People-Pleasing and Control – A Complete Guide (2024)

Many years of people-pleasing can be a serious problem, and a hard habit to break.

Thoughts such as, “I feel bad to say no,” or “I just want to be a good person” can interfere with someone’s rational thought process.

More often than not, their desire to make others happy is merely a symptom of a deeper issue.

Let’s dive right into it.

People Pleasing Spirit

On the surface people pleasing seems like a very noble mind-set. One might say, “I just like to do nice things for people,” or “I just want to be a nice person.” 

They are generally nice people. So, they say yes even when it’s inconvenient for them, takes away from their own personal time, or puts them behind in their own personal tasks.

Doing nice things for people from time to time – with no strings attached – is a noble mind-set.

The strings attached could just be:

  • They want to be liked
  • They want approval for their choices
  • They want to keep the peace

However, there is a deeper shadow side that people pleasers could be completely unconscious about.

The Danger Of Being A People Pleaser

Maybe you experienced something as simple as agreeing to watch a TV show you didn’t really like (because it was just easier to go along). Or eating at a restaurant you didn’t really love (because it was simpler to just let other people make the decision).

We’ve all been taught that this is what “nice” people do. 

Even though people pleasing may seem like an immediate way to avoid discomfort or conflict, it  could lead to so many repercussions like:

  • Resentment
  • Self neglect
  • A sense of hopelessness
  • Depression/anxiety
  • Being taken advantage of
  • Loneliness
  • A feeling of emptiness

People-pleasing makes other people your focus, and over time this behavior degrades the relationship you have with yourself.

The first person to please should be you. Remind yourself that “I am enough”.

Watch the video at the end of this article for how to stop being a pleaser.

Wanting To Please Everyone Disorder

This is not a medical condition that exists, it only points out the seriousness of a people pleasing habit because it is at the cost of one’s own mental well being as explained in many articles of Psychology Today.

Pleasers develop the behavior pattern of constantly trying to please others to avoid the displeasure of others and to get important people in their lives to love them.

Pleasers are usually willing to settle for small favors and even poor treatment from others.

Here are some signs that you may be a people pleaser

  • You’re always apologizing, even when it’s not your fault
  • You very rarely ever say “no”, even when you know you should
  • You often pretend to agree, even when you don’t
  • You’ll settle for less than you deserve
  • You tend to pretend you’re fine, even when you’re not
  • You can be easily influenced by taking others’ opinions for a decision affecting you
  • You tend to act like the people around you, rather than being you
  • You feel responsible for the feelings of someone else
  • You try to do everything on your own, rather than ask for help
  • You can be attracted to people who are controllers
  • You need praise from others to feel good about yourself
  • You’ll go to great lengths to avoid conflict
People-Pleasing and Control
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Anxiety And People-Pleasing

Fear of some future outcome produces anxiety. 

You see white lights fluttering, then your chest tightens, like under the weight of a hundred ten-pound bricks. You’re gasping wondering if your next breath will be your last. 

Emotions of fear, gloom, dread, and hopelessness all run through you. Without any clear cause, these feelings consume you.

You start to wonder if you’re going crazy. It’s as if you no longer have control over your own body. Then there’s more fear.

That’s anxiety.

This desire of constantly pleasing people and care for others is deeply rooted in either a fear of rejection and/or failure, or in other words, perfectionism.

Chronic people-pleasers want to look presentable all the time, like they have it all together and their lives are perfect. Anxiety doesn’t fit into the perfect lives they’ve established for ourselves. 

As humans, we can become our harshest and cruelest critics.

Living with the mindset of a people-pleaser, you’ll constantly feel pressure to fit in, make others happy, be liked, gain acceptance, and seem happy all the time.

That’s a lot of pressure. No wonder you feel anxious!

People Pleasers Are Controlling

This sounds far off from the idea that people pleasers are just “nice people”. Remember, this is a  subconscious program, so they’re not aware of this underlying trait.

Many people pleasers think they can control the emotions or feelings someone is having. Sometimes they will even take on those emotions as well without understanding it’s not for them to control.

We don’t have the ability to feel bad enough for someone else as to take away their pain.

For example, a woman’s husband is annoyed and it’s nothing to do with the wife, although the wife tries to make everything around him as pleasant as possible. She even promises him the world or at least gets the kids off to bed as quietly as possible.

A lot of energy investment, for sure. Yet, the husband is still feeling very annoyed. This is when the people pleaser loses it. How dare he still be so annoyed when she’s done so much to “fix” it!

Rather than allowing him his feelings and realizing it’s not about her at all, she felt she needed to control the situation with her people pleasing skills.

This occurs between parents and children as well. Child has a tantrum or argument with siblings and the parent comes in trying to make everything right. 

Emotions are natural and normal. All of them. They are not for others to control.

Are People Pleasers Manipulative?

This is another shadow side of people pleasing. 

You may be wondering, how can I be controlling and manipulative if I’m focused on what YOU want? It’s because you believe somewhere inside that by pleasing someone else, you’ll get something you want.

Whenever we do or say something with any sort of expected result from anyone else, it’s an illusion of control expressed as manipulation.

Other than you being inauthentic, the problem with this is the result given by the other person is likely to also be inauthentic.

This can just keep the cycle of people pleasing for control going because what you’re really looking for is authenticity in yourself.

Are People Pleasers Narcissistic?

Narcissists think of themselves first and very little of others. Sounds as though it’s completely opposite to people pleasers. However, there is an area where a narcissist takes on the role of people pleaser.

A narcissist may appear to be going out of their way to please others as long as they feel there’s something in it for them. So again, it’s all about the motive.

A narcissist may throw parties, pay compliments, offer to buy things for others as long as they think there will be some sort of pay back for them. It’s strategic, well thought out.

Also, narcissists and people pleasers tend to draw towards because the narcissist gets their needs met, receiving constant adoration and praise. The people pleaser feels fulfilled, finally appreciated and valued for their care-taking efforts.

Until the honeymoon phase ends when the narcissist becomes increasingly selfish, insensitive, and hostile. The people pleaser implodes, blaming themselves and trying even harder, despite their partner doing the opposite.

This is the type of relationship you don’t want.

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

Are People Pleasers Happy?

People pleasers focus on trying hard to make others happy. They will link their own happiness to whether or not the person of their focus is happy.

They will go out of their way to please someone, even if it means taking their own valuable time or resources away from themselves. This is often because of their insecurities and lack of self-esteem.

They can often be perfectionists, presenting themselves with the thought of how others will perceive them. They’ll make sure their hair, dress, actions will be those that please others.

People pleasers will find that the more they tried to please others, the more likely others were to treat the pleaser like an old dish rag. 

The more this happens, the less they respect themselves. Eventually, pleasing efforts leave one feeling disrespected, violated, and disconnected—from life, from other people, and from themselves.

Eventually, one may find the way to be happy is to stop pleasing others and start pleasing themselves first. The main thing to say to yourself is, “I am enough”.

Consider what your self-worth is based on – other people’s perceptions? Who will love and respect you if you’re not loving and respecting yourself first?

Then you’ll have more authentic energy to share with others in a more loving way.

What Happens When You Stop People Pleasing?

Always focusing on pleasing drains your energy. When you stop, it automatically frees up more space and opportunities for you and the ability to mentally recharge.

  • Some may get angry with you. Just what pleasers don’t want, but it’ll be ok
  • You’ll find out who your real friends are
  • Your stomach will be in knots when someone asks you to do something for them
  • You’ll have a lot more free time – for you

It’s inevitable that committing to being everything to everyone but yourself, leaves you losing your sense of self.

Don’t let this happen to you. There are steps you can take now to live a new way that may feel closer to the real you.

Watch this video to find out more.

The key to their difference between people pleasing and actual kindness comes down to one thing: motive.

Kindness comes from a place of love, acceptance and trust; people pleasing comes from the dark side of fear, control and manipulation.

How you see yourself, your life, and your options is shaped by your mindset. 

If you found this article helpful, consider sharing it with a friend you think could also benefit.

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About The Author

Bijan Kholghi is a certified life coach with the Milton Erickson Institute Heidelberg (Germany). He helps clients and couples reach breakthroughs in their lives by changing subconscious patterns. His solution-oriented approach is based on Systemic- and Hypnotherapy.