The Fine Line between Kindness and People Pleasing

October 26th, 2021, Maya Rizk

If people pleasing makes others happy, how does it differ from being authentically kind?

Your favourite band is performing in your hometown. You call everybody you know, shout it from the rooftops and set at least 5 active reminders of the upcoming event.

You are over the moon excited – after all you’ve been waiting literally forever to watch them live in concert.

As you’re getting ready to meet with your friends, your partner calls.

Um, don’t they know what day it is? You’ve even highlighted the big day on their own calendar.

But – they have a HUGE presentation at work next week and they need you around for emotional support.

Hm, a little conflicted?

Do you miss the concert or a lifetime or do you kindly let them know that you are unavailable tonight? The kind and caring thing to do would be to support your partner in their time of need, right? In this scenario – cue loud buzzing noise – wrong.  

A fine line exists between kindness, compassion and people pleasing – but we’ll get to that a little later down the article – yes, we are nice, but we can’t give up all of our secrets just yet, can we?!

Kindness and People Pleasing

Kindness embraces compassion in the same way that it accepts compromise.

Kind people may communicate their love language differently – but they are consistently genuine, authentic and supportive in their relationships with others.

Kind people also value close relationships – but they treat all people with mutual respect. However, they do not feel “obligated” to be kind.

People pleasing, on the other hand, is devoid of choice. Kindness is no longer optional, but a lifestyle controlled by a (false) belief that our acts of kindness are the reason why people – well, stick around. For example, someone who actively seeks external validation may spend all of their free time helping their friends pack up their house, hoping to receive unconditional love or appreciation in return.  

Because people pleasers struggle with internal conflict, they do everything they can to feel safe in their external world – even if that means disregarding their own needs.

It is an indirect and unconscious way of deceiving ourselves: we value other people’s time and energy more than our own.

 Signs of People Pleasing Behaviours

People pleasers tend to share several similar characteristics.

Below we list some of the most common signs of people pleasing:

  • You say “yes”, even when you want to say “no”

  • You have a hard time saying “no”

  • You hold other people’s opinions of you in high regard

  • You internalise strong and consistent feelings of shame and guilt

  • Self-care is not a priority

  • Self-care is not an excuse to bail on others – that would be selfish

  • You struggle with low-self esteem

  • You are continuously looking for other people’s approval

  • You wait for others to fill out your day

  • You’re always apologising – even if you’ve done nothing wrong

  • You give into other people’s expectations of you

  • You’d rather neglect or disappoint yourself than upset someone else

  • Avoiding conflict is self-soothing

  • You have low energy and are burdened by others

  • You silence your own feelings, wants and needs

  • You constantly question your self-respect – and why you can’t stand up for yourself

  • You rarely share your personal opinions – so you agree with everyone else around you

  • People tell you that you are “too nice” – and it’s not a good thing

  • You lose parts of yourself

People pleasers tend to internalise other people’s feelings – for example, they may believe that they can “read a room”, or the energy around them.

Although their emotional intelligence and empathy for others is highly recognised, they are also very likely to have perfectionist qualities combined with low self-esteem and self-image.

People pleasing may make others happy, but it also stops us from connecting with our authentic selves – and more often than not, it can leave us feeling anxious, drained and depressed.

Why do we People Please?

 People pleasers feel responsible for other people’s happiness – they show up with (false) expectations of unconditional love and acceptance in return.

Below is are some reasons that might play a role in people pleasing behaviours:

  •   Fear of abandonment or rejection

  •   Fear of shame or guilt

  •   Fear of triggering abusive behaviours or perceived threat  

  •   Fear of disappointing others

  •   Need for acceptance and belonging

  •   Need for love and continuous affection

  •   Need for stability in a relationship – even if in reality, it is only temporary stability

  •   A strong belief that other people’s needs are more important than your own

  •   To avoid conflict

  •   To avoid appearing rude or problematic

  •   Low self-esteem

  •   Early traumatic experiences

  •   Cultural expectations

The motivation to support and help other people can be a selfless and automatic response – but people pleasing becomes problematic when we put aside what we want, need or feel and we prioritise other people’s feelings or needs over our own.

In many ways, people pleasing may be tied to survival instincts.

No matter how old we get – family, friendships and companionships never get old. So, feeling loved and validated is unsurprisingly, really important for our emotional and mental health. But for some, feeling needed and appreciated may create an unrealistic sense of security, and people pleasing behaviours acts like a safety blanket.

But this blanket doesn’t always keep us safe for too long. It provides temporary relief because eventually, we start to struggle with our own internal conflicts, too.

“I don’t have a valid excuse other than I’m just too tired to go out with my friends tonight – but what if bailing means losing my friendships?”

“I made plans with friends tonight, but my partner wants me to go to dinner with them instead – but what if they leave me because I don’t make enough time for them?”

People pleasers struggle with intense feelings of shame, guilt if they cannot or do not want to put others’ needs before their own. They also experience strong resentment towards others for feeling submissive, experiencing an imbalance of giving and receiving, or for not receiving the same consideration or courtesy in return.

So, is it possible to change these behaviours? Can we find the right balance between kindness and people pleasing?


How to Overcome People Pleasing Behaviours

If you’re wondering whether change is possible – if other people can still see you in a different light after you’ve been perceived a certain way for so long – we’re here to remind you that change is possible.

 Reclaiming power after people pleasing can happen when we start defining what we want, need and feel.

Spend time with yourself – get to know parts of yourself that you’ve buried to keep other people’s love alive. Start discovering your likes and dislikes – find what makes you happy!

Healing is a journey – it won’t happen in a day, but when you start to put yourself and your happiness first, you are more likely to experience higher confidence, self-esteem and self-worth.  

So, what is the fine line between kindness and people pleasing?

The key to kindness is to be kind to yourself 

It is not neglecting yourself to make others happy, rather it means setting healthy boundaries and establishing a healthy balance between valuing yourself and nurturing your relationships.  

If you continue to struggle with setting a healthy boundary between kindness and people pleasing, eQuoo can teach you these 10 skills to help you build resilience and interpersonal skills, and boost emotional health and wellbeing.  

  1. Rumination

  2. Assertive Training

  3. Boundaries

  4. Nurture Relationships

  5. Worthiness

  6. Self-efficacy

  7. Emotion Detection

  8. Repeated Reassurance Seeking

  9. Doubting Thoughts

  10. Vulnerability/Intimacy

With people pleasing, one person feels obligated to comply with another person’s needs in order to feel accepted in return. However, people pleasing is unhealthy because it expresses kindness to everyone but ourselves. But with the right skills and support, we can face the challenges of people pleasing and heal in a beneficial way.  

Sending you extra kindness for the week,

Maya Rizk

MSc Clinical Psychology

Content and Marketing at eQuoo