'There's a fear of rejection.' How to stop being a people pleaser according to the experts.

People pleasing - it's something we all do from time to time. But then there are some of us who take things to a whole new level.

Unsure exactly what a people pleaser is? They might struggle with feelings of low self-esteem, often finding themselves apologising and thinking they're imposing on people.

They might also have a really difficult time saying no and putting in boundaries - worried people will think they are selfish if they put their own needs first. There's a desire for approval, and people pleasers tend to take the blame for situations when it isn't even their fault. 

Ultimately, it all comes from a place of reluctance to disagree with people and a fear of rejection. 

Any of these traits sound familiar for yourself? You're certainly not alone.

Watch: how to talk to people with anxiety. Post continues below.

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As someone who has a very hard time saying no (even when I really ought to), I figured it would be wise to call in the big guns. 

Carly Dober is a psychologist and the Director at the Australian Association of Psychologists Incorporated. Nahum Kozak is the co-founder of Lighthouse Relationships and is a senior psychologist.

Both Carly and Nahum have a serious wealth of knowledge in all things psychology, friendships and relationships. 


So we asked the experts - how does one even become a people pleaser, and if they are one, what can they do to amend it. 

Which group are the biggest people pleasers?

Interestingly, studies show women tend to exhibit people pleasing behaviours more than men, likely due to societal norms. 

As for why some people have these tendencies more than others? It potentially comes down to their childhood and socialisation.

When it comes to attachment theory, Nahum tells Mamamia that some experts believe early childhood experiences with caregivers shape our attachment styles and how we relate to others.

"Individuals with this style seek validation and reassurance from others due to a fear of abandonment. It could have been a helpful strategy to survive childhood or teenage years in which our experiences may have led us to believe that love could be ripped away at a moment's notice," he explains.

As for Social Learning Theory, it emphasises how behaviour is learned through observation and reinforcement. Either way, whether it's a survival strategy or a self-reinforcing habit; people pleasing has its definite downsides.

Is being a people pleaser really a bad thing?

Like with any social trait, they exist on a spectrum.

"People pleasing is being nice. And being nice can have a positive impact. But people pleasing is a one-way street," says Nahum.

For Carly, she has been working in the mental health space for more than 12 years now. And with that in mind, she's seen how people pleasing can have positive and negative outcomes. But more often than not, the negatives start to outweigh the positives.


"It's an issue when the person is always trying to win approval in order to feel connected or to improve their self-esteem. It is also an issue if the person is constantly pursuing the happiness of others and it is impacting their own wellbeing," she says. 

"People pleasers can often feel resentment, anger and frustration. They also feel like they are being taken for granted."

Taken to its extreme on the spectrum, it can stunt personal growth, strain relationships, and lead to a trail of unfulfilled dreams. And no one wants that!

Yes, giving is nice and it is super important. But when you're the only one doing it, and the intentions come from an unhelpful place, it can affect you the most. 

How to stop being a people pleaser.

The first step is always acknowledgment. 

The next step is to start small in order to make the change sustainable. 

This could start by saying no to small requests, and being mindful of any urges you have to ignore your own needs if the person pushes back against the no. Another good tip from Carly - take your time when someone requests some help from you. 

"You can say 'I will let you know at the end of the day' or the day after. That way you can sit with it and assess if this is something that you actually have capacity, time and resources to help them with instead of your potential knee-jerk usual response of a 'yes'."

Nahum also says it's important for people pleasers to ask for what they want. Be your own friend and lean in to that desire, hope, or need. After these small steps, you might then feel confident to start setting boundaries.


"It is ok to 'cheat' a little when first setting boundaries. If it is too hard to say 'no' outright, it is ok to say 'I don't think I can make it' or 'I have another commitment' (The 'other commitment might be a commitment you made to yourself to finally sit down and read that novel you got for Christmas!)," he says.

By setting these boundaries and focusing on self-care, you will start to realise it's super tough to pour from an empty cup. 

"Express your needs and opinions, of course respectfully and gently. Be aware you will get some knock-back at first because people might be surprised by the change. But just persist, and try, try again."

It's also important to celebrate progress along the way, and be patient and kind with yourself. 

Of course, we don't want to swing too far on the opposite end of the spectrum. It's about gaining balance.

"Showing care and being kind and pleasing those in our lives can be a very helpful and healthy thing. Just be mindful of when you're doing it because you want the approval or inclusion of others," says Carly. 

And if you are finding it difficult to change this habit, it is always a good idea to get connected to a licensed mental health professional who can support you with clear steps and strategies.

So to any people pleasers out there - it's a journey to shifting gears, but well worth the effort.

Are you someone who feels they are a people pleaser? What's been your strategies to finding more balance? Let us know in the comments below. 

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia.

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