People-Pleasing & Boundaries

As humans, many of us want to help others. If you are being honest with yourself, it not only makes the other person feel good, but it also probably makes you feel good. Helping and caring for others is completely essential- it brings light and love into the world. However, when someone constantly prioritizes the needs of others over their own needs, it becomes maladaptive.

It is great to keep the peace around you, but what about within you? When your response to everything is always “yes”, you might quickly find yourself experiencing burnout and resentment. You might even begin to lose your sense of self and worth. You might be trading being liked for authentic and healthy relationships. Additionally, you might be trying to control how other people feel about you. These people-pleasing patterns can lead to pain and confusion over time.

Starting from the very beginning, children learn how to navigate the world and respond to situations or people from their caregivers. If their caregivers only showed them attention or love when they prioritized others’ needs at the detriment of their own, they likely learned that the only way to be loved or accepted was to stay small and available for others.

It is not easy to break the cycle of people-pleasing. It can certainly elicit fear, guilt, shame, and overall uneasiness. Think of it like this: 1.) You cannot continue to show up for others if you don’t show up for yourself. 2.) Your true people will love you for you rather than what you can do for them (love is not transactional). 3.) It is your right to have needs, wants, and feelings.

So, how can you begin to break this pattern? Having boundaries may be a helpful starting point. When you begin to set boundaries, you begin to be intentional with your time and choose when you want to say “yes.” Even just asking yourself, why am I saying “yes” before just immediately agreeing to do something can be beneficial.

Tawwab (2021) states that one of the most common manifestations of boundary issues is feeling chronically overwhelmed. Feeling taken advantage of and bitter is the result of not setting limits with others. There are six types of boundaries: physical, sexual, intellectual, emotional, material, and time. Consider the following journal prompts: (1) How were boundaries taught in your family? (2) Did your caregivers honor your boundaries? (3) What’s your biggest challenge with setting boundaries?

While setting boundaries is an excellent tool to implement, part of healing includes grieving your younger self who was not taught that you were lovable just as you were. Your younger self may have felt scared and unsafe. Your younger self may have internalized that saying no was comparable to being unworthy. Understand you were doing the best you could with what you knew at the time. Understand that now, you can say “no” and still be worthy, lovable, and safe.

If you need support and would like to speak to a professional counselor about topics, such as the one featured in this blog, and are in the Chicago area, please contact Olive Branch Counseling Associates, Inc. at 708-633-8000. We are located at 6819 West 167th Street in Tinley Park, Illinois 60477.

Written by Liz, Mental Health Counseling Master’s Level Intern


Magee, H. (2022). Codependency recovery coaching. Hailey Magee.

Tawwab, N. G. (2021). Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself. TarcherPerigee.

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