How to Stop Trying to Please People Who Hurt You

People-pleasers can often have low self-esteem.
... Siri Stafford/Digital Vision/Getty Images

If you're always trying to please everyone in your life, including those who have behaved in a hurtful way, you might be a chronic people-pleaser. Past experiences might have lowered your self-confidence and made you vulnerable to abusive relationships. Your need to be liked can make you a target for cruel, uncaring people who crave power over others. You might unwittingly be allowing them to get away with this behavior by setting aside your own desires, needs and wants. The good news is you can learn to change your outlook and behavior and start putting your feelings first.

Ask yourself what you might have done to cause the situation. Examining your past experiences can help you avoid repeating the same mistakes. It's beneficial to recognize the patterns in your past painful relationships because you then will begin to understand yourself better and can change your perspective.

Empower yourself. Recognize that you are in control of your words and actions. Keep in mind that others cannot control you if you don't allow it. Accept responsibility for your thoughts and actions and don't allow yourself to be a victim or pawn in someone else's game. Recognize the power you have to control your own life. Look in the mirror and tell yourself how strong you are. Repeat it until you believe it.

Be direct. Don't allow fear of embarrassment or pain prevent you from standing up for yourself. When people hurt you, look them in the eye and tell them how you are feeling. Firmly state that you expect them to immediately stop their hurtful comments or behavior.

Take it slowly. You didn't become a people-pleaser overnight, so don't expect to undo your desire to please others right away. If you find yourself in a situation where you're tempted to set aside your best interests, take a deep breath before you say or do anything. For example, if a friend who frequently takes advantage of you asks you to walk her dog while she's on vacation, don't reply immediately. Tell her you'll think it over and get back to her with an answer. This will give you the time you need to strengthen your resolve and tell her you won't do it.

Start with one small step toward change. Daylle Deanna Schwartz, a self-empowerment counselor, explains in her article "People Pleaser? Break The Habit!" on "The Huffington Post" website that making one small change and realizing how good it feels will give you the encouragement you need to keep going. She suggests giving yourself lots of praise whenever you succeed in putting yourself first.

Consider walking away from a destructive relationship. If you've been playing the role of doormat and find yourself getting hurt over and over again by the same person, it's probably time to cut her out of your life. This can be difficult to do, especially if she's part of your close circle of friends, but it is possible for you to cool things down by keeping a distance between you two. Give only a short, polite response when she approaches you and focus on someone else in your group.

  • If you find you cannot stop being a people-pleaser, you might experience rage and resentment as well as frustration with yourself. Professional counseling can help. Consult your family doctor for a referral to a therapist.

Freddie Silver started writing newsletters for the Toronto District School Board in 1997. Her areas of expertise include staff management and professional development. She holds a master's degree in psychology from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing her PhD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, focusing on emotions and professional relationships.