If you are a people pleaser, you are used to behave as if you were worth less than others. You adapt to what others want – or what you think they want. But what’s behind this behaviour and how can you overcome it? With this exercise, I help you to get more clarity and make the first steps forward.

In this post I’m talking about what it means to be a people pleaser, from the perspective of a recovered one (myself). I’m talking about all those moments when you hold yourself back and choose to behave how you think it’s expected from you. When you say what you think others want to hear, when you behave in a way that is likeable on purpose – in some cases, just to regret it later. When you don’t express preferences, opinions and don’t set boundaries. Oh, I’ve done this for such a long time – and I still catch myself doing it sometimes.

People pleasing prevents us from expressing who we really are and what matters to us. It prevents others to even know who we really are and in the long term it can lead us to feeling lost, confused, disconnected by ourselves. Basically, to live someone else’s life. Stopping this behaviour can take some work, especially when you’ve learnt it at a very young age and mastered it.

People pleasing is a strategy: we learn how to do it, we know what we get out of it (people’s approval) and in the short term, it feels good. Even more if we are looking for approval. Being accepted, approved, liked feels good. But what if it’s not us what they’re seeing? Can we still think it’s us they’re liking?


If you are a people pleaser, you behave as if  you were worth less than others. You adapt to what other people wants – or what you think they want. This is how it works:

  • You have a core belief that is about you being worth less than others
  • When the negative self-talk (inner conversation) is going on in your mind, you feel low in self-esteem
  • You behave as if you are worth less, pleasing people, because you fear being rejected
  • You get approval and feel relief

The majority of this process is internal of course (as everything going on with low self-esteem and low self-confidence). What people see outside is that you’re very flexible, kind and generous. What they perceive is that you’re worth less and that it’s ok not to respect your boundaries. That it’s ok to pay you less and ask you to do stuff that it’s not in your job description. That’s it’s ok to call you on Sunday and expect you to drop everything you’re doing to listen to them. It’s not that they do it rationally, but they learn how to treat you based on how you treat yourself, and behave accordingly.

You aren’t doing it rationally either. Sometimes you’re aware of it, or you get tired of the effects that this behaviour has on your life. Sometimes you tell yourself that you should understand and adapt. That in the end you can sacrifice because you care more about seeing everyone happy around you.You avoid speaking your mind up, you hold yourself from expressing your feelings and you feel unable of saying NO when people ask you something.

You say yes to others at the cost of saying no to yourself.

And I tell you from the bottom of my heart: if you’re doing this, I get you. Totally. But my dear, I know the price you’re paying for that temporary approval. I know how this is going to make you really unhappy in the long term. I’ve done that. I didn’t set boundaries just to regret it later, when people would overstep them. I tolerated disrespectful behaviours and rationalised them to avoid getting angry or to avoid having conflicts. But then, I was feeling angry because I felt mistreated – and when I was telling people they had mistreated me I got back answers like: you’ve allowed that.

Here’s the thing: you’re being nice instead of being yourself. Because you want other people’s approval, and even more importantly, you want to avoid other people’s disapproval.

So you collapse. You rarely get what you want and you tell yourself that actually you care more about being helpful and making others happy, as if it was possible and above all, rewarding. As if it was your responsibility to make everybody else happy. As if you had the power to do that. And even worse, this behaviour attracts people who’ll try to take advantage of you and control you. Manipulation. Abuse.

I know it’s scary to change this behaviour, because you’ll lose some people doing that and today it feels like a loss, but I guarantee you that it’s rather a win.


If you recognise yourself in this, I invite you to get your journal and start getting more clarity about how this behaviour is impacting you and what’s the reason behind it – because awareness is the first step for a positive change. Answer these questions, at your pace:

  • Today, what are the consequences of pleasing people?
  • If you keep pleasing people, what will happen in the long run?
  • And if you stop pleasing them? What could happen?
  • Is that true? How realistic is this scenario?
  • What do you think is the reason that drives you to do people pleasing?
  • What needs to happen for you to stop pleasing people?
  • Is there something you can start putting in place right now? Even a small thing?

And, if you’d like to go a bit deeper, you could look for the roots of this behaviour:

  • When you were a child, were your needs and feeling taken into account or pushed aside, not considered and even belittled?
  • Were you expected to hold yourself to other’s people needs?
  • Were you expected to shoulder the family’s needs?
  • Are there wounds that need to be healed?
  • What can you to do heal them?
  • What did you learn from this difficult experience, and what’s the lesson that you can carry with you for your present and future?

If you have answered all these questions, give yourself some time for listening to what’s there. Chances are that there’re needs to be taken into account and wounds to be healed, to stop hurting and give you the life you deserve to live.

Love to you,


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  • Melissa Wright March 7, 2015   Reply →

    Love this! Thanks for sharing 🙂 You’ve put this so beautifully with fabulous self-action steps too. Thank you for all you bring to the world xx

  • Ola March 9, 2015   Reply →

    Harsh, but very true and holds the mirror up to the people pleasers and allows to ask – do you really want this! Great for self-reflection and self-improvement. Thank you for sharing Diana!

    • Diana Malerba March 10, 2015   Reply →

      Thanks Ola, I know, it can be very uncomfortable to look in the mirror but only when we look in it and kindly accept what we see, we can move forward to a better life, based on what we really want. A life without compromises, free and full of what we desire. And I believe that looking at the final goal instead of looking at the obstacles it’s the best way to get there! 🙂

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