Dear therapist,

I am a classic people pleaser. I used to think this was a strength of mine – people generally like me and want to include me in both professional and social circles – but lately I’m finding it all exhausting and ungratifying. I’m constantly mediating between competing needs, whether in the office or at home. Someone is always disappointed, and I’m left feeling like it’s my fault I haven’t been able to ‘fix’ the situation, even though I know this is silly. When I can step out of feeling bad about it, I start to get really angry! Angry at myself for attempting all the pleasing, and angry at others for not recognising these efforts or thinking about me every now and again. Something’s got to change…but how?


People Pleaser

Dear People Pleaser,

Your attempts at people pleasing are well-intentioned. We all have the need to belong, and therefore want to be liked so as to be accepted. We are also conditioned to seek approval by our ‘reward and punishment’ based education system and upbringing.  

We learn early, and often, that there are rules to follow and by excelling at these we win approval. Success is outwardly determined. While some of this is necessary for a functioning society, we can lose touch entirely with our own needs if taken to the extreme. We please others but end up less than pleased ourselves. Or worse, in addition to our own upset, we recognise we can’t even ‘please all of the people all of the time’ as the cliché goes, so there is always someone we are disappointing. Our People Pleaser is quite obviously not pleased with this outcome either. 

What to do? I say embrace your People Disappointer! Without meaning to sound glib, let’s look at what I mean by investigating the word ‘disappoint.’ The root ‘appoint’ comes from the French verb ‘appointer,’ one meaning of which is ‘to ordain, nominate, or establish a person in a certain office or position.’  The prefix ‘dis’ is a negative, a reversing force. Looked at this way, to disappoint is to remove (someone) from an office that had been previously granted.

The People Pleaser in all of us is ‘appointing’ others as the arbiter of what is good, what is of value. Pleasing others essentially means we giving them the power of official judgement based on their needs and values (and these differ from person to person which is why pleasing everyone is a futile effort!) When praise and acceptance is our goal, we forgo our needs, mould our preferences to those of others. The frustration and resentment that ensues is a useful warning that we have moved too far away from our own consideration or value system. Your People Disappointer can take back this ‘appointment.’ We might even consider the freedom to disappoint as the ability to express our own, sometimes differing, position. 

None of which to say disappointing others is our end goal. Or that we are unable to take in differing perspectives from our own. It is merely to acknowledge that some disappointment is inevitable, the avoidance of which is both impossible and ultimately unhelpful. We end up frustrated, resentful or, yes, angry as you find yourself now. There is a wisdom in that anger. It is telling you something’s got to change. Allowing your People Disappointer a say helps shift from your ingrained habit of deferring to others. There may be still be times when you prioritise others’ needs above your own, but this can be done consciously, selectively; by choice rather than default. 


Do you have a question for Dear Therapist? Send it to [email protected] with Dear Therapist in the subject line and Charlotte Fox Weber or Kelly Hearn will get back to you.

Further reading

Co-dependency, authenticity and saying no

How to keep healthy boundaries with a friend in need

How our relationship boundaries define us

Is your childhood affecting your relationships?

How your attachment style changes your relationships