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6 Steps to Stop People Pleasing and Improve Your Mental Health

Humans by nature crave social connections, and it’s natural to want to keep those people happy and the relationships positive. But people-pleasing takes that natural tendency to the next level – with serious effects on mental health.


People pleasing means prioritising the happiness and approval of others over your own needs and desires. Essentially, this tendency reflects a struggle to set personal boundaries that protect your own well-being.


While being helpful and accommodating can be positive qualities, being unable to say ‘no’ to others often stems from a deeper fear of rejection or conflict, ultimately affecting one’s mental health.


What people-pleasing behaviour looks like


Many of us identify as people-pleasers – we want our loved ones and the people in our general orbit to be happy and comfortable.


But people-pleasing goes beyond this simple desire. Here are two examples of how people-pleasing behaviour plays out:


Example 1: Supriya consistently stays late at work to help her colleagues, even when she has her own deadlines to meet. She often cancels personal obligations and plans to fulfil her co-workers’ requests because she fears that saying no would make her seem uncooperative or jeopardise her relationships at work.


Example 2: Tej always agrees with his friends’ choices, whether it’s about where to eat or what movie to watch, even if he prefers something else. He worries that expressing his true preferences might upset them, cause them to dislike him, or make him seem difficult.


6 steps to stop people-pleasing


Taking these steps can be difficult — and none of them can be done overnight. But by making small, consistent efforts and remaining persistent after setbacks, you can reduce people-pleasing tendencies and enjoy better mental well-being.


  1. Recognize the behaviour: The first step in reducing people-pleasing tendencies is to recognize them. Acknowledge the moments when you’re sacrificing your own needs for the sake of others’ approval. Look for patterns; these moments may not seem significant in isolation, but may, over time, lead to vague feelings of resentment or frustration.
  2. Set boundaries: Think of various interpersonal contexts – e.g. work, friendships, romantic relationships, parental relationships, etc. – and ask yourself – what needs to change for me to feel more confident and at peace? How can I set limits on my own behaviour and actions to create these changes? It’s not selfish or wrong to prioritise your own well-being and values.
  3. Accept when you’re not responsible: We are not responsible for others’ emotions, happiness, or goals. We can only be true to ourselves and respectful of others; whether or not our actions please them, or whether they can remain happy and in a loving relationship after a boundary has been drawn, is their choice.
  4. Start small: Begin with small changes, like expressing your preference in a low-stakes situation, and gradually build up your confidence to assert yourself more often and in more fundamental ways.
  5. Practice self-compassion: Treat yourself with kindness and recognize that your needs are just as important as those of others. Try not to judge or criticise yourself for struggling to set boundaries. It’s not easy to break patterns of behaviour, people-pleasing included. Take one step, one relationship at a time.
  6. Seek support: Therapy, whether digital or in-person sessions, can help you understand the roots of your people-pleasing behaviour and develop specific strategies to change this pattern.

By understanding and addressing our people-pleasing behaviours, we can work towards healthier relationships and improved mental well-being. The journey to leave behind people-pleasing is ultimately one of recognising your worth, asserting your needs, and finding a balance between kindness to others and to yourself. It can be a difficult journey – but it’s always worthwhile.




  • Deng, Y., Wang, S., Leng, L., Chen, H., Yang, T., & Liu, X. (2019). Pleasing or withdrawing: Differences between dependent and self-critical depression in psychosocial functioning following rejection. Personality and Individual Differences, 140, 4–9.
  • Tawwab, N. G. (2021). Set boundaries, find peace: A guide to reclaiming yourself. Little, Brown Book Group.


Raksha Rajesh (M.Sc., M.Phil., CRR No. A80195) is a clinical psychologist licensed by the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI). She has 6+ years of experience in helping people from diverse backgrounds build skills to understand and manage their emotions.


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