Why People Pleasing is Selfish

Why People Pleasing is selfish. Trisha Lewis.

Being a ‘people pleaser is all about you. How selfish!

Now that’s a reframe to mess with your head.

No, I am not casting everyone who ever slips into people-pleasing mode as an ego-maniac or uncaring type.

I am simply drawing your attention to the self-centred property of people-pleasing.

‘I want… to be liked, loved, approved of.’

The very definition of ‘selfish’ surely.

Selfish: concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being ..

You will notice I left a few words off the end.

… ‘without regard for others.’

That part doesn’t fit with this reframe we are doing. You do have regard for others — possibly too much.

You want to make them happy.

It’s that good old survival instinct kicking in again. You don’t want to be thrown out into the wilderness to starve. You want to fit in.

Woman sat on rock all alone looking out into the wilderness

More than this — you want to be the very last person they will throw out! You must be liked by everyone.

You must do nice things for people and second guess what they would like you to be like.

Or as Dr Aziz Gazipura puts it, you are putting everything through the ‘what would they like filter’.


You can’t live your whole life seeking to avoid that one bad review.

How do you break the people pleasing habit?

As with all these self-sabotaging behaviours, getting them sorted starts with getting them spotted. Self-awareness is the first step.

Here is a self-sabotage self-awareness check list of symptoms.

5 Self-sabotaging consequences of seeking to be liked

  1. You go along with other people’s ideas and opinions in public — and disagree in the privacy of your own head. You alienate yourself from yourself and deny people the chance to get to know you.
  2. You tiptoe around the edges of showing up as the whole you — only showing the ‘nice’ bits. You feel like a ‘nobody’. You begin to lose a sense of self as you swim in the pool of conformity.
  3. You sublimate your ‘I want’ at the alter of ‘I should’. You keep telling your brain that ‘wanting things for yourself’ is selfish and bad. You keep embedding a message laid down a long time ago.
  4. You lose boundaries. You are indecisive. You sprinkle your requests with ‘maybe’ ‘only if you..’ ‘don’t want to be a pain…’ ‘have a think about it…’
  5. You are mortally hurt by the slightest hint of criticism that you have fought so hard to avoid. You are re-living that one ‘dodgy’ thing you said 2 weeks later. Ruminating. Convinced ‘they’ are too!

If any of these resonate — you are not alone. You are human.

But you don’t want this pattern to continue do you?

Next step in sorting any self-sabotaging behaviour is — knowledge.

The more you understand what drives your behaviour, the more you can get back in the driving seat.

What lies behind your people-pleasing.

In a nutshell —

Fear of rejection.

This is a big one.

Does this fear occupy the driving seat more for some of us than others?


Some of us more anxious about being abandoned — unloved and disapproved of. Have a look at the work of John Bowlby on ‘Attachment styles.’

Unpack your rucksack of heavy brain baggage!

You don’t need to lie on a couch for hours to spot some of the associations you made as a child and haven’t unpicked as an adult.

When it comes to people-pleasing habits — consider these childhood messages:

Mummy/Daddy/Grandma.. won’t like that

It’s not nice to ask — wait your turn

Now that’s the way to behave — good girl/boy

It’s rude to interrupt

Nobody will be your friend if you act like that…


No wonder we have rather confused brains!

Having done some unpacking it’s time to move forward with action.

5 mantras to break your people-pleasing habit

  1. I can’t live my life seeking to avoid rejection — not possible. Get used to it! Treat it as a fascinating learning experience!
  2. It is good (not bad) to be able to ask for what I want.
  3. I will swap ‘I should’ for ‘I really want’.
  4. Get out of my head and be present. Be curious and ask questions. Listen. Stop being so selfish!
  5. If they don’t like the ‘unsquashed me’ then — we are just not compatible — simple. No harm done.


  • People-pleasing is not the same as being a nice person.
  • People-pleasing is selfish! You are not a selfish person.

Get out of your head, present and curious — let them get to know you and appreciate your value. Being a wallflower is not your thing — and you know it is making you angry.

That anger is frustration with yourself for not being yourself.