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How People Pleasing Can Fuel Depression and Anxiety


people pleaser


In a world where we're often taught the value of a 'yes,' it's easy to slip into the habit of people-pleasing, especially when you're naturally empathetic or sensitive to the needs of others. However, consistent people-pleasing can act as a fertile ground for anxiety and depression to thrive. Here’s why and how this can happen.


How People-Pleasing Fuels Mental Health Challenges

People-pleasing isn't just about being nice; it's a deep-seated behavior pattern where one constantly seeks approval from others at the expense of their own well-being.  It can also mean that you have a need to make others comfortable and even predict their emotions at almost any cost to you. This relentless pursuit can lead to significant psychological distress. When you prioritize others' needs and desires over your own, you may start to lose sight of what you truly want or need, leading to a diminishing sense of self. This misalignment can manifest as depression (feeling hopeless or worthless) or anxiety (constant worry about meeting others' expectations).


Signs to Look Out For

Recognizing the signs of people-pleasing can help in addressing the underlying issues before they escalate. Key indicators include:

  • Difficulty saying no or setting boundaries

  • Feelings of resentment or discomfort during and after agreeing to requests

  • Constant worry about others’ opinions of you

  • Constantly apologizing even when you did not do anything wrong

  • Taking responsibility for others’ feelings, might feel a sense of responsibility to fix others’ feelings

  • Overcommitment and subsequent stress or burnout

  • Doing things you don’t enjoy to maintain a relationship

  • Suppressing your true feelings or desires in social situations

  • Including changing your opinion as you are concerned about how it will be accepted by them


The Mechanism Behind the Curtain

The mechanism is fairly straightforward: habitual people-pleasing leads you to suppress your emotions to avoid conflict or disapproval. This suppression can increase stress and reduce your ability to manage emotions effectively, setting the stage for anxiety and depression. Over time, the lack of authentic living can erode your self-esteem, making you feel less capable and more dependent on external validation. At anytime when you are not true to yourself, you fill others cups and put them first, you will see a shift in your mental health.... not for the better.


Ways to Decrease People-Pleasing Tendencies

  • Recognize and acknowledge your patterns: Understanding your tendency to people-please is the first step towards change.

  • Prioritize self-awareness: Regularly check in with yourself to understand your true feelings and desires. This can be through journaling, meditation, or simply spending quiet time alone.

  • Practice setting boundaries: Start small if you need to; it could be as simple as saying no to an extra task at work or opting out of a social event when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

  • Seek balance in relationships: Try to foster relationships where there is a healthy give and take, rather than ones where you feel compelled to give incessantly.


How a Therapist Can Help

Engaging with a therapist can be particularly beneficial for overcoming people-pleasing behaviors. Therapists can help you:


  • Unpack the root causes of your people-pleasing tendencies, which often stem from early life experiences or intrinsic personality traits.

  • Develop healthier coping strategies that emphasize self-care and assertiveness.

  • Build a more robust sense of self through therapeutic techniques such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), self-exploration, narrative therapy, and mindfulness-based interventions.

  • …all which Better Minds Counseling & Services therapists can help!


In therapy, you can safely explore the reasons behind your need for approval and learn practical tools to reclaim your sense of self, ultimately leading to a healthier, more balanced life.



Blog Disclaimer - These posts are not meant to treat, diagnose, or serve as a replacement for therapy.  If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, please contact your local crisis center or dial 911.  Here are more immediate resources as well.

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