not responsible for the lives of other people.

Sure, your children up to a certain age and possibly people in your safekeeping that cannot care for themselves. But beyond that, other people's lives are not your responsibility.

I know, I know. It's a hard pill to swallow. I learned (and am still learning) how to take this medicine.

Here's the story of my first dose.

I interned with a Teen Safe House for 18 months during my grad counseling program. I served 12- to 18-year-old adolescents who were displaced from their homes for painful and unsettling reasons.

At the end of my degree program, I found myself without clients as I waited for the State Board to transition my status from student to professional counselor.

I was utterly relieved and reeling.

I asked my friend (fellow grad student and pastor) to help me talk it through. She poured coffee and I tried not to cry, "I've done all this work to be a counselor, but I don't think I can do it. I didn't know how overwhelmed I was until I stopped."

I told her why. "Their stories are harrowing. Their families, too far gone. Their relapses, too raw," I complained. "They take one step forward and three steps back. I want to fix things for them and I can't."

She looked into my eyes and said something I will never forget.

"That's because they don't belong to you; they belong to God." She continued, "Your assignment is to be a light along their path, not to save them."

In that moment, I realized the unreasonable responsibility I was assuming for my clients' lives. But it wasn't just their lives I was trying to alter with my effort. It was the lives of my loved ones too.

Why we "people please."

In my desire to "help," I sometimes try to be everything to everyone and end up serving no one.

Maybe this feels familiar to you.

  • Fearing criticism
  • Fearing loss of control
  • Fearing disapproval
  • Fearing disconnection
  • Fearing rejection
  • Fearing isolation

We fear losing the very thing we are created for- relationship.

We often view "relationship" as external and will do whatever seems necessary to stay connected with other people.

But wait-

We underestimate the value of internal "relationship" in which we connect with our authentic selves and with God.

It is these internal relationships that sustain and prepare us to have truly healthy relationships with other people- relationships in which we can choose from a place of love rather than fear.

Strong internal relationships build love and dismantle fear.

How we can change.

When we intimately get to know our unique spirits and the One who created them, we experience unconditional love and acceptance (two things we can never fully get from other people).

When we feel loved and accepted within, we begin to rely less on what others think of us, and more on what we think of ourselves.

Here's where we start:

  • Admit that other people are not our keepers and we are not their's.
  • Set aside a small amount of time each day to get to know ourselves better. (Send the chattering, critical voices to stand in the corner while we invite the still, small voice within to speak.)
  • Tell God we are ready to have a relationship or deepen the one we've already got.

And there's one more way...

If you rely most on external relationships, you are probably trying (and failing) to constantly please other people. If that feels like a crappy place to live long term, there is one more thing you can do.

Know your "why."

When you do, your value in the world is no longer determined by what other people think of you (good or bad).

Sign up now for the free January event -- Take These 3 Steps & Know Your "Why"

I wish you success in laying down people pleasing and picking up a solid relationship with yourself. You are totally worth the time.


HuffPost's GPS for the Soul app is based on two truths about human beings. First: We all have a centered place of wisdom, harmony and balance within us. Second: We're all going to veer away from that place, again and again and again. What we need is a great course-correcting mechanism -- a GPS for the Soul -- to help us find our way back to that centered place, from which everything is possible.

Because no one knows better than you what helps you de-stress and tap into that place of peace inside yourself, it's important for you to create your very own GPS guide -- a personalized collection of whatever helps you course-correct. Email us at and we'll set you up with your very own HuffPost blogger account to share your guide on the site. If you're already a blogger, we encourage you to upload your personal guide today. We can't wait to see what you have to share.