The Difficulties of People-Pleasing: Navigating the Perils of Approval

By: Suzanne Feinstein, PhD

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The allure of people-pleasing lies in the promise of acceptance, belonging, and validation. But beneath the surface, hidden in the folds of our compliance, lie the difficulties that people-pleasers grapple with. Let us unravel these threads and explore the challenges faced by those who seek to please.

1. The Sacrifice of Self

At the heart of people-pleasing lies a fundamental trade-off: the sacrifice of self for the sake of others. People-pleasers bend like willows in the wind, molding their desires, opinions, and boundaries to fit the contours of external expectations. They say yes when they mean no, apologize when they’ve done nothing wrong, and tiptoe around conflict like fragile glass. The difficulty lies in losing touch with one’s authentic self—the erosion of identity as it dissolves into the needs of others.

2. The Fear of Abandonment

Imagine a tightrope suspended over a chasm—the fear of abandonment on one side, the need for approval on the other. People-pleasers teeter precariously, their steps dictated by the invisible weight of rejection. The difficulty lies in the constant calculation: “If I stop pleasing, will they leave?” So they cling to relationships like shipwreck survivors to flotsam, even if it means drowning in their own unmet desires.

3. The Resentment Quicksand

Beneath the surface, resentment simmers—a slow-burning fire fueled by unexpressed needs. People-pleasers give generously, but each act of self-sacrifice chips away at their emotional reserves. The difficulty lies in the gradual accumulation—the resentment that seeps into their bones, leaving them drained and exhausted. They become emotional contortionists, bending backward to avoid rocking the boat, yet drowning in the undertow of their own unspoken discontent.

4. The Art of Saying No

For people-pleasers, saying no is akin to wielding a double-edged sword. The difficulty lies in the fear of disappointing others—the imagined fallout of rejection. They say yes to invitations they’d rather decline, commitments they can’t fulfill, and tasks that drain their energy. The art of saying no becomes a tightrope walk between self-preservation and the desire to be liked. But with each yes, they inch closer to the abyss of burnout.

5. The Illusion of Control

People-pleasers harbor a secret belief: If they can just meet everyone’s needs, they’ll maintain control over their world. The difficulty lies in the illusion—the false sense of power that crumbles when faced with the unpredictability of human interactions. They juggle expectations like fragile crystal balls, hoping to keep them all aloft. But in reality, control slips through their fingers, leaving them vulnerable and exhausted.

6. The Silent Cry for Authenticity

Beneath the smile, the eager nod, and the accommodating gestures, there exists a silent cry—a longing for authenticity. People-pleasers yearn to be seen, not as mirrors reflecting others’ desires, but as whole beings with their own wants and needs. The difficulty lies in breaking free from the cycle—to step off the dance floor and reclaim their voice. It requires courage—the kind that defies convention and embraces vulnerability.


Let’s explore the concepts of people-pleasing and assertiveness, along with some real-life examples.



People-pleasing refers to the tendency to prioritize others’ needs and opinions over one’s own, often at the expense of personal well-being.


Here are 15 signs that you might be a people-pleaser:

  • Wanting Everyone to Like You: You strive to be universally liked.
  • Over-Apologizing: You apologize excessively, even when it’s unnecessary.
  • Craving Validation: You seek approval and validation from others.
  • Allowing Others to Take Advantage: You find it hard to say no.
  • Feeling Guilty When Setting Boundaries: You fear conflict and feel guilty when asserting your needs.
  • Avoiding Conflict: You’d rather avoid disagreements than address them.
  • Being a Rule-Follower: You’ve always been a “good girl” or “good guy.”
  • Viewing Self-Care as Optional: You neglect self-care.
  • Feeling Tense or Anxious: The pressure to please others makes you anxious.
  • Expecting Perfection: You set high standards for yourself.
  • Putting Yourself Last: You struggle to ask for what you need.
  • Sensitive to Criticism: Criticism affects you deeply.
  • Believing Your Feelings Aren’t as Important: You prioritize others’ feelings.
  • Being a “Fixer”: You hate seeing others hurt or uncomfortable.
  • Resenting Always Being Asked for More: You wish people would consider your feelings and needs.



Assertiveness involves expressing your needs, opinions, and boundaries in a respectful and honest manner. Here are some real-life examples of assertive communication:

  • Disagreeing Politely: “I disagree with that. I see it this way…”
  • Setting Boundaries: “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m going to say no this time.”
  • Declining Additional Tasks: “Unfortunately, I can’t take on any more tasks at the moment.”
  • Expressing Discomfort: “Please don’t walk away from me while we’re having a conversation.”


Benefits of Assertive Communication:

  • Improved Relationships: Assertiveness fosters mutual respect.
  • Reduced Conflict: Clear communication minimizes misunderstandings.
  • Enhanced Self-Esteem: Standing up for yourself boosts confidence.
  • Effective Problem-Solving: Assertive individuals address issues directly.


Remember, assertiveness doesn’t mean aggression; it’s about finding a balance between your needs and respecting others’. Practice assertive communication to create healthier interactions!



The difficulties of people-pleasing are woven into the fabric of their social interactions. Yet, within these challenges lies the potential for growth. To navigate this labyrinth, people-pleasers must learn to honor their own desires, set boundaries, and recognize that saying no is an act of self-care—not a betrayal. As they shed the mask of compliance, they discover the beauty of authenticity—the dance of their true selves, unencumbered by the weight of approval.


Learn more about the supportive treatment we offer.


Contact us today at Advanced Behavioral Health to schedule an initial consultation. Dr. Suzanne Feinstein is an Instructor in Medical Psychology at the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry/ NYSPI.

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