Do you think of yourself as a “nice person”? If so, what qualities do you feel you possess that make you say so? What do you think it is that makes someone “nice”? Some of us might answer with humility, patience, and consideration; while others might say it’s generosity, empathy, and forgiveness; and others still might argue for love and empathy. Whatever you think it is that makes someone “nice,” the bottom line is, a lot of it has to do with how we treat other people.
But what about how we treat ourselves? What if the “niceness” we show to others actually comes at the expense of our own happiness and well-being? Some people might try to take advantage of those positive qualities and use our good nature against us. Worst of all, we might just let them because we think “that’s what nice people do.”
Perhaps Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said it best when he said, “Because one believes in oneself, one does not try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one does not need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.”
With that said, here are 8 tell-tale signs that what you’re actually struggling with isn’t being “too nice” but being too much of a people pleaser:
1. You tend to over apologize.
Has anyone ever told you you say sorry too much? Do you often find yourself apologizing for things that aren’t even your fault or in your control? While it’s certainly an admirable quality to be able to own up to our mistakes and take accountability for the things we’ve done wrong, it’s also important that we be able to distinguish between humility and self-blame. And apologizing over and over again when there’s no reason to and struggling with excessive feelings of guilt most likely mean you have started to confuse being nice with being a people pleaser (Cox, 2004).
2. You find it hard to say no.
Just like knowing when to apologize, many of us were taught at a young age that it’s always good to be helpful and generous towards others. What we should also keep in mind, however, is that it’s okay to prioritize our own needs sometimes and establish healthy boundaries by learning when to say no. So if you’re someone who struggles to turn down even the most ridiculous of favors, simply out of fear of hurting other people’s feelings or letting them down, then there’s a good chance you’re probably a people pleaser (Braiker, & Reading, 2001).
3. You agree with everyone.
Think back to the last time someone had asked you for your opinion. Did you answer honestly, even when you knew they wouldn’t agree or it would go against what other people believed in? Do you tend to just listen politely to those around you and keep your thoughts to yourself, no matter how much you disagree with them? While it’s certainly polite not to criticize people for things that aren’t any of our business (such as their looks, their weight, and so on), it’s okay to speak your mind when it comes to the things you really believe in. Which brings us to our next point…
4. You change to better accommodate others.
Truth be told, many of us have probably felt the pressure to conform and change some aspect of ourselves to seem more desirable to others, be it in a romantic (e.g., looking to impress our crush) or social context (e.g., hoping to fit in with the popular kids, acting a certain way to please our parents). But the moment we start to lose sight of ourselves and change too much of who we are just to please the people in our lives, we are inadvertently telling ourselves that their happiness matters more than ours (Ehman, 2021).
5. You feel uncomfortable with conflict.
You can’t stand the thought of anyone, even total strangers, being mad at you, even for the things you know you are completely justified in. And instead of standing up for yourself and what you think is right, most of the time you just end up giving in and apologizing because you don’t know how to deal with conflict. In fact, you often go to great lengths, bending over backwards just to avoid it.
6. You take responsibility for other people’s feelings.
Empathy can be a very beautiful thing, and the ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes is how we are able to understand and connect with them deeply. But be careful not to get too much of a good thing! Remember that you are not responsible for other people’s feelings and that it is not up to you to fulfill their emotional needs. Don’t make the mistake of doing so just because you think it’s “the nice thing to do.” It’ll only leave you frustrated, stressed out, and emotionally drained (Hinton Jr, et al., 2020).
7. You constantly seek external validation.
Every time you accomplish something, you don’t feel good about it until you receive praise from other people. You need kind words and appreciation to affirm your self-esteem, and often go to great lengths just to get it. But seeking too much external validation and defining yourself entirely by how others see you is problematic and self-destructive. After all, you’re going to have to learn sooner or later that you can’t please everybody and that only you can make yourself truly happy.
8. You don’t speak up when your feelings are hurt.
Last but certainly not the least, being too much of a people pleaser to speak up when other people hurt your feelings because you think “it’s not their problem” or that “it might upset them” is as clear a sign as any that what you’re actually doing isn’t “being nice” but being unfair to yourself just to make other people happy. And continuing to do so will keep you from forming authentic and mutually satisfying relationships (Fine, 2013).
So, do you relate to any of the things we’ve mentioned here? Do you think you might be guilty of being too much of a people pleaser? While a lot of the behaviors and qualities we’ve talked about here are actually quite praiseworthy — such as empathy, agreeableness, helpfulness, and generosity — they can also turn toxic and eat away at us if we don’t balance it with self-love and self-compassion. So try to start speaking your mind more and stand up for yourself when the time comes. You might be surprised to find that doing so will help you gain more confidence and find true friends.
- Cox, S. (2004). Curing fixer-pleaser syndrome. Nursing 2020, 34(5), 64.
- Braiker, H. B., & Reading, K. (2001). The disease to please: Curing the people-pleasing syndrome (p. 0). New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Ehman, K. (2021). When making others happy is making you miserable: how to break the pattern of people-pleasing and confidently live your life.
- Hinton Jr, A. O., McReynolds, M. R., Martinez, D., Shuler, H. D., & Termini, C. M. (2020). The power of saying no. EMBO reports, 21(7), e50918.
- Fine, M. (2013). The need to please: mindfulness skills to gain freedom from people pleasing and approval seeking. New Harbinger Publications.