Setting Boundaries: It’s crucial to establish clear boundaries that respect your time, energy, and mental health. Setting limits on how much work you can take on or saying no to unreasonable requests allows you to prioritize your well-being without feeling guilty. An example might be a woman who always found herself staying late at work because she didn’t want to disappoint her boss. She decided to set a boundary by leaving work at the agreed-upon time, regardless of the extra tasks given at the last minut
In today’s society, the tendency to prioritize others’ needs and expectations over one’s own can lead to significant emotional and psychological challenges. In this series, we would like to explore the complex dynamics of people-pleasing behavior and its impact on individual well-being and relationships. We would like to discuss the root causes of people-pleasing behavior, its effects on personal and professional life, and practical steps for cultivating healthier relationships and self-esteem. We hope that this series can provide insights, strategies, and real-life experiences that can help individuals navigate and overcome the pitfalls of being a people pleaser. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Joel Frank.
Dr. Joel Frank is a licensed clinical psychologist and owner of Duality Psychological Services from Los Angeles, California, with over a decade of experience in the mental health and neuropsychological fields. Throughout his professional career, Dr. Frank has worked across many clinical and research settings, helping individuals better understand their current circumstances and psychological state. He has found profound success in and draws enjoyment from working with people to regain balance and power in their lives, both cognitively and psychologically.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was raised in suburban Chicago, Illinois, where I had the privilege of growing up in an astonishingly diverse neighborhood. It was a melting pot of individuals from all walks of life, each with their own captivating stories to share. From the vibrant cultural celebrations to the lively local events, every single week was a delightful tapestry of uniqueness.
Exploring the different pockets of the city, I was enthralled by the diverse cuisines, attitudes, and traditions that defined each community. I longed to delve deeper into their histories, to unravel the threads that made them so wonderfully distinct. And with every discovery, my love for these unique pockets of humanity only grew stronger.
Can you tell us a bit about what you do professionally, and what brought you to this specific career path?
From a young age, I’ve been captivated by people and their unique stories. Growing up, I was always curious about what shaped individuals into the diverse range of people I encountered. What influenced their perspectives, beliefs, and behaviors? How did they become the person they are today? As I got older, my passion for understanding people led me to focus my studies and experiences in psychology and mental health. When the time came to begin my graduate education officially, I eagerly dove into the mental health field and haven’t looked back since.
Throughout my education, training, and career, I’ve had the privilege of working in various settings, including inpatient facilities with individuals involved in the legal system, university hospitals conducting neuropsychological evaluations, insurance-based outpatient facilities with marginalized individuals, schools, and outpatient practices operating outside the confines of insurance companies. These experiences have shaped the foundation of my practice, Duality Psychological Services, which was established in a manner that I believe allows the most latitude for helping people reach and sustain their goals.
Duality embodies my vision of practicing psychology and promoting mental well-being. While we work with individuals from all backgrounds, the core of Duality remains the same: empowering individuals to find balance and reclaim control in their lives. We strive to understand the inherent dualities that exist, whether it’s the balance between work and home life or the interplay between happiness and sadness. Our goal is to help people find equilibrium, recognize their own personal power, and navigate the challenges that may feel overwhelming or imbalanced.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about People Pleasing. To make sure that we are all on the same page, let’s begin with a simple definition. What does “People Pleaser” mean to you?
A “people pleaser” is someone who consistently prioritizes the needs, feelings, or desires of others over their own, often at the expense of their emotional well-being. They possess an intense urge to ensure the happiness and comfort of those around them while simultaneously fearing disapproval or conflict. This behavior can originate from various underlying factors, such as low self-esteem or a craving for validation.
On the surface, it seems like being a person who wants to please others is a good thing. Can you help articulate a few of the challenges that come with being a people pleaser?
Being a people pleaser can pose various challenges. One key concern is self-neglect, as they prioritize others’ needs over their own. This can erode their self-identity and cause a sense of loss. Burnout is another issue resulting from the constant effort to please everyone. This can lead to exhaustion, frustration, and stress, impacting overall well-being. Setting boundaries can be difficult for people-pleasers, as they fear conflict and struggle to express themselves. This can result in unhealthy relationships. Lastly, low self-esteem and dependence on external validation perpetuate feelings of insecurity and self-doubt.
Does being a people pleaser give you certain advantages? Can you explain?
While being a people pleaser has challenges, there are potential advantages. First, they excel at creating harmony in their environments, fostering a peaceful atmosphere in groups or teams. Secondly, their sensitivity to others’ needs makes them exceptional listeners and empathetic friends or partners, cultivating deep relationships. Thirdly, they have strong interpersonal skills, excelling at diplomacy and negotiation. Lastly, their desire to help leads to acts of kindness and altruism, positively contributing to their community.
Can you describe a moment in your life when you realized that your own people-pleasing behavior was more harmful than helpful?
During my early days in graduate school, I made the mistake of taking on way too many jobs at once. I thought it was necessary to beef up my resume and build as many professional relationships as possible. But in my eagerness to please everyone, I ended up neglecting my personal life, self-care, and overall well-being. After over a year of this madness, I hit a wall of burnout. The stress and anxiety of stretching myself thin took a toll on me mentally and physically. It was then that I realized I needed to reprioritize and find a better work-life balance. I took some time to reflect on what truly mattered to me and set boundaries to protect my well-being. Now, I’m still growing my career, but I also make sure to make time for myself and my loved ones.
In your opinion, what are the common root causes of people-pleasing behavior?
People-pleasing behavior often has deep-seated roots that can be traced back to one’s childhood or early life experiences. For example, growing up in an environment where one’s needs and feelings were frequently dismissed or invalidated can lead to people-pleasing tendencies. In an attempt to gain acceptance and love, individuals may develop a pattern of constantly trying to please others. Another cause can be a fear of rejection. Fearing rejection or abandonment can trigger people-pleasing behaviors as these individuals often equate their worth with how much they are liked or approved by others. This pushes them to go to great lengths to avoid conflict or disapproval. Also, people with low self-esteem often have a distorted perception of their self-worth. They may believe they must earn love and acceptance by meeting others’ needs and expectations. A history of abuse or neglect can also lead to people-pleasing behaviors. Individuals who’ve experienced neglect or abuse may develop people-pleasing behaviors as a survival mechanism. By keeping their abuser happy, they may have been able to avoid negative outcomes. Lastly, people pleasers often struggle with perfectionism. They may believe they must be perfect to be loved or accepted, leading to relentless efforts to meet unattainable standards.
How does people-pleasing behavior impact personal relationships?
People-pleasing behavior can profoundly affect personal relationships, often leading to imbalance and stress. When a person constantly strives to meet the needs of others, they will likely overlook their own needs. This can lead to feelings of resentment, as they might often find themselves giving more than they receive. Also, the fear of conflict can prevent open, honest communication. When a person is unable to express their feelings or assert their needs, their partner, friends, and family members struggle to understand them. This can inhibit the growth of a deep and genuine connection. Being a people pleaser can also lead to unhealthy dependency in relationships. When a person’s self-worth is tied to the approval of others, they might find themself clinging to relationships, even toxic ones, out of fear of disapproval or rejection.
How does people-pleasing behavior impact professional relationships?
People-pleasing behavior can also have a profound impact on professional relationships. Much like in personal relationships, an overemphasis on pleasing others can lead to a lack of assertiveness, making it difficult to express needs and ideas effectively. A person may find themself overcommitting or taking on more work than they can handle to avoid disappointing others. This leads to stress and burnout and can stifle their growth as they hesitate to voice their ideas or take initiative. Moreover, if the person always agrees with others to maintain harmony, they may inadvertently contribute to a culture of complacency rather than fostering a dynamic environment.
How can long-term people-pleasing behavior impact an individual’s mental health?
Persisting in people-pleasing behaviors can take a significant toll on an individual’s mental health. When people constantly strive to meet others’ expectations and neglect their own needs, it’s like carrying an increasing weight on their shoulders that only gets heavier with time. They may start to experience anxiety, stress, and even depression as they continually push their desires and well-being to the side. Additionally, intense fear of rejection and criticism often accompanies this. The person may find themself losing their sense of identity, as their actions and decisions are dictated more by the opinions and expectations of others rather than what truly aligns with their values and aspirations. Ultimately, people-pleasing can hinder personal growth and self-discovery, leading to a sense of dissatisfaction and unfulfillment in life.
In your experience, what is the role of self-awareness in overcoming people-pleasing tendencies, and how can individuals cultivate it?
Self-awareness plays a pivotal role in overcoming people-pleasing tendencies. It’s like shining a flashlight into the corners of our minds, illuminating the hidden patterns, beliefs, and fears that drive our actions. By understanding their motivations and needs, people can begin to see where their desire to please others stems from and how it may serve as a shield against rejection, criticism, or conflict.
Cultivating self-awareness begins with taking the time to introspect and reflect. This could mean journaling about experiences, meditating, or simply sitting quietly with one’s thoughts. Pay attention to moments when feeling compelled to please others — what’s happening in those instances? What are those feelings? What is the fear that might happen if the other person’s expectations are not met? The process is about understanding oneself more deeply to make changes that align with one’s authentic self.
Another valuable approach to promoting self-awareness is seeking feedback from others. Sometimes, people have blind spots about their behaviors that others can help illuminate. Reach out to trusted individuals and invite them to share their observations. Therapy can also be incredibly beneficial. A therapist can provide a safe, non-judgmental space for people to explore their people-pleasing tendencies and offer tools and strategies to help them navigate toward more self-aligned behaviors. Lastly, remember that developing self-awareness is a journey, not a destination. It takes time, patience, and compassion towards oneself. But the rewards are immense, including a stronger sense of self, healthier relationships, and a more fulfilling life. People have the power to change the patterns that no longer serve them, and it begins with understanding oneself.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience or research, what are the “Five Strategies Or Techniques That Can Help Individuals Break Free From The Cycle Of People-Pleasing”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
1. Setting Boundaries: It’s crucial to establish clear boundaries that respect your time, energy, and mental health. Setting limits on how much work you can take on or saying no to unreasonable requests allows you to prioritize your well-being without feeling guilty. An example might be a woman who always found herself staying late at work because she didn’t want to disappoint her boss. She decided to set a boundary by leaving work at the agreed-upon time, regardless of the extra tasks given at the last minute.
2. Assertive Communication: Practice expressing your needs and feelings openly. This doesn’t mean being aggressive or confrontational but instead communicating calmly and confidently. Start by using “I” statements to express your thoughts and feelings instead of pointing fingers or blaming others. For example, saying, “I feel overwhelmed with my workload right now,” rather than “You always give me too much work.” Assertive communication might look like a student who learned to start sharing his thoughts respectfully after always agreeing with his group mates’ ideas even if he has a different opinion. His assertive communication could lead to improving the overall quality of their projects.
3. Saying No: Learn to decline requests that don’t align with your needs or values. This can be challenging for people-pleasers, but saying no is a form of self-care. It’s okay to prioritize your well-being and not take on more than you can handle. For example, a business owner who always took on more clients than she could handle. Learning to say no allowed her to focus on providing quality work rather than spreading herself too thin.
4. Identify Your Values: Knowing your values helps you make decisions that align with your authentic self. Take some time to reflect on what truly matters to you, and let these values guide your actions. For example, if one of your core values is family, then prioritizing spending time with loved ones over working extra hours may bring you more fulfillment in life. One example might be a man who realized he was living according to his parent’s expectations, not his own. Identifying his values guided him towards a career he truly enjoyed rather than one he felt obliged to pursue.
5. Celebrate Progress: Acknowledge your growth and progress, no matter how small. Celebrate moments when you successfully set a boundary or said no to something that didn’t align with your values. This positive reinforcement can encourage and motivate you to continue prioritizing your well-being and authenticity. One example might be a woman who always felt guilty for taking breaks during work. By acknowledging her progress in setting boundaries by taking regular breaks, she took time for self-care and improved her productivity.
What steps should people pleasers take to establish healthier boundaries?
Establishing healthier boundaries can be a transformative journey towards personal growth, self-respect, and authentic relationships for people-pleasers. To do so, an individual should first engage in mindful self-reflection. Starting by identifying the moments where they found themselves slipping into people-pleasing behaviors. Reflecting on these instances can illuminate the habits and patterns they must break free from. It’s important to note that it’s not about self-criticism but self-awareness. Second, an individual might want to identify their limitations. Each individual has unique physical, emotional, and mental limits. Acknowledge these limitations and respect them — even when others don’t. This is the person’s first line of defense against overcommitment and burnout. Third, communicate boundaries clearly and consistently. Once the individual has identified their boundaries, express them openly and assertively. They have the right to be heard, and their needs matter just as much as anyone else’s. It might be uncomfortable initially, but with practice, it becomes easier. Fourth, set consequences and enforce them honestly and with commitment. If an established boundary is repeatedly disregarded, it’s necessary to have consequences in place. This could mean spending less time with individuals who cannot respect their limits or re-evaluating relationships that leave the individual feeling drained. Fifth, practice self-care. Taking care of oneself’s own needs is not selfish — it’s essential for well-being. Prioritize self-care and remember that saying no to others can often mean saying yes to oneself. Lastly, if an individual is struggling with setting boundaries, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Therapists can provide invaluable insights and strategies to empower oneself in their journey. As a reminder, it’s okay to put oneself first. A person can’t pour from an empty cup. By setting healthier boundaries, they not only look after themselves but also foster healthier, more authentic relationships with others. Change takes time and patience, but every little step counts. Celebrate progress and be kind to yourself along the way.
How can someone who is naturally empathetic maintain their compassion while becoming more assertive?
If someone is naturally empathetic, they may sometimes find their compassion causes them to say ‘yes’ even when they would rather say ‘no.’ It’s important to remember that assertiveness and empathy are not mutually exclusive — one can maintain compassion while still putting one’s needs first. To do this, a person must first understand that their needs matter just as much as others. Realize that they can help others more effectively when they are not feeling overwhelmed or drained.
Next, practice active listening. This involves really hearing what the other person is saying, responding to them in a way that makes them feel understood, and then expressing one’s own needs or perspective. For example, instead of immediately agreeing to a friend’s request to help her move on your free day, someone might say, “I hear that you’re feeling stressed about your move. I’d love to help, but I’ve had a busy week and was really looking forward to a day off. Can we find another solution that works for both of us?” This way, you’re empathizing with her situation and asserting your need for rest.
As an empathetic person, you naturally have the ability to understand how others are feeling. Use this gift to communicate assertively in a way that acknowledges the other person’s feelings and needs and respects one’s own. Being assertive is about expressing one’s needs honestly and directly, not about being cold or uncaring. It can be a delicate balance to strike, but with practice, people can learn to be both compassionate and assertive.
What are the most common misconceptions about people pleasers, and how do these misconceptions affect their journey toward recovery?
One common misconception about people-pleasers is that they are merely being kind and selfless. However, this oversimplification can mask the self-neglect and depletion often accompanying chronic people-pleasing. For instance, consider Sarah, a dedicated professional who constantly overextends herself at work, believing she’s simply being a good teammate. By routinely overextending herself, Sarah neglects her own wants and needs and continues to accept work at the behest of her own well-being.
Another common myth is that people-pleasers are weak or lack assertiveness. This stereotype can be detrimental, as it may discourage individuals from seeking help due to fear of judgment or misunderstanding. Take James, who struggles to set boundaries with his friends. He fears if seeks professional help with setting boundaries, he will be judged, and his friends will think he is weak and will not want to be friends with him anymore. This fear of rejection is continually compounded and strengthened the longer he avoids setting boundaries and avoiding seeking professional help.
A third common misconception about people-pleasers is that they are universally liked due to their accommodating nature. However, this belief can be misleading. Not all the efforts people-pleasers make towards making others happy are appreciated and reciprocated. Take the case of Mark, who always goes out of his way to help his colleagues, expecting it to improve his relationships. However, he often feels unappreciated and taken for granted. This misconception can stall the journey toward recovery as individuals like Mark might cling to the false hope that their self-sacrificing behaviors will eventually gain them recognition and appreciation. It’s crucial to realize that genuine respect and appreciation come from self-expression and assertiveness, not self-neglect. Being liked by everyone is neither possible nor necessary, and it’s okay to prioritize one’s needs. The journey to setting healthier boundaries begins with acknowledging this reality.
What role can therapy or counseling play in helping individuals overcome people-pleasing behavior?
The pressure to constantly please others can stem from childhood experiences or societal expectations. Therapy can help individuals recognize these underlying factors and work towards breaking free from them. It provides a non-judgmental environment for individuals to express their thoughts and feelings without fear of rejection. Therapy can help individuals overcome people-pleasing tendencies by providing a safe space to explore feelings and behaviors. Trained therapists guide clients in recognizing patterns and understanding underlying causes, learn effective communication skills, and equip individuals with strategies to manage anxiety and discomfort. Additionally, therapy can help individuals build self-confidence and self-worth, leading to a stronger sense of self and the ability to set boundaries. Additionally, individuals can learn how to communicate their needs assertively and effectively through therapy. This includes learning to say “no” without feeling guilty or anxious about disappointing others. Therapists can also assist in identifying unhealthy behaviors that may be fueling people-pleasing tendencies, such as codependency or low self-esteem. Participating in therapy can also help individuals establish healthy boundaries in relationships. This means learning to prioritize one’s well-being and needs while still maintaining healthy connections with others. It also involves setting limits on what is acceptable behavior from others and being able to enforce those boundaries. Ultimately, the goal of therapy for people-pleasing is to help individuals find balance and live authentically without constantly seeking validation or approval from others. It allows individuals to let go of the need for external validation and instead focus on finding fulfillment and satisfaction within themselves.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
This is a fun question. If I could start a movement that would bring the most good to the most people, I think I would want to focus that movement on the ideals of balance and personal power. From a young age, I adopted the understanding that there was only so much within my ecosystem that I could control. Furthermore, there were seemingly always demands and responsibilities that felt like I was being pulled in many different directions. What allowed me to establish feelings of balance and personal power in my life was understanding not only the circumstances and dynamics in which I existed but also appreciating and accepting where I did and did not have power. Once I understood where I could exert power versus where I needed to flow with the circumstances, I found greater fulfillment and satisfaction in my daily life. Recognizing these places where I could and could not exert power in my own life allowed me to balance better the opposing realms in which I existed, such as home life versus work life.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
For individuals wanting to follow Duality and me online, look us up on X @DualityPsych or Instagram @DualityPsychServices. Individuals can also stay up-to-date regarding all Duality and my happenings by joining our practice newsletter by contacting us at www.DualityPsychServices.com.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Dr. Joel Frank Of Duality Psychological Services On How to Recover From Being a People Pleaser was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.