How to Overcome the Need to Please Others

By Chris Hammond, MS, IMH


Do you get enjoyment out of anticipating someone’s need which you think will make them happy and then investing time meeting that need without being asked? Do you often feel drained of your energy but keep working anyway because they need you to help? Do you spend countless moments replaying conversations and rehearsing new ones trying desperately to figure out what someone else wants? If so, you may have an unhealthy need to please others.

There is a difference between a healthy need to please others and an unhealthy need to please others. A healthy need is not dependant on a particular response. For instance, if you clean the garage because you know it will be helpful to the family but are not expecting any help or compliments in response, then you have a healthy need to please others. On the other hand, if while you are cleaning the garage you are thinking about how your teenage son should be helping you and looking forward to your wife praising your work, then you have an unhealthy need to please others. The former response has less anxiety while the later response has greater anxiety. But there is hope.

Less expectations. Your self-talk is extremely powerful as you will reap what you sow even if it is only to yourself. If you expect a praise from a boss for a job well done and do not get it, then you might begin the negative self-talk such as “I’m not good enough” or “They don’t appreciate me”. This in turn increases your job dissatisfaction, creates unnecessary tension at work, and causes you to become angry. Instead, do a good job because you like to do a good job and you care about the quality of your work, not because you are looking for praise. By having less expectation on your boss’ opinion, you will gain freedom from living your life to please others.

More down time. The tighter your schedule is, the more likely it is that you have taken on excessive responsibility. If you find yourself unable to say “No” to a new project or activity, unable to delegate responsibility fully to others regardless of the outcome, or unable to let something go then you most likely are running on empty. Everyone needs down time and at least one day a week should be spent doing something relaxing or having a Sabbath. Practice saying “No” to new projects until old ones are completed, give an assignment away to someone else and gain a better perspective on the value of down time.

No rescuing. When someone needs help it is easy to step in and help them, after all they need it and you get to feel good about giving the help. While offering help is good, rescuing is quite another matter; the difference is in your actions. A familiar saying is, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” If you are helping someone by doing their work for them, then you are rescuing. If you are helping someone by teaching them how to do it for themselves, then you are truly helping. The irony of the matter is that by rescuing someone you increase the possibility of resentment on both of your parts whereas if you help them you have made a friend.

Overcoming the need to please others is difficult and takes time and practice. By using the three steps above and reviewing them regularly, you can begin the process of pleasing yourself instead of others. In the end, the boundaries that you set for yourself will far outweigh any negative consequences of not pleasing other people. After all, most of them are too worried about pleasing others too.



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About the author- Chris Hammond is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern at LifeWorks Group w/ over 15 years of experience as a counselor, mentor & teacher for children, teenagers & adults.

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