How to Stop Being a People Pleaser

Updated February 7, 2023

Do you feel like you’re more concerned with making other people like you than you are with pursuing your own purposes? Is it time for you to learn how to stop being a people pleaser?

Though trying to make other people happy might not sound like a bad thing, it ultimately means that you are not being your authentic self. When you mold yourself to try and fit what you think other people want you to be, you are doing a disservice to yourself and the people around you.

Recognize What’s In Your Control

Trying to please people is a habit that you can break. You might think that you don’t have any choice but to keep everyone happy, but that’s ultimately not true. There are only a few things we have control over in life, but what you say and do are two big ones that do fall under our span of control.

“Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control. Stop aspiring to be anyone other than your own best self: for that does fall within your control.”

– Epictetus

One of the things we don’t have control over is what other people think of us. We, therefore, shouldn’t be trying to fit anyone else’s picture of the best version of ourselves. We should be pursuing the best version of ourselves that we know, in the deepest parts of ourselves, carries out our purposes.

“If we are not stupid or insincere when we say that the good or ill of man lies within his own will, and that all beside is nothing to us, why are we still troubled?”

– Epictetus

If we listen to the advice of Epictetus, it means that we have to let go of how other people see us and how they react to what we say and do. We cannot try and control the way people respond to us.

“Don’t hope that events will turn out the way you want, welcome events in whichever way they happen: this is the path to peace.”

– Epictetus

In fact, we shouldn’t try to exert control over any external events. If you stand up for yourself in a way that displays your authentic self, for example, and your family pushes back, it’s a mistake to run around and try and make everyone happy again just so there is no sense of conflict.

“People are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them.”

– Epictetus

It can be difficult to let go of what other people think. It’s hard to disappoint people when we know they want us to be a certain way, do a certain task, or participate in a certain event.

“You always own the option of having no opinion. There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can't control. These things are not asking to be judged by you. Leave them alone.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Adopting Stoicism as a part of your worldview requires a number of major shifts for most people, but realizing that the opinions and thoughts of others are outside of your control is one of the more difficult rivers to cross.

“Be not diverted from your duty by any idle reflections the silly world may make upon you, for their censures are not in your power and should not be at all your concerns.”

– Epictetus

Once you recognize that all of the attention you were giving to what others were thinking about you can now be directed toward your own interests, goals, and self-fulfillment, though you’ll only wish you’d realized that what others think is beyond your power much sooner.

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

One of the most powerful tactics that you can use to stop being a people pleaser is to determine what your priorities are and what you want to do with your life. Once you do this and you learn to put your own purposes above the demands and requests of others, you’ll find that it becomes easier and easier to be your authentic self.

epictetus image and quote about how to stop being a people pleaser

“In trying to please other people, we find ourselves misdirected toward what lies outside our sphere of influence. In doing so, we lose our hold on our lifes purpose.”

– Epictetus

Epictetus hits the nail right on the head here, which is no surprise considering that the man was abundantly wise and committed to teaching people about how to make personal progress in life.

The more we give ourselves up to people, the more we are bounced around by forces outside of our control. We have to hold our purposes in our grasp and never let go– we have to know what we want to prioritize and never falter.

“Whoever values peace of mind and the health of the soul will live the best of all possible lives.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Do you want to live the best of all possible lives? Then you will prioritize “peace of mind and the health of the soul,” as Marcus Aurelius states, over the demands other people are making on you. Keep your eye on the prize, and don’t get distracted by things that aren’t meaningful or important to you.

Remember That You’re Going to Die

Death will visit us all, but for some reason, we are highly capable of avoiding this pesky little fact.

We act as if we have an infinite amount of time in life, but nothing could be further from the truth. While we might be comforted that the average age of death for people in our particular demographic is decades away, death isn’t reserved for the old. Beyond that, an attitude that puts off living because life feels long is an essential ingredient for never fulfilling your goals or purposes.

When you are lying on your deathbed, what do you want to look back and see that you’ve done? Who do you want to look back to see that you’ve been?

Do you want to know that you ran around trying to please everyone, or do you want to see that you served purposes that were meaningful to you?

Seneca tells us that death is particularly difficult for people that are so concerned with other people that they never bother to get to know themselves in this quote:

seneca image and quote about how to stop being a people pleaser and death

“On him does death lie heavily, who, but too well known to all, dies to himself unknown.”

– Seneca the Younger

We all might have our own theories about why we were born in the first place, but we can agree that everyone will die someday. The older you get, the more you recognize that life isn’t quite as long as you might have imagined when you were a spring chicken.

What if you were to die tomorrow? How would you want to spend today?

“Your days are numbered. Use them to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun. If you do not, the sun will soon set, and you with it.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius puts it so poetically in this quote. No matter how young you are, no matter how healthy you are, and no matter how pristine your luck– your days are numbered. What are you going to do with them?

Are you going to continue running around just trying to make sure that everyone is always pleased with you? Or are you going to grab the bull by the horns and “throw open the windows of your soul to the sun”?

It’s easy to avoid the fact that we’re going to die and put it out of our minds. For this reason, the Stoics used to meditate on death, which you can incorporate into your routine, too.

Figure Out What Really Matters to You

Above, we discussed the tactic of “keeping your eye on the prize” in order to combat the tendency to be a people pleaser. However, you’ll need to figure out exactly what the prize is before you can fix your eyes on it.

Marcus Aurelius wrote the following note to himself in his journal:

“Get busy with life’s purpose, toss aside empty hopes, get active in your own rescue—if you care for yourself at all—and do it while you can.”

– Marcus Aurelius

This is a wonderful way of thinking about it, as many people instinctively think that focusing on one’s own purpose is selfish. Aurelius tells us that if we care for ourselves at all, we need to get busy with the reason we are here.

“To be like the rock that the waves keep crashing over. It stands unmoved and the raging of the sea falls still around it.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Once we understand what matters to us, we can work to become like the rock that “stands unmoved” no matter what the sea is doing around us. We can say ‘no’ when someone invites us to the bar, we can say ‘yes’ to a new opportunity that our family is against, and we can tell people how we authentically feel when we believe it is right to do so.

Get to Know Yourself

Being a people pleaser can actually be a cunning trick we play on ourselves. We get to feel like we are completely selfless because we are so concerned with the happiness of others. All the while, we get to avoid one of the most difficult tasks in life– getting to know ourselves.

“Dig within. There lies the wellspring of good.”

– Marcus Aurelius

We are complicated animals, us humans, and it’s remarkably possible to go through an entire life without ever familiarizing yourself with your own deeper self.

“A man's true greatness lies in the consciousness of an honest purpose in life, founded on a just estimate of himself and everything else, on frequent self-examinations, and a steady obedience to the rule which he knows to be right, without troubling himself about what others may think or say, or whether they do or do not that which he thinks and says and does.”

– Marcus Aurelius

As you get to know yourself, you’ll learn who you are and what you believe to be right. You’ll discover what your interests are, what is meaningful to you, and what experiences you’ve been shaped by. It is a lifelong journey and not something that happens overnight, but you’ll likely discover exactly what Aurelius proposes here– a part of a man’s “true greatness” has to do with not troubling oneself about other people's thoughts, words, and actions.

Journaling can be a great practice to help you during your inner quest. When you start regularly writing in a journal, it can help you understand yourself better, determine what matters to you, create a plan to achieve your goals, coach yourself on moving beyond being a people pleaser, and so much more.

Align Your Principles, Words, and Actions

Are you worried that being your authentic self will be met with jeers and boos from the people around you? Are you afraid that letting go of your people-pleasing ways will mean that you have no friends, you’ll lose your job, and your family will stop speaking to you?

“Put it out of the power of truth to give you an ill character. If anybody reports you not to be an honest man let your practice give him the lie.”

– Marcus Aurelius

There’s a good chance that you’re actually a victim of what Seneca calls suffering “in imagination rather than reality.” If you do find yourself standing alone once you stop running around trying to keep a smile on everyone’s face, though, you ultimately did yourself the favor of learning who all of those people really were.

One incredibly powerful way you can stop being a people pleaser is to make sure that your values, words, and actions all line up. Don’t say that you’re going to do something if you don’t think it’s the right thing to do or if you’re not going to show up. Don’t do things you don’t believe in, and don’t say things you don’t believe are true.

Does aligning your values, words, and actions mean that people will never think ill thoughts of you again? No, it doesn't. But you will know that you have been consistent and honest and that whatever gossip is floating around is outside of your control and, ultimately a lie.

Find What’s Useful in the Feedback You Receive

There are many times in life when people say things about us that are untrue or unfair. Your decision to rock the boat and tell your parents how you really feel might make everyone in the family jump down your throat. Your choice to say no to a big project at work might leave everyone gossiping about your unwillingness to sacrifice for the company.

epictetus image and quote about how to stop being a people pleaser and what others say about you

“If evil be spoken of you and it be true, correct yourself, if it be a lie, laugh at it.”

– Epictetus

If you receive negative feedback from people, consider whether or not it’s true. As Epictetus says, correct it if what they say is accurate. If it’s not, laugh it off and move on.

"When another blames you or hates you, or people voice similar criticisms, go to their souls, penetrate inside and see what sort of people they are. You will realize that there is no need to be racked with anxiety that they should hold any particular opinion about you.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius gives excellent advice here, which is to examine what type of people are speaking about you in these circumstances. Where are they coming from? What is their motivation?

More times than not, you’ll likely realize that your time is better spent worrying about things other than what they think of you.

Learn How to Say ‘No’

Of course, one of the more practical ways to stop being a people pleaser is to learn how to say no. Learning to say no is essential if you want to take the reins in your life. We only have so much time to pursue our purposes, and saying ‘yes’ just because we haven’t learned how to say ‘no’ means we’ll be in the passenger seat for the whole ride.

Think About Fate

Modern people don’t talk about fate very much, but the Stoics often referenced the concept. They believed that the universe and nature are orderly and that “everything that happens, happens as it should,” as Marcus Aurelius puts it.

The concept of amor fati (the love of one’s fate) can help you to realize that the way other people react to you authentically being yourself is outside of your control and a part of a larger story.

When you stop trying to please everyone, the way people respond to you might change, too. That’s ok. Embrace your fate and learn to see that everything that happens is necessary. This awareness in itself can help stop the cycling thoughts when you’re worried that you’ve disappointed someone by following your own path.

Get Comfortable With Discomfort

As you work toward no longer being a people pleaser, sometimes you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Your boss won’t seem bothered at all that you can’t come in on Saturday, and your mother will be completely understanding that you won’t make it home for Christmas.

Other times, though, it will create discord. A conflict emerges.

“We can't control the impressions others form about us, and the effort to do so only debases our character.”

– Epictetus

That’s ok. A conflict is not inherently a bad thing. In fact, you’ll likely find that there are abundant lessons to learn about yourself, relationships, and the particular person you’re at odds with in the midst of conflict. It even has the potential to strengthen that relationship as both parties are given a chance to say how they really feel finally.

To stop being a people pleaser, you have to accept that you will feel uncomfortable sometimes. You will have to learn to deal with the fact that conflicts can emerge and relationships can even end. If you stay true to yourself and communicate with authenticity, you can’t fault yourself no matter what the outcome is.

Let Go of How Others See You

Basing your success in life on how other people see you is a recipe for failure.

“There is but one thing of real value - to cultivate truth and justice, and to live without anger in the midst of lying and unjust men.”

– Marcus Aurelius

The world can be cruel. Groups of people can shut you out for not being the way they want you to be. Your best self can emerge when you learn how to let go of how others see you– both when you are being criticized and when you are being praised.

“A man should be upright, not kept upright.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Don’t rely on other people to give you your sense of worth. You must find it within yourself. If you know you are acting virtuously and authentically, their words shouldn’t hold you up or knock you down.

“What then is worth being valued? To be received with clapping of hands? No. Neither must we value the clapping of tongues, for the praise which comes from the many is a clapping of tongues.”

– Marcus Aurelius

It’s easy to become addicted to positive feedback and praise from people. As Marcus Aurelius says, though, being received with “clapping or hands” or “clapping of tongues” isn’t worth valuing.

Get Over Making Excuses

A bad habit that people pleasers tend to have is making excuses. If they can’t do the thing that will make another person happy, they’ll try and find something else to blame it on.

Don’t do this. Just be direct and decisive. You don’t ever have to explain why you don’t want to do something if you don’t feel it is necessary. Being wishy-washy is unfair to the people you are talking to and, frankly, lacking in courage.

When we act to please other people, we can get so wrapped up in trying to make another person happy that we lose sight of the fact that speaking and acting in ways that aren’t truthful means that we’re actually lying.

Focus on Yourself, Not What Other People Are Up To

Thinking about what other people are thinking? Take a tip from Marcus Aurelius and stop.

“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbour says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Time is our most precious resource. Once you stop concerning yourself with what other people are up to, you gain a lot more of it to actually focus on yourself.

Be True to Yourself

Once you have a better sense of what the principles are that you want to live by, stick with them. If you are adhering to the values you hold, anyone else’s problems with you are not your concern.

“If any man despises me, that is his problem. My only concern is not doing or saying anything deserving of contempt (in my own eyes).”

– Marcus Aurelius

This doesn’t mean you should selfishly only act in your interest. But if you believe that the way you’ve acted is right, you can learn to realize that it’s simply not your problem if anyone has a problem when you stop trying to please everyone.

Seek the Truth and Speak the Truth

If you are a people pleaser, you’re going to say things you don’t mean. If you are constantly concerned with what others think of you, you’re going to act in ways that don’t align with your beliefs.

marcus aurelius image and quote about how to stop being a people pleaser and importance of truth

“I cannot comprehend how any man can want anything but the truth.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Sometimes we know the right thing is to say something that will turn a sea of smiles into frowns. Sometimes we know that speaking the truth is going to ruffle a few feathers.

“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one ever was truly harmed. Harmed is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance.”

– Marcus Aurelius

We can escape being distraught by these realities by a commitment to truth above our own egos and the egos of others. We must be open to being proven wrong and even grateful for the opportunity to correct ourselves. At the same time, we must have the courage to speak the truth even when it is most inconvenient.

Realize the Power of Sincere Kindness

Moving beyond being a people pleaser doesn’t mean no longer being kind.

The reality is, though, that when you do things just to make other people happy or say things just to please them, you’re often not being genuine in your kindness.

marcus aurelius image and quote about kindness and being a people pleaser

“Kindness is invincible, but only when it’s sincere, with no hypocrisy or faking. For what can even the most malicious person do if you keep showing kindness and, if given the chance, you gently point out where they went wrong— right as they are trying to harm you?”

– Marcus Aurelius

The more of a people pleaser you are, the less weight your kind words have, even if they are actually genuine. True, authentic kindness is incredibly powerful. Don’t be fake in your kindness– even the least aware people can smell it from a mile away. Instead, only be kind when it can come from a truthful place inside yourself– when it is an honest expression.

If It’s Your Duty, Do It

People pleasers have a tendency to be resentful, passive-aggressive, and stressed. Sometimes, though, there are things we need to do for the people around us– things that we know are right to do. If we feel resentful about it, but we also know it’s our responsibility, the problem might not be that someone else is asking us to do something.

The problem is our mindset.

If we are being asked to do something that falls within our sense of our duties, then we must follow through. If we’re feeling pissy about it, we need to examine our minds. As Marcus Aurelius says, “Never shirk the proper dispatch of your duty, no matter if you are freezing or hot, groggy or well-rested, vilified or praised, not even if dying or pressed by other demands.”

Zoom Out

It’s easy to put way too much stock in things that don’t really matter in the long run. If you struggle with needing to always please people, zoom out and take a bird’s eye view of life.

“There are more people abusive to others than lie open to abuse themselves; but the humor goes round, and he that laughs at me today will have somebody to laugh at him tomorrow.”

– Seneca the Younger

There’s a very good chance that the issue you are currently concerned with is of very little importance in the grand scheme of things. Maybe you’ve been invited to a weekend skiing, but you want to stay home and work on the book you’ve been writing, or maybe your boss is asking you to work extra hours, and you simply don’t want to.

You might be surprised by the extent to which the people you were worried about upsetting actually don’t mind that you said ‘no.’ Even if they do, and even if it creates a conflict, you’ll have the opportunity to learn valuable information about those particular people and yourself.

Moving Beyond People Pleasing to Pursue Your Purpose

There’s nothing wrong with doing something for the happiness of someone else because it’s something that you want to do, but making a habit of fixating on people pleasing is a recipe for disaster. It can leave you angry, frustrated, resentful, stressed, and uncentered. Beyond that, you will struggle to find your authentic self when you’re wrapped up in what other people want and think.

Navigating the modern world is quite a challenge, but luckily we have access to the wisdom of the ancient Stoicsc to help us find the virtuous path to a good life. If you’re searching for more useful information about how to live a Stoic life or simply some inspiration, head over to our Stoic Quotes blog.

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Written by: Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College and has always maintained a deep interest in the question of how best to live one’s life. She hopes to help others understand how they can apply Stoicism in their day-to-day lives in order to become the person they want to be, embrace the present moment, pursue their purposes, and rid themselves of unnecessary anxiety.

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