It’s not a bad thing to please people. To be thoughtful about other people’s feelings and needs. To be generous and kind. These are all traits we’re taught to develop from the time we’re in kindergarten. And rightfully so.

Marriage Counseling, Relationship Therapy, Couples Counseling

But when you’re in a relationship and your people-pleasing is lop-sided, then it’s time to examine what’s going on.


Jenny loved to sail, and she started dating a guy with a boat in October, after sailing season was over. Most of their dates were spent sanding or varnishing or otherwise fixing up the boat. When he treated her to dinner it was usually fast food, but he seemed to like her, she thought, and she willingly went along. In fact, she was very careful to varnish according to his picky specifications. She wanted to please.


When spring came, he invited her to go to California. She would have to buy her plane tickets and her half of the hotel room, of course. When she expressed an interest in seeing the wine country, he nixed the idea. He’d been there, done that. He laid out an itinerary in which she had no interest. It was then that she realized she had done everything he wanted and virtually nothing she wanted. She finally broke up with him. And she never did get to sail on the boat she had worked on so assiduously.


All Give and No Take


Jenny was involved in a lop-sided relationship. Although she like to sail, she also loved theater and the arts and a good night out at a restaurant. But her sailor always had something else to do. Like take advantage of her free labor. Jenny had difficulty standing up for herself, expressing or even identifying her feelings. Until she broke up with him, she never told him “No.”


Jenny lost touch with her own identity; it was subsumed into his. She was involved in a relationship in which she gave and gave and never took. How did she get that way? At some point, Jenny learned that pleasing others at her own expense was a way to earn love.


What’s Behind People Pleasers?


Jenny was brought up in a household commandeered by her narcissist mother whose own needs and wants were paramount. Jenny learned that if she wanted any affection or attention whatsoever, she had to please her mother. She put her mother’s needs and feelings before her own and became a helper, fixer, appeaser.


Other ways people become people pleasers to a fault is when they’ve suffered some kind of trauma. Children learn they can keep trouble at bay by pleasing others. They learn to be hypersensitive to others’ feelings and to put their own feelings aside while they gratify others. It’s their way to feel safe.


Another reason people become people pleasers is financial instability and struggle for survival that’s dependent on others. People who face stigma or oppression—minorities, for example—may feel forced to please others or risk personal harm.


Next time, we’ll talk about how to break the cycle of people pleasing.



Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: