Elite Reover

How to overcome people-pleasing

30 May 2024
How to overcome people-pleasing

What you will learn from this blog:

  • The root cause of people pleasing is a desperate need for love, connection, and belonging.
  • 3 steps to heal people pleasing behaviour in yourself and be more authentic.

This is a very personal topic for me (Kester) as people-pleasing is something I’ve struggled with my whole life.

Here are some symptoms I experienced:

  • Feeling exploited because you give and give, but don’t get much in return
  • Feeling resentful because you constantly sacrifice your wants and needs, and it never seems to be enough because others don’t seem to be grateful and only want more from you
  • Seeing others as selfish for only thinking of themselves and not you
  • Struggling to express your wants and needs, and constantly suppressing your anger
  • Guilt-tripping others rather than directly expressing my feelings to them, to get my needs met

The root cause of people pleasing is a desperate need for love, connection, and belonging.

It comes from a deep fear of being alone and cut off from the whole. Imagine the pain of the ugly duckling or black sheep who was isolated from its family.

Common subconscious beliefs are:

  • “There is something wrong with me that makes me unworthy of love”
  • “Thus, I need to make up for it by pleasing others to gain their love”

The people-pleaser part of me lived for praise and acceptance. I would jump for joy whenever someone told me “You’re a great person”.

But I felt destroyed whenever it received blame and rejection and for making a mistake, or not performing to expectations.

It would swing between extremes:

INTERNALISING THE PAIN – shrink and sink it to guilt, shame and self-hate or;

EXTERNALISING THE PAIN – fight back, put the blame back on others, or get defensive and convince others that my intentions were not bad and I am not a bad person.

Even though I liked to think of myself as a generous and kind person, I realised that I was not doing things for others genuinely. My acts of kindness were like a poisoned chalice – I did something for others with the expectation that they would give me approval and love back. And when they did not, I felt angry and resentful.

I was caught in an endless cycle of pleasing > feeling depleted and unappreciated > holding resentment and pain > then pleasing more to get attention to fix the pain.

I came face to face with this trauma when a loved one threatened to leave me. There lay exposed – the raw, intense fear of being separated and alone. I experienced the desperation to force this love to come back – trying any means, even physical, to get attention and connection.

But fear cannot be healed with more fear, it can only be healed with love.

Here are three steps I took to heal…

1. Be present with the loneliness and pain

Every trauma-driven behaviour comes from a need to avoid a feeling. When we people please the feeling we are trying to avoid can be loneliness, isolation, rejection, shame or guilt.

You have three options to deal with these feelings:

  • Avoidance – Continue to people please to avoid them
  • Indulgence – Indulge in them and spiral downwards, or
  • Presence – Bravely face them with unconditional presence, and allow the pain to transform your heart, cracking it open and dissolving your fears

Option (c) is the only one that brings lasting transformation.

Here’s how you can be unconditionally present when you feel rejection, loneliness guilt:

  • Find a safe, quiet place
  • Allow yourself to fully feel the feelings in your body with the intention of healing
  • Breath into your body as you are doing this
  • Say to the feeling: “ I am completely here with you now. It is okay for you to feel whatever you are feeling. I accept you just as you are”

With this emotional wellness coaching practice, you can give yourself the love you are so craving from others.

The more you can stay with the pain, even for a moment, the less afraid you will be of it, and the less you will impulsively avoid it.

2. Accept the part of you that is selfish

We are not born people pleasers. We learnt it from our environment.

We were conditioned to believe: “To love is to sacrifice yourself for others”; “To be selfless gets your approval; to be selfish gets you rejection”.

As a result, we reject the part of us that is selfish – that has wants and needs. To heal is to start to accept and address this part of you.

For example, I put aside a little money every week to do something for myself. Slowly, I started to feel less resentful that I was always sacrificing my needs for others. I realised: If I don’t care for myself how can I expect others to take care of me?

3. Go to the root

When you are ready for deeper healing, ask yourself: “When was the first time I felt the same feelings of loneliness, shame, rejection, etc?”

Do not use the mind to think of a memory, allow your subconscious to surface it to you.

It’s okay if nothing comes. Set the intention to go to the root, and be present with any emotion that comes up. This cannot be healed using the conscious mind, it can only be healed at a deeper subconscious level. Seek professional support if you feel the need.

What came up for me when I did this was experiences of feeling isolated at home whenever I did something “wrong”, and feeling judged and pushed away at school.


The practices in this blog are not easy. They require a lot of willpower, commitment and courage. So be kind to yourself. Healing is a marathon, not a sprint.

That said, the rewards can be profound. Every time I (Kester) faced and integrated my pain, instead of running away from it, I felt reborn – stronger, more fearless, secure in myself, whole in myself, and with a greater capacity to be present and love.

Ultimately, we must understand that we can never be fulfilled if we only seek love and belonging outside of ourselves. Others also have their own traumas and emotions, which they are entitled to.

The only constant we can control is the love and belonging we can feel within ourselves. That comes with connecting to your feelings, loving them, and making a home for them within you, no matter how they may present.

Learn more about how you can work with us at Intracresco for emotional support in Singapore.

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