People Pleasing: Learning To Say No To Others

Updated February 6, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

If you have a tendency to please others long before you consider how to please yourself, you might find that your own needs, passions, and wants are often on the backburner. Habits like these may bring comfort in the short-term, but over time they can lead to problems in relationships, professional life, mental health concerns, and more. So, how can you go about learning to say no to others confidently? The answer likely lies not in other people, but within your own sense of self-worth.

Learning To Please Yourself Over Others Can Be Hard

What is People Pleasing?

People-pleasing generally consists of altering your behaviors in order to make someone else happy. Oftentimes, this tendency to prioritize the needs of others over your own can stem from poor self-image and low self-esteem.

In other words, viewing your worth and needs as inherently less than those of others might motivate you to prioritize other people over yourself, even when it begins to cause harm. People-pleasing may also come about because of poor treatment from others in the past, a reliance on external validation, and other patterns that can be deeply embedded into the decisions we make.
Exactly what people-pleasing looks like can vary, but no matter what form it takes, it usually involves sacrificing your own needs and comfort for the desires of someone else. Below are some common signs of people-pleasing that might sound familiar.

You Just Can’t Say No

If you just cannot seem to turn someone’s request down, you could be a people pleaser. Even though your mind is saying “No, I do not want to do that,” your mouth is probably telling the person that is asking “Yes, no problem.” 

Feeling unable to say no may stem from wanting others to have a good image of you, worrying about what others might think if you do, etc. Many people who have a hard time saying no feel that the fear associated with the unknown consequences of potentially disappointing someone is more intense than the discomfort that comes with doing the task itself. 

You Avoid Conflict

Sometimes, people-pleasers give in to what other people want of them simply because they do not want to cause a scene. Avoiding conflict is a common motive for people trying to please others.

Dodging conflict can seem like the safe way out of a situation on the outside, but on the inside, you might be bothered by how things occurred. This can lead to unhealthy or uncomfortable circumstances, strained relationships, and resentment. 

You Feel A Need For Validation And Approval From Others

Perhaps the most well-known symptom of being a people pleaser is a need for the approval and validation of others. When you get something done, it’s likely you’ll want to know what others think before you even take a step back to consider what you think. Approval and support from other people may feel like the only sources of validation you can find, especially if low self-esteem limits your ability to appreciate your successes. 

You Hide Your True Thoughts

If you tend to people-please, you might also find that you have a hard time voicing your true opinion about things, even when doing so is unlikely to cause conflict. When people ask for your take on a scenario, for instance, you might just stick with the popular opinion so you can blend in. You may worry that others will judge you for your true thoughts or view your opinions as less worthy than those of others.

You Give More Than You Receive

Another common sign of being a people pleaser feeling you give more than you take. People pleasers are usually very generous. While this is can be an excellent quality to have, oftentimes people-pleasers are too generous for their own good. If you give too much of yourself or your time away, you could be running on empty emotionally and mentally. 

How to Stop People-Pleasing

People-pleasing can feel like an endless spiral of exhaustion. Although it can be challenging, learning to say no to others and drawing boundaries can be life changing. If you are trying to stop being a people pleaser, the ideas below can help you get started.

Take Control of Your Worth

It can be very helpful to first take a step back and realize where your worth lies. Many people who strive to please others do so because they lack a sense of self-approval and self-love. The natural result, then, is to try and seek these things from other people. 

It can be very freeing to realize that your worth doesn’t have to depend on what others think; instead, you are worth something simply because you are a human being who deserves to be valued.

Stand Up for Yourself

The next time someone asks something that is too much of you, stand up for yourself, and know your boundaries. Do not let someone pressure you into thinking that you owe them something if you really do not. 

It can be beneficial to take some time to consider what your boundaries are so that you feel more empowered to stand up for yourself. If you’re only able to work a certain time of day, for example, let the schedule you set for yourself guide whether you say “yes” to an extra project. 

Or, as another example, establish clear expectations for behavior in a relationship: if your partner consistently fails to show up the way you’ve communicated you need them to, it may be time to move on. Sometimes, reliance on boundaries can help you distance yourself from what you may view as letting someone else down. 

There are many ways to set boundaries and advocate for yourself that aren’t confrontational or aggressive. You might, for instance, say something like “I have a lot on my plate, and don’t have time to help you. I’m sorry.” 

Give Yourself Some Time to Think Things Through

If you are unsure of what answer you want to give to someone’s request, consider saying, “Let me think about that and I’ll get back to you with my answer.” A prime people pleaser moment may have been just to say yes right off the bat and probably regret the situation later. 

Giving other people’s requests more processing time can help you to better manage the many things that are on your plate. This way, you won’t become overwhelmed or anxious because you said yes to something you shouldn’t have taken on.

Hold Your Ground

If others question your priorities or decision to enforce boundaries, try your best to hold your ground. Stand firm in what you want to do with your life, your time, and your energy. You may even feel empowered by expressing that your needs are just as important as whatever is being asked of you. Building a healthy inner dialogue can help you hold your ground and learn how to avoid taking unfair criticisms from others personally.

Don’t Say Sorry for What You Want to Do

A common habit for people who try to please others is apologizing for just about anything. The truth is, you don’t have to say sorry for doing what you wanted (or needed) to do.

It may be polite to say sorry while you are saying no to someone, but you shouldn’t need to do it excessively. You don’t need to be apologetic for taking care of your responsibilities and living your life. 

Know That You Cannot Please Everyone

Learning To Please Yourself Over Others Can Be Hard

When learning to say no, it can be vital to understand that you cannot always please everyone. It’s okay if not everyone you meet loves you – it doesn’t have to reflect on your worth or value as a person. Even the kindest, most giving people in the world cannot please everyone. By viewing what others think of you as their own personal experience separate from your actual sense of self, you can begin to set yourself free from external pressure and expectations. 

Seek Professional Support

Overall, being a people pleaser is not always an easy thing to overcome. But once you can get past the need to be approved by others, you will likely be more content with the choices that you make and the life that you live. To find support and guidance along the way, it can be highly beneficial to connect with a mental health professional.

If you’re not comfortable visiting an in-person office to receive mental healthcare, you may want to consider online therapy.

Because people-pleasing behavior often stems from low self-worth, it’s not uncommon for those experiencing it to manage mental health concerns. Online therapy can be a great resource for understanding how your mental health might impact your ability to communicate with others, view yourself as worthy, and confront emotional obstacles. In fact, a 2020 study found that online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be an effective treatment method for treating and reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, both of which can be heavily tied to the tendency to please others.


Striving to please others often comes from a lack of acceptance or love for ourselves; after all, humans are social creatures who largely rely on feelings of community, friendship, and approval to feel worthy. To combat people-pleasing behavior, then, it can help to begin to establish boundaries for yourself and work to improve your sense of self. A mental health professional can offer support as you pursue these goals and find a balance between pleasing others and yourself. 

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