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Are You a People Pleaser….or Just Nice?

Are you a people pleaser?

Maybe...but the difference between being nice and being a people pleaser can be confusing, and challenging.

At the core of people pleasing is the question, “Am I doing this thing for this person because..?” Insert any of the following:

  • Because I want them to like me.

  • Because I don’t want them to be mad at me.

  • Because I feel guilt (probably shame) if I don’t.

  • Because they’ll “make me” feel bad if I don’t.

If the answer to the “Am I doing this because….” question is any of the above reasons, then you may be in people-pleasing mode.

People pleasing can be an automatic reaction of your brain’s survival instincts. Much like the fight, flight, and freeze responses, people pleasing may be a protection mechanism for your brain. Here’s how this works:

  • You are confronted with something unpleasant or upsetting.

  • Your brain’s neurons try to find something that is similar to your current situation.

  • Your brain locates that neural pathway and says “oh, that’s right. I know what this is! It reminds me of that time when I was a kid and my parents would yell at me. I would tell them whatever I thought they wanted to hear to get them to stop.”

  • Your brain sends signals to react in the exact same way and the people pleasing begins.

If you’re trying to decide if you are people or pleasing or just being nice, here’s another way to figure it out: Being nice and kind is an action. People pleasing is a reaction. If you are intentionally making a decision to act in a kind way, that’s kindness. Otherwise, it’s people-pleasing.

So, what do you do about it?

People pleasing is a habit of the brain. Any habit that you want to change requires patience and intention. To get intentional:

Stop saying “yes” automatically.

To undo the “yes” reaction, stop answering at all. In other words, replace “yes” with “let me think about that”, or “I’ll let you know tomorrow”. These simple phrases give you space to consider the request with intention instead of saying “yes” in reaction.

Practice saying these phrases out loud to get your brain used to using them. Using your hearing processing instead of saying these phrases in your head will cut through the chaos and go directly to the memory-changing source.

Write down how your body feels when you are in people-pleasing mode.

Your brain always sends signals to your body that you are in an uncomfortable place and are likely reacting. It could be a tightness in your chest, a stiff neck, or an upset stomach. Whatever your body cue is, find out what it is and this can help you pull yourself out of reaction mode.

If you would like a journal to assist you with this, as well as understanding how your brain is responding, here’s a link to a free journal that will empower you to take control of your brain and body.

People pleasing is an automatic process that you can change if you learn to control your brain so it's not controlling you.

Mattie is a counselor, coach, and CEO of Cerebrations, LLC. With over 25 years of experience in understanding how the brain affects our emotions, reactions, and our experiences, she is passionate about empowering women to harness the power of their brain and body connection to create intentional action and deeper connections with their families. You can reach her at or by scheduling a free consult chat.


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