Self-Care

A Survival Guide for Chronic People Pleasers




By Suzanne Goodwin

Many people, especially women, need others’ approval in order to feel good about themselves. In fact, our culture reinforces this caretaking role; it’s part of what we do for the people we love. What’s important is how much caretaking we do, and how it affects us. There’s a delicate balance to how much and how often we should attend to others’ needs before our own.

Even parents need to make self-care a priority in order to have the inner resources to face the responsibilities of parenthood. We’ve all heard the “oxygen on the airplane” analogy: if you want to help your child survive, you must give yourself oxygen first.

Those of us who ignore that advice can develop a pattern of people-pleasing behavior—probably old behavior that was rewarded once upon a time. If the people in your life have come to expect this behavior of you, regularly turning to you for help when there’s a problem, you may be a chronic people pleaser.

Take the quiz

That term may sound negative, but often it simply means that you have trouble identifying and expressing your own needs. To determine whether you’re a chronic people pleaser, consider the following questions:

How much time and energy do you spend on other people’s problems or requests for help?

Do you feel compelled to please people—even people you barely know?

Do you secretly long to be acknowledged for all the helpful things you do?

Do you feel angry or exhausted because of constant pressure to keep this up?

Do you worry that people will be disappointed if you change this behavior?

When you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed, do you rarely think to ask others for help

 Do you feel it’s selfish to take care of yourself?

Breaking the pattern

Taking time to restore, or simply slowing down to enjoy life, is not selfish. In fact, it makes you more available to connect with your loved ones. If you’re a chronic people pleaser who wants to get back on track, consider what your needs are. What would you be doing if you weren’t stretched so thin helping others? Then make time for yourself by following these tips:

Say yes for the right reasons. Think about why you are helping someone before you automatically agree.

Ask for help when you need it. People who thrive know how to balance giving and receiving and are part of a support network. We aren’t wired to handle life’s challenges alone.

Prioritize. Help the people who matter most to you.

Acknowledge that you can’t please everyone. Others’ negative responses and dissatisfaction often reflect what’s going on in their own lives, and have nothing to do with you.

Learn to say no. The world won’t fall apart if you take time for yourself. In fact, when you feel rested and content, you have more to give.

Build self-care into your routine. Develop new creative outlets, relax with friends, exercise, get outside in nature, listen to music. Create a quiet space in your home for peaceful reflection and rest. Practice meditation, yoga and deep breathing.

When you truly value yourself, offering your time and energy only when it feels right, you can help others in a way that honors and respects everyone involved.

Suzanne Goodwin is a licensed psychoanalyst with a master’s degree in social work. She helps individuals, couples and families identify undiscovered potential, create change and work through unproductive patterns. Her office is located at 66 Main St., Bedford Hills, NY. For more info, contact her at 914.589.6629 or visit SuzanneBGoodwin.com.

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