What is People-Pleasing Exactly? Defining the Behavioural Patterns

The psychological pattern of “people-pleasing” is rooted in various psychological factors, including social conditioning, personality traits, and cultural norms. While there isn’t a specific scientific term for “people-pleasing” per se, it often overlaps with concepts like “assertiveness deficits” or “excessive agreeableness” in personality psychology.

One key factor contributing to people-pleasing behaviour is the desire for social approval and fear of rejection. Individuals who engage in people-pleasing often prioritize the needs and desires of others over their own, seeking validation and acceptance from those around them. This behaviour can stem from childhood experiences, such as receiving conditional love or praise based on compliance with others’ expectations.

Overall, understanding the psychological mechanisms underlying people-pleasing behaviour can help individuals recognize and address these patterns, fostering healthier boundaries, assertiveness, and self-care practices. Therapy, self-reflection, and assertiveness training are among the approaches that can support individuals in overcoming people-pleasing tendencies and cultivating more authentic and fulfilling relationships.

The Science and Psychological Concepts Behind People-Pleasing Behaviour

Psychologically, people-pleasing behaviour is intricately linked to social psychology concepts such as social approval, fear of rejection, and the need for belonging. These tendencies often stem from deep-seated beliefs and conditioning that prioritize maintaining harmonious relationships and avoiding conflict.

  • From an evolutionary perspective, the desire to belong to social groups and communities is deeply ingrained in human biology, as it historically increased survival and reproductive success.
  • However, modern societal structures have transformed the dynamics of social belonging, often leading to a disconnect between the innate drive to belong and the manifestation of people-pleasing behaviour.
  • While the need to belong is based on reciprocity and mutual support, people-pleasing tends to be one-sided, with individuals prioritizing others’ needs at the expense of their own.

Historically, women have shouldered a disproportionate burden of people-pleasing expectations due to deeply entrenched gender roles and societal norms. For centuries, women have been socialized to prioritize the needs and desires of others, often at the expense of their own autonomy and well-being. This historical legacy is rooted in patriarchal structures that have perpetuated the notion that women’s worth is contingent upon their ability to fulfil societal expectations of nurturing, caregiving, and self-sacrifice. As a result, women may internalize these expectations and struggle to assert their own needs and boundaries in interpersonal relationships.

Addressing people-pleasing behaviour requires a multifaceted approach that combines self-awareness, boundary-setting, and assertiveness skills.

  • Individuals can start by cultivating self-reflection and awareness of their own needs, values, and boundaries. This may involve exploring past experiences and societal influences that have shaped their people-pleasing tendencies.
  • Additionally, practicing assertiveness techniques, such as clear communication and boundary-setting, can help individuals assert their needs and preferences in interpersonal interactions.
  • Building a support network of friends, family, or mental health professionals can provide encouragement and guidance as individuals work to break free from people-pleasing patterns.
  • Ultimately, embracing self-compassion and prioritizing self-care are essential components of overcoming people-pleasing behaviour and fostering healthier, more authentic relationships.

How and Why Women Seem to be More Prone to People-Pleasing, but it is not *Only* Their Responsibility

As hinted earlier, research suggests that women may be more prone to people-pleasing behaviours than men due to a combination of socialization and gender role expectations. From a young age, girls are often socialized to be nurturing, accommodating, and focused on maintaining harmonious relationships. These societal expectations can lead women to internalize the belief that their worth is contingent upon meeting the needs and expectations of others.

As women, stepping into our own power involves gaining control over our internal experiences and the results we create in our lives, rather than exerting energy to control external factors such as people or circumstances. This shift in perspective emphasizes self-awareness, self-compassion, and self-advocacy as essential tools for navigating the complexities of interpersonal dynamics and societal expectations.

Yet addressing people-pleasing behaviour and its disproportionate impact on women requires a broader recognition of systemic and societal biases. It’s crucial to acknowledge that asking women to solely “work on themselves” overlooks the larger structural inequalities and gendered expectations that contribute to these struggles. True empowerment comes from creating environments and systems that allow individuals to authentically express themselves and contribute meaningfully to society.

What Individuals Suffering from People-Pleasing Can Gain from Trying to Unlock These Patterns and Work on Their Mindset

While people-pleasing behaviour can be adaptive in certain contexts, such as promoting social harmony and cooperation, it can also have detrimental effects on individuals’ mental health and well-being. Chronic people-pleasing may lead to feelings of resentment, burnout, and a diminished sense of self-worth as individuals neglect their own needs and preferences in favour of others’.

Addressing and overcoming people-pleasing tendencies can lead to numerous benefits for women and individuals who struggle with people pleasing behaviours:

  • Increased Self-Esteem and Self-Worth: Breaking free from people-pleasing allows individuals to develop a stronger sense of self-esteem and self-worth. By prioritizing their own needs and boundaries, they no longer rely on external validation, reducing feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness.
  • Authentic Relationships: Overcoming people-pleasing fosters the cultivation of authentic and fulfilling relationships. When individuals are true to themselves and assertive in expressing their needs and preferences, they attract connections based on mutual respect and genuine understanding, avoiding superficial or one-sided relationships.
  • Improved Mental Health: Chronic people-pleasing often leads to heightened levels of stress, anxiety, and burnout as individuals neglect their own well-being in favour of others’. By prioritizing self-care and setting healthy boundaries, individuals can alleviate these mental health struggles and experience greater peace of mind and emotional balance.
  • Personal Growth and Development: Overcoming people-pleasing requires individuals to confront their fears, challenge limiting beliefs, and step outside their comfort zones. This process of self-discovery and growth leads to increased resilience, adaptability, and self-confidence, enabling individuals to embrace new opportunities and pursue their goals with greater determination and clarity.
  • Enhanced Leadership Skills: For women and individuals in leadership positions, overcoming people-pleasing unlocks their full potential as leaders. Assertiveness, confidence, and authenticity are essential qualities of effective leadership, and addressing people-pleasing tendencies empowers individuals to embody these traits more fully, inspiring and motivating others through their example.

How Life Coaching, e.g., with Me, Can Support in Addressing People Pleasing Patterns

Life coaching offers a unique and personalized approach to addressing people-pleasing tendencies and supporting individuals in their journey toward greater self-awareness and empowerment.

Here’s how life coaching, particularly with me, can support individuals in overcoming people-pleasing behaviours & patterns:

  • Tailored Guidance and Support: As a certified life coach, I provide personalized guidance and support tailored to each client’s unique needs and goals. Through one-on-one coaching sessions, individuals receive the tools, strategies, and accountability they need to address their own most pressing people-pleasing patterns effectively.
  • Exploration of Root Causes: Life coaching involves exploring the root causes of people-pleasing tendencies, such as past experiences, societal conditioning, and limiting beliefs. By gaining clarity on these underlying factors, individuals can begin to unravel and overcome these patterns.
  • Building Assertiveness Skills: One of the key focuses of life coaching is on building assertiveness skills and learning to set healthy boundaries. Through role-playing, communication exercises, and practical strategies, clients develop the confidence and assertiveness needed to assert their needs and preferences in various contexts.
  • Cognitive Restructuring: Life coaching helps individuals challenge and reframe limiting beliefs and cognitive distortions that contribute to people-pleasing behaviours. By adopting a more empowering mindset and cultivating self-compassion, clients can break free from the cycle of seeking external validation.
  • Accountability and Follow-Up: Throughout the coaching process, I provide ongoing accountability and support to help clients stay committed to their goals. Regular check-ins and progress reviews ensure that individuals stay on track and continue making strides toward overcoming people-pleasing tendencies.

If you’re ready to break free from people-pleasing patterns and unlock your full potential, I invite you to explore the transformative power of life coaching.

Contact me today to schedule a complimentary consultation and take the first step toward living a more authentic, empowered life.

Sincerely yours,

Dr Sophie



Turrell, E. R. (2021). Please Yourself. 4th Estate.

Loewentheil, K. (2024). The Take Back Your Power Training. Online workshop “People Pleasing”, workbook & materials from The School of New Feminist Thought. More information on: https://schoolofnewfeministthought.com/about/