How to Stop Being A People-Pleaser, According To An Expert

The world is a confusing place filled with contradictions. (Would you expect anything less from a society that parks in a driveway and drives on a parkway?) Perhaps one of the most perplexing contradictions, however, is our culture of people-pleasing. Everyone is taught to avoid being a people pleaser — that you should stand up for yourself, and learn to say “no” in the name of your own happiness. But yet, we’re pressured from an extremely young age to be subservient, well-behaved, selfless, and self-sacrificing.

That’s why I reached out to licensed clinical social worker, Terry Gaspard. In addition to being an MSW and licensed independent clinical social worker, she’s also a non-fiction writer, a college instructor, and the owner of movingpastdivorce.com. Consequently, she knows a lot about the phenomenon of people-pleasing, where it comes from, and the best ways to overcome it, so you can regain your own voice and identity. Gaspard was kind enough to answer a few interview questions for me, and her insights were fascinating. If you’re the type of person who can’t seem to say “no” to the people around you (no matter how exhausting and daunting the request), then here are a few tips for you. After all, according to Gaspard, “The healing of our sense of self-worth takes self-awareness, concentrated effort, and time and intention to change.”

Examine Your Childhood For The Cause Of Insecurities

Daughters Of Divorce, $13, Amazon

Gaspard states that the first step is to “examine your childhood for the root causes of people pleasing.” Gaspard credits her own initial difficulty with these issues to her parents’ divorce. She told me, “I was seven years old when my parents divorced, and I internalized the pain and shame because my mother left my father with four daughters (for another man) for what she perceived was a better life.” Gaspard co-authored Daughters Of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents' Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship to help women in similar positions examine their parents’ divorce form an adult perspective. The book helps readers recognize destructive dynamics and create strong relationships with seven proven steps, one of which is “Building Self-Esteem and Letting Go of Your Childhood Hangups.” Reviewers say that Gaspard’s personal experiences — matched with practical advice — made a “warm, yet thought provoking” tool for repairing old damages to make way for healthy, happy relationships.

Learn How To Stand Up For Yourself

Assertiveness: How To Stand Up For Yourself And Still Win The Respect Of Others, $7, Amazon

A direct recommendation from Gaspard herself, Assertiveness: How To Stand Up For Yourself And Still Win The Respect Of Others , is a book that teaches readers how to be confident individuals who know how to assert themselves. It touches on everything from personal life to professional relationships, and it teaches people how to find and embrace the line between “assertiveness” and “aggression,” in order to make meaningful connections and achieve goals. Reviewers say it’s an excellent read, and it provides the reader with everything he or she needs to get on the path to self-respect and self-approval.

(Psst! Listen to this title on Audible with a free 30-day trial, and get two free audiobooks.)

Give Up Your Need For Other’s Approval

The Approval Fix , $9, Amazon

Gaspard says,Many women become people pleasers because of being fearful of rejection or losing the approval of others — sometimes at the expense of their own happiness.” The Approval Fix is a book by New York Times best-selling author Joyce Meyer that aims to break the dependence one feels when it comes to other people’s love and acceptance. It features practical suggestions to help you find the confidence, inner acceptance, and emotional stability that’s been there all along, so you don’t have to fruitlessly wait around for others to supply it for you. Reviewers say it’s an incredible read that comes with all the necessary tools to break your pattern of people-pleasing.

(Psst! This title is also available on Audible.)

Overcome The Belief That Women Need To Fit Into Dated Social Constructs

Bossypants , $5, Amazon

One thing that really fascinated me about Gaspard’s interview was her take on women in today’s society, and how they’re still often raised to feel like they need to nurture others all the time. “Society tends to socialize girls and young women to be obedient, responsible caregivers who smile and say ‘yes,’ even if they don’t feel like it,” Gaspard told me. “The media promotes girls’ lack of authenticity by focusing on physical appearance, and being overly agreeable.” Bossypants is a best-selling memoir by Tina Fey, one of the most successful female comedians to date. In her hilarious and poignant voice, she tells all about her childhood as a girl with the dream to be on TV, and narrates her climb up the ladder of writing and acting success. Her message? “You're no one until someone calls you bossy,” and that’s why it fits in so well with Gaspard’s own advice: “We need to encourage our daughters to stand up for what they want and create opportunities to express their opinions and make decisions.”

(Psst! This title is also available on Audible.)

Set Healthy Boundaries For Yourself

Where To Draw The Line , $11, Amazon

According to Gaspard, “People pleasers usually don’t set healthy boundaries in relationships, so others often take advantage of them. They also have a tendency to morph into someone else when they fall in love because they are seeking the approval of their partner, and don’t feel worthy of love and happiness.” If you often lose track of your own identity because of an inability to set boundaries for yourself, Where To Draw The Line is an awesome resource. It’s written by Anne Katherine, who’s a certified mental health counselor, and it’s a crash course in defending your values, preserving your integrity, and finding your identity again. Katherine provides insights about everything from sexual relationships to everyday friendships, and her advice is practical, straightforward, and easy to follow.

A Step-Up From Post-It Notes: Display Your Goals Visually

Vision Board , $10, Amazon

When I asked Gaspard which exercises really help people to learn how to say “no,” she said, “Make a vision board, which has words, images, and photos of your affirmations and goals,” as goal-setting helps shift the focus away from other people and onto your own happiness and development. In case you’re a little hazy on the whole process, Vision Board is a book that teaches you what a vision board is, how to create one of your own, and why, exactly, it’s so important when it comes to personal development and goal-setting. Devan Skywisdom creates a short, sweet, and to-the-point guide, so you can build an inspiring and aesthetically-pleasing guide that showcases all your aspirations and objectives.

Stop Letting Guilt Get In The Way Of “No”

The Power Of No , $12, Amazon

Often, the word “no” elicits a feeling of guilt. Why? Most people are taught that if they care about someone, “yes” should be the only word out of their mouths. However, according to Gaspard, “Guilt is a useless emotion for people pleasers — we don’t cause harm to others, only ourselves.” Plus, learning to effectively say “no” without feeling shame is essential to one’s own well-being. The Power Of No is a wonderful book for anyone who’s ever struggled with the word. Authors James Altucher and Claudia Azula Altucher pull in personal stories, as well as those from readers, to show exactly why someone has the right to turn down any request, and how your time and overall sense of happiness will benefit from it. It’s a lively and original read that’s different from anything else out there right now, and reviewers say it’s a definite game-changer when it comes to people-pleasing.

(Psst! This title is also available on Audible.)

Bustle may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article, which was created independently from Bustle's editorial and sales departments.

Images: Pexels; Amazon (7)