How to Not Be a People Pleaser

Our resident psychiatrist, Samantha Boardman, on the best way to deal with your need for approval.

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Q: I’m a people pleaser to a fault. How do I get over my need for approval?

Being a people pleaser isn’t all bad. It shows that you are a caring person who values social connections and enjoys making others happy. In fact, research shows that doing nice things for others helps buffer against stress and promotes well-being. That said, being “too nice” isn’t healthy either. If people pleasing is turning you into a martyr or a doormat, it can lead to festering resentment and the perception that you’re insecure and needy. Being too nice can be a recipe for burnout and bitterness.

I had a patient who was concerned that if she stopped being agreeable, she wouldn’t be as likable. To help her move past this mind-set, I asked her to consider the difference between being nice and being kind. We talked about how “nice” is about being a pushover, never saying what you think, and doing what other people want you to do, while “kind” is about staying true to your values and having the grace and strength to express yourself. A few days later, a coworker asked her to stay late to finish a PowerPoint presentation. In the past, she would have said yes, even if she had plans. This time, she decided to be kind to herself and politely declined. Saying no to him and yes to herself may not have been the nice thing to do, but it was the kind thing to do. To her surprise, making that choice strengthened her relationships and improved her confidence at work and with friends. They appreciated her input and point of view. She felt better too.

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Next time you’re concerned you’re venturing into toxic people pleasing territory, ask yourself, “Am I being nice or am I being kind?” Choose kind every time.

Dr. Samantha Boardman is a clinical instructor in psychiatry and an assistant attending psychiatrist at Weill Cornell medical College in New York and the founder of

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Carte-Mere.

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