How to Stop Being a People-Pleaser: Finding Motivation in Assertiveness


Do you find yourself constantly saying yes to others, even when you really want to say no? Do you often go out of your way to make sure everyone else is happy, even if it means sacrificing your own needs and desires? If so, you may be a people-pleaser.

As human beings, it's natural to want to be accepted and liked by others. However, when this desire turns into a pattern of constantly seeking approval and validation from those around you, it can become detrimental to your own well-being. This article will explore the concept of people-pleasing and provide you with practical strategies to break free from this cycle and cultivate a greater sense of self-worth and assertiveness.

In the words of psychologist Harriet B. Braiker, "The truth is that when you start saying no to people, they may not like you. But the relationships that survive will be based on truth and honesty, and those are the ones where you'll be most genuinely liked and respected."1

Introduction to People-Pleasing

Do you often find yourself putting the needs of others before your own, even at the expense of your own well-being? If so, you might be a people-pleaser. People-pleasing is a common behavior that involves constantly seeking approval and validation from others, often at the cost of your own happiness and fulfillment.

According to psychologist Dr. Susan Newman, “People-pleasers want everyone around them to be happy and they will do whatever is asked of them to keep it that way. However, they will often end up feeling unappreciated, drained, and resentful.”

As a people-pleaser, you may find yourself saying "yes" to every request, even when it inconveniences you or goes against your own desires. You might avoid conflict at all costs, even if it means suppressing your own feelings and opinions. The fear of disappointing others or being seen as selfish may drive your actions, leaving you feeling exhausted and unfulfilled.

If any of this sounds familiar, it's important to recognize the impact that people-pleasing can have on your life. By understanding the motivations behind this behavior and learning how to assert yourself, you can break free from the cycle of always putting others first and start prioritizing your own needs.

Understanding Why You People-Please

It's essential to understand why you feel the need to please others all the time. Perhaps you believe that saying "no" will lead to conflict or that people won't like you if you don't go along with their wishes. According to author and psychologist Harriet Braiker, "People-pleasers are really great at reading other people and understanding what makes other people tick, and they often don't prioritize as much understanding what makes themselves tick".

You might also people-please because you fear rejection or abandonment. When you constantly seek approval from others, it can be a sign that you are seeking validation and acceptance. Dr. Susan Newman, a social psychologist and author, notes that "People who need to please to feel loved or accepted often have a reduced sense of self-worth".

It's important to recognize that people-pleasing behavior can stem from deep-seated beliefs and fears. Understanding these underlying reasons is the first step in finding the motivation to break free from the pattern of constantly seeking validation from others.

Your journey to assertiveness begins with acknowledging these reasons and understanding that they do not define your worth. By recognizing that your value does not depend on pleasing others, you will be motivated to take steps to build your self-esteem and assertiveness.

The Downside of Always Saying Yes

It may seem like you're being helpful and kind when you never say no, but always putting others' needs before your own can have serious consequences. Constantly saying yes can lead to burnout, resentment, and the feeling of being taken advantage of. As psychologist Dr. Susan Newman puts it, "When you're always saying yes, you're really saying no to yourself."

By always putting others first, you may also be sending the message that your time and needs aren't as important as theirs. This can lead to feelings of low self-worth and even depression. Not being able to prioritize your own needs can be damaging to your mental and emotional well-being. You may find yourself feeling drained, overwhelmed, and unfulfilled.

Saying yes to everything also prevents you from setting boundaries. You may find yourself overcommitted and unable to fully devote yourself to the things that truly matter to you. This can lead to feelings of regret and a sense of lost opportunities.

It's important to remember that saying no is not selfish—it's self-care. Learning to prioritize your own needs and well-being is essential for a healthy and balanced life. As author Bryant McGill says, "Your personal boundaries protect the inner core of your identity and your right to choices."

Building Self-Esteem and Assertiveness

Building self-esteem is crucial in overcoming the habit of people-pleasing. When you value yourself and your needs, you will be less inclined to constantly seek approval from others. Dr. Nathaniel Branden, a renowned psychologist, once said, "The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance." It's essential to recognize that you are worthy of respect and consideration, and that your opinions and needs matter.

To develop assertiveness, it's important to practice self-compassion and self-care. Make time for activities that make you happy and prioritize your well-being. As you become more confident in asserting yourself, your self-esteem will naturally grow, and you will no longer feel the need to please others at the expense of your own happiness.

Some practical ways to build self-esteem and assertiveness include seeking out supportive relationships, engaging in positive self-talk, setting achievable goals, and taking pride in your accomplishments. Remember, as Dr. Steve Maraboli, a behavioral scientist, once said, "If you fuel your journey on the opinions of others, you are going to run out of gas." It's important to recognize and celebrate your own strengths and capabilities.

As you continue to work on building your self-esteem and assertiveness, you will find that you no longer feel the need to seek validation from others. Instead, you will be motivated by your own intrinsic worth and the desire to lead a fulfilling and authentic life.

Learning to Say No

Learning to say no is an essential skill when it comes to breaking free from the people-pleasing cycle. It's not always easy, but it's crucial for your well-being. You might feel guilty or worried that you’ll disappoint someone, but remember that your needs are important too.

Here's a helpful tip: start by recognizing that saying no is not a negative action. It's about setting healthy boundaries and respecting yourself. As author and speaker Brené Brown once said, "Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others."

One effective way to learn to say no is to practice assertive communication. When turning down a request, be firm yet polite. You can thank the person for considering you, but express that you simply can't accommodate the request at the moment. Remember, you don't owe anyone an explanation, but it can be helpful to provide a brief one if you're comfortable with it.

It's vital to remember that saying no is not a sign of selfishness, but rather a demonstration of self-respect and healthy prioritizing. As psychologist Dr. Susan Newman wrote in "The Book of No", "Saying no is the ultimate self-care."

By learning to say no, you are showing yourself and the world that your needs matter. It may take time and practice, but begin by acknowledging that it's okay to put yourself first and that your time and energy are valuable. As you become more comfortable with saying no, you'll find yourself feeling more empowered and in control of your own life.

Now, on to the next step: setting healthy boundaries.

Setting Healthy Boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries is essential in breaking free from the cycle of people-pleasing. It's about understanding your own needs and priorities and respecting them. By setting boundaries, you communicate to others what you will and will not tolerate, thereby gaining control over your own wellbeing.

According to clinical psychologist Ryan Howes, "Setting boundaries is a way of caring for myself. It doesn’t make me mean, selfish, or uncaring just because I don’t do things your way. I care about me too."

To start, identify your limits and make them known to others. Whether it's about how much time and energy you can invest in someone or what behavior you find acceptable, setting clear boundaries allows you to create a healthy balance between giving and receiving. It's important to remember that in doing so, you are not being selfish but rather taking care of yourself.

Reinforcing these boundaries may initially be met with resistance, but staying firm is key. As author Anne Katherine writes in "Where to Draw the Line: How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day", "People who push against your boundaries are not respecting your feelings, and can cause you to feel used, taken advantage of, and drained."

Communicate your boundaries assertively and with confidence. Be clear and direct in stating your needs, and don't feel guilty about doing so. You have the right to protect your time, energy, and emotional wellbeing. Setting boundaries is an act of self-respect and self-care, and it's important to remind yourself of that.

Incorporating healthy boundaries into your relationships and daily interactions is an empowering step towards breaking free from people-pleasing tendencies. It allows you to prioritize your own needs and respect yourself in the process, leading to a more balanced and fulfilling life. By setting boundaries, you are actively taking control of your own happiness and wellbeing. Remember, as clinical psychologist Dana Gionta puts it, "Boundaries are a way to take care of myself. They are not a retaliation or a punishment."

man standing behind chain link fence holding to fence during golden hour
Photo by Tom Sodoge on Unsplash

Embracing the Power of Choice

It's time to realize that you have the power to choose how you spend your time, energy, and resources. You don't have to be at the beck and call of everyone else's needs and desires. Remember, saying no to others often means saying yes to yourself.

As author and motivational speaker Brian Tracy once said, "You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically—to say 'no' to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger 'yes' burning inside."

By embracing the power of choice, you can take control of your life and set boundaries that align with your own values and goals. It's not selfish to prioritize your own well-being. In fact, it's necessary for a healthy and fulfilling life.

Your power to choose is a valuable tool in breaking free from the patterns of people-pleasing. It allows you to focus on what truly matters to you and to let go of the need to constantly seek approval from others.

Give yourself permission to prioritize your own needs and desires, and watch as your newfound confidence and assertiveness lead to a more fulfilling and authentic life.


In conclusion, it's important to remember that breaking free from the cycle of people-pleasing is a process that takes time and effort. But the benefits of learning to assert yourself and set healthy boundaries are immeasurable. As you continue on this journey, remind yourself that you are worthy of respect and consideration just as much as anyone else.

In the words of psychologist Dr. Susan Newman, "Learning to say no is about setting boundaries and valuing yourself. It doesn't have to be confrontational - it's just about being clear about what you need."

By prioritizing your own needs and well-being, you can cultivate a greater sense of self-worth and confidence. Remember that it's okay to put yourself first and that saying no doesn't make you selfish, it makes you self-respecting. As you practice assertiveness, you'll find that not only do you feel more empowered, but others will also respect and value you more for it.

So, as you take the steps to stop being a people-pleaser, be patient with yourself and celebrate your progress along the way. You deserve to live a life that's true to yourself, and learning to assert yourself is a crucial part of that journey.

Enjoy in the words of Eleanor Brownn - "Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel."

1Harriet B. Braiker, The Disease to Please: Curing the People-Pleasing Syndrome (2001)
2Susan Newman, The Book of No: 365 Ways to Say it and Mean it (2005)
3Harriet B. Braiker, The Disease to Please (2001)
4Susan Newman, The Book of No: 365 Ways to Say It and Mean It (2010)
5Susan Newman, The Book of No: 365 Ways to Say it and Mean it—and Stop People-Pleasing Forever (2005)
6Nathaniel Branden, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem (1994)
7Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012)
8Susan Newman, The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say It -- And Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever! (2005)
9Anne Katherine, Where to Draw the Line: How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day (2000)
10Ryan Howes, Clinical Psychologist
11Brian Tracy, "Eat that Frog!," Berrett-Koehler Publishers (2007)
12Dr. Susan Newman, The Book of No: 365 Ways to Say It and Mean It.
13Eleanor Brownn, Emotional Sad Love, Living Out Loud.