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Trying to Make Everyone Happy But YourselfBeing a people pleaser of the worst kind, I used to try to make others happy and dodge their displeasure at the cost of my own happiness. With this mentality, I created a world in which I placed my well-being in the hands of others for them to crumple like a piece of paper.

When a school party needed organizing, baking, or decorating, I was your girl.  When a friend wanted someone to watch her kids, I was a sure go to. You name it. I did it. While I was always available for others, I neglected to take care of, give to, and help myself.

Being a People-Pleaser Leads to Unhappiness

I realize, now that my people-pleasing tactics were really a veiled attempt to sway others’ judgment of and reciprocation to me. While compassion and generosity are generally positive attributes, I gave from a place of insecurity, low self-esteem, and a sense of lack, unknowingly, in an attempt to bolster my feelings about myself. That’s giving to get which is taking in the end.

Like an unspoken insurance policy, I thought that the more I contributed to others, surely, the more they would give back to me.  Right?  Wrong! I attracted people in my life who were more than happy to take and take and keep on taking, and I ended up depleted, resentful, and empty.

This is a perfect example of life reflecting back to me a part of myself that I refused to acknowledge.  I didn’t love or respect myself and allowed people to treat me the same.

The flip side of people-pleasing is resentment and hostility. Even if people did respond graciously to my efforts, I couldn’t allow myself to genuinely receive their kindness and, instead, stockpiled animosity. Because I didn’t like myself, I was numb to most considerations that did come my way. Compliments slid off of me like a Teflon frying pan. In order to keep up the pleasant, people-pleasing front, the bitterness I felt got buried until it erupted in angry outbursts or came out passive-aggressively.

Being Wise Selfish vs Foolish Selfish

The Dalai Lama had this to say about taking care of your own needs, which he calls being wise selfish:

Being wise selfish means taking a broader view and recognizing that our own long-term individual interest lies in the welfare of everyone. Being wise selfish means being compassionate.”

I’m not a people pleaser anymore, and, in fact, I’d bet that some would say I’ve gone too far in the other direction and gotten too comfortable saying “No.”  While rehabilitating from a brain injury, the result of a pill-popping attempt to end my life, I had to learn to say “No” and meet my own needs.

First and foremost, I have to meet my own needs because I figured out that, before having anything to offer anyone else freely, I’ve got to give to myself. The brain injury taught me how to make myself a priority because I absolutely had to in order to recover.

In every situation, there is always a caring way to respond considering what is being asked of me while factoring in my own needs, happiness, and wisdom from my head, heart, and gut. The response doesn’t have to be “yes” or “no,” and is usually something in between.

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  1. Debbie,
    I have been there and I have done exactly as you have done. I was advised to read the Angry Book. It is okay to get express angry instead of holding everything inside of yourself by doing this you will develop symptoms of depression. Debbie thanks for being you and sharing your articles

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Bonnie, thank you for your kind words. 🙂 I’ve not heard of The Angry Book. I will check it out. Thanks for the suggestion.

      When I started healing, changing my ways, and finally expressing all the emotion that had been pent up for decades, a flood of emotion came rushing forth like a dam had broke. I did the ugly cry, I mean snot pouring, shoulders heaving, cant-catch-your-breath sobbing on and off for months intermingled with fits of pillow pummeling and screaming at the top of my lungs. If anyone had seen me, they surely would’ve thought I was crazy (more than they already did because of the suicide attempt.) But the funny thing was, it was the healthiest thing I had done in a looong time!

      • Debbie, With me after years of being the good mother, the good wife, the good daughter, good sister to a brother and a sister and care taker to all who needed me never saying no always saying .No bad word came from my mouth even though I wanted to scream no more please. In other words I was codependant a full fledge people pleaser. When I finally released all the emotions and words that I never dared to speak, I felt like a volcano violently explosion everything just came spurring out of me. What a great feeling it was to release all that been stored for so many years. I am not the good girl anymore nor am I a bad girl I am happy wonderful woman.

        • Debbie Hampton Reply

          Bonnie, I can totally relate. Isn’t it sad how we are taught not to express emotion and how it scares people when we do – even though its healthy? I too, am not the “nice” girl anymore. I know, at first, it shocked everyone. Like you, I am not the selfish girl either. I am authentic and true to myself and MUCH MUCH happier too!

  2. Thanks for your article Debbie, can you recommend some readings to help changing our codependent patterns of behavior?

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Erika, I did read Melody Beattie’s Codependant No More. I found just learning about relationships and love, for me, helpful. For this, I really liked Gary Zukav’s Heart of the Soul, Receiving Love by Harville Hendrix,andThe Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner. Hope you find a book that speaks to you. Blessings

  3. Joanna Hernandez Reply

    This is a great article Debbie. I can definitely relate to the people pleasing and anger. I have brought myself to say yes to everyone in my life. I feel as if no one respects me and that i just do as others say, ive become very anxious, depressed, and angry. Ive been working on saying no, but it can be hard when im constantly thinking of how people will think of me or what the outcomes will be. I definitely need to build my self esteem up and learn to just say no.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Joanna, thank you for you comment. What I’ve found is that people don’t react negatively to my saying “No” near as much as I thought they would. The uncomfortableness was mostly created completely by me in anticipating their reaction or displeasure and was just flat out wrong or over exagerrated, in my mind.

      Saying “No” to someone else REALLY is about saying “Yes” to yourself and is about caring for yourself first. Oh, and it does get easier the more you do it. So, keep at it! 🙂

  4. This comes at a good time for me…I needed this. To know that the people pleasing drove you to a suicide attempt resonates heavily with me as the words “I just wish it was all over” run through my mind repeatedly these days. I am trying to carry too heavy a burden…everyone’s burden…and it is killing me. My problem is that I don’t know how to break free without hurting some of the people I love the most. None of them expect it from me. I (big bold, capital I) expect it of me. My decision-making skills, prioritizing, and ability to say no and put myself first never developed and I’m 36 years old. Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone. Now to figure out how to fix this.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Sara, I applaude you for recognizing what is going on. That’s the first step to fixing it. I will tell you something that profoundly changed my thinking about this early on in my journey. Someone asked me if I considered myself a compassionate person. Why, of course, I did. I was the biggest bleeding heart around and always the first to help out…BUT… did I extend this same compassion an generosity to myself? Uh, no! That realization was HUGE for me. You have to give to, forgive, and please yourself FIRST and foremost. It is the only road to peace and happiness. Be wise selfish. You can’t please anyone else, and you are only setting yourself up for resentment and unhappiness trying to do so. If you don’t treat yourself as if you deserve happiness and as if you are a priority, why should anyones else? You teach people how to treat you by how you treat yourself. Blessings to you. You can change this!

      • Hi Debbie,
        My problem is a bit complicated perhaps.
        I have found that i am a people pleaser a few days back and that i get attracted to dependent people and to people who get pleased and appreciate what others do, and i try to do the same, that is, to please them so that i can get appreciation. 2 years back, i somehow had came out of this problem for few months and had learnt to say no, but unknowingly fell back to same condition after that, but now what is complicated is that i made friends with one of the girls in my new college, but since last one and half year she is suffering from severe depression and i am not able to prioritize myself over her. What to do

        • You have to do what you did before you fell back into the people-pleasing habit. You have to learn to set and keep boundaries and to put your needs first. You can’t give to anyone if you are depleted. I would encourage you to start practicing thought reframing and affirmations to help you become aware of the beliefs and needs motivating your behavior and to be able to start changing it. I offer coaching both email and video if you are interested.

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  8. Iqra Rahman Reply

    I’m only a teenager but I’ve found that everything I do is done for others. I’ve always known this but it’s only taken me the last couple of months from strangers I’ve met to realise that I have no concern for myself. I find it incredibly difficult to not aim to please others and I would gladly sacrifice my own happiness for someone else. I hate it because I feel like I have no backbone but it’s like there’s no off button. I see that it makes my closest friends upset to let people treat me however they wish and that makes me feel worse because I feel like I’m disappointing another person but that shouldn’t be my reason to change. I want to change because I know its not good for me to stay this way and I know it’s what I want to do. But I’m struggling to change without thinking that people’s perceptions of me will also change

    • Iqra,

      You are doing great to realize this as a teenager. I was in my 40s. Awareness is the first step to changing things. I was surprised to find thsat when I told people “no” or asserted my wants and needs, most did not react poorly. That’s what I feared. Give some thought into why you think you do this. Then when you find yourself in a situation where you might be people-pleasing to your own detriment, speak up, insert your true voice, and make a change. It won’t happen overnight and is not a steady state.but things will start to change. All the best to you. Read this so you’ll understand what you are trying to do.

  9. Bjn najera Reply

    I’m 32 years old and a person that is not living yet. I want add I’m adopted living with my legal adoptive parent and bilogical mother. Three kids who I adore and have no choice but let them be raised like me but hopefully not as bad. I say that cause I work 8-5 I’m invisible during them hours I get home and I’m not acknowledge. Personal relationship wise I have had 3 serious relationship and all go bad so far for who I am and my choices. My immature adoptive mother gets in by treating my other half bad cause what she see and knows way I am treated. She don’t remember or sees way she treats me and feels like she needs step in my personal life to make changes. My adoptive mother stold my title (mom). I can’t run I have no family and feel obligated keep them with me. Money wise and help with childcare is what’s provided to me . Their my help and I have no family. I have make everyone happy and have to keep them around cause they have no where go. I’m overwhelmed in keeping everyone happy but myself. I’m not living and will I ever live? I honestly believe that the day I will start living is when the Good lord call my mom and biological mother. Even when that day comes will I be miserable cause then I’m completely alone. All have my kids but I will not make them feel obligated as for I know how feels once your older. We got find ourselves and make yourself happy in order be strong positive and content with life. :/

    • Bjn, I empathize with your situation and applaud your determination. I would encourage you to start living now. Nothing has to change, but your mindset and your decsions about how you move forward in your life. I would also encourage you to focus and act on the good that is present in your life and ut your energy there. Blessings to you.

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  11. I can completely relate to you minus the way in which you developed your revelations but thank you for sharing yours with us
    Joshua farlow

  12. I have dealt with these exact feelings my entire life. I am now 39 and have felt like since I was 8 (My parents divorce) I have been responsible TO someone or FOR someone. I am divorced with 2 Children. It feels to me incredibly selfish to put any of my wants or desires in front of those of the people I love. I so wish I could change! This is the very first time I have read anything that so closely resembles my existence. My happiness has forever been sacrificed for the happiness of others. It has left me resentful and bitter. Exactly who I hoped never to become. How do change who I am without alienating or losing the people I love in my life? I feel like this has been such a part of my persona that to change now would be devastating to the people I care about. I want to feel better about myself! I want to be a better father, lover, etc. How can I do that when my entire life feels like its been devoted to selflessness, and now I must put myself first? So confused!

    • Brett,

      I can SO relate. I can tell you that from my experience hat living this way is a sure prescription for unhappiness. By not making your ownhappiness and well-being a priority, you are teaching others that it doesn’t matter and teaching yor children this practice. You have to decide that you are important and matter – as much if not more so than pleasing others. When you start being honest with yourself and those around you and making decisions that honor you and your happiness, some people will be displeased and move out of your life. But those who really care about you and your happiness will adapt and even encourage the healthier behaviors. The way to be a better person and father is to start treating yourself better. As I say in the post: “In every situation, there is always a caring way to respond considering what is being asked of me while factoring in my own needs, happiness, and wisdom from my head, heart, and gut. The response doesn’t have to be “yes” or “no,” and is usually something in between.”

  13. I also relate. Good article.
    I have been this was since I was 10 years old. Almost 33 now. My dad got kilied on the railroad do to another employee who fell a sleep at the controls. One to many the night before. Money wasn’t the problem here. My mom went to drinking and become a drunk. She thought having money after the accident would buy our happiness and she could do what ever. Money dosnt buy happiness , never will. It’s like putting a mask on sooner or later it’s coming off. I have three brothers and was the only one who never did any drugs , no addictions. Striped to learn from older peoplesister experiences and mistakes because I want to be ahead of the game. I was made fun of all the time by brothers and friends and it eventually got to me. Kinda like bullying. I begin feeling like I wasn’t good enough because I didn’t have that addiction swagger they had. Mom was no different. Mine problem is so bad , I go over conversations that I’m going to have or have had with people in my head. Feeling like I said something wrong or don’t want to say something wrong to hurt them. I am way to focused on other people all the time and what there doing or saying because I’m afraid they are going to say something bad about me. I hated school because of this. It has ruined my life so far. Taking time away from my boys. After them saying dad 5 times and your hear the 5th time like it’s the first is not good. My mind will not let go. It’s like I’m afraid of hurting someone else and generally cannot say No. I let my mom go this summer as the first step. But this is harder then I could imagine. I just want to be happy and be myself. Everyone that knows me knows of this problem . They all say the same thing. You will fly to the top if you let things go and be very successful guy. Your to smart not to have out there. You do things mechanically that I haven’t seen yet.

    But nothing works. Any input to help me out is greatly appreciated.

    • Steve,

      Thank you for sharing. You sound like this is a major probem for you affecting many areas of your life. I can tell you that I really believe that by turning your focus inward and giving to yourself and making yourself a priority is a definite road to happier and freedom. I will tell you that when you “don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings” that you are making assumptins about what you think they will feel, how they will react and what they want. You don’t really know. You are creating these scenarios in your head. I would recommend that you start small with someone you really trust to not over react. Say what YOU want making your happiness a priority. How can you truly give to anyone else if you are not giving to yourself first?

      I really recommend you reading my book,and I’m not just trying to sell it. It tells step-by-step how to change your thoughts, responses and life.

      All the best to you.


  14. I felt this way for most of my life. I was always afraid that if I didn’t act the way people wanted or do what they wanted I would be rejected and unloved. I am 45 now but this started when I was a child. I was emotional, sensitive and easily hurt. Any time I would try to talk to my Mom about things that I was upset about she would say “it’s all in your head”. If I brought up a subject or event she found distasteful it was ” you’re just mean”. There are a myriad of things that I wasn’t allowed to talk about, things that happened to me that hurt me. My Dad was impossible to talk to, there was no point in trying. So I learned to swallow my feelings and pretend interest in their interests and be on the outside what they wanted. To pretend things that happened to me didn’t happen.
    Then 10 years ago I met a man who loved me . He encouraged me to be who I really was. Our marriage wasn’t perfect but it was good and getting better the longer we were together. He showed me that someone could love me just because I was me. He gave me the courage and confidence to pretend a little less with my family. To do the things I wanted and not worry if everyone else would like it. I was starting to be myself more but I still had a long way to go. He was probably the only person in my entire life who really knew me. But a little over two months ago he died. He was my best friend and I miss him terribly. My family have been supportive to a point but I know that their support is dependent on my being who they want. So I keep my feelings bottled up and pretend. I can feel myself slipping back into the person I spent most of my life being, complient on the outside but angry and resentful inside. I don’t want to be that person but I’m not sure I can stop it from happening. But reading your story and the comments here makes me feel less alone and encourages me to keep trying.

    • Ellen,

      I can relate to your situation as I too was the product of the voices in my head from my upbringing. I can tell you that life got infinitely better, and I pulled out of my depression and anxiety when I quit believing that BS programming from the past, challenged it, and inserted my own thoughts and beliefs – even if I didn’t really believe them yet. I focused on what I wanted to believe and feel with affirmations.

      My brother and best friend died when I was in my early thirties. Similar to your experience, I felt like he was the only one I could be myself around and who loved me just for me – not even my hubby. I spiralled into depression when he died because I thought that was gone forever. What I came to realize is the love he gave me was not unique to him. It’s just that it was authentic without expectations. I realized that I can find this again. But, I also realized that first I have to love myself this way before anyone else can.

      I would encourage you to work on extending yourself love and compassion. It will heal the wounds of your past and invite authentic love into your life.

  15. David, I am sorry to hear that. I used to feel the same way and did try to kill myself and only made things worse…much worse. Like you, I just wanted to rest and take a break from the world and my own mind. What I found is that I can do that by making friends with my mind instead of letting it bully me. Your world won’t change overnight, but it can and will change. Little steps add up to big differences over time. Please take a little step for yourself and reach out to a friend or family member who can help you. Love and light.

    • Kiishan Sekhon Reply

      This is to Debbie and David: Debbie, I was wondering what method you used. David has a valid perspective, something along the lines of what even professors of academics might reach to but without that much animosity or hostility (i.e. The Sunset Limited). Me, I have gone past it, now acquiring the knowledge to end it all painlessly with just a few days of set up. Never took it why? because my method is one weirdly dangerous world view if not managed wisely, “You do not owe the world a thing if the world does not owe you a thing,” Usually, the method is, fuck it, if I’m gonna die anyway, I’ll do whatever I can on this Earth before I die. Your method was simply to realise dependency has its weakness and flaws, so is unmonitored charity. I have come to reach a stage in which I choose to be alone to let people and myself be happy because I don’t owe the world a thing. It’s a sign of peace I’ve learned from Spiritualists such as The Law of One and Buddhism because if you actively fight and be involve in your surrounding and you only find more negative outcome, better to stay out of it completely and revert to the flow of which is our ‘Janna’. If you actively try to kill yourself, then fate and forces might work against you, after all, they were pricks before, what makes you think you’ll suddenly be let go at your last moment painlessly? U wanna give them that last laugh or plan properly against them? I’ve come to the conclusion that the only ‘right’ way spiritually that does not attempt to tear the ebb and flow of the universe, is to remain passive, u may want to die, u may already have the tools to do it on yourself, but if you dont owe the world a thing, why take your life for it, avoid interfering with other people’s janna, and forget waiting for death just do whatever you feel makes you happy today even if it means lying to people so you can be alone so that you can play with your cats and dogs and whores and games and booze and weed etc…it doesnt matter, because you dont owe the world a thing because the world never owed you a thing… Love and Light to thee, Adonai

    • El Cholo Simeone Reply


  16. Fredaaa. ` Reply

    I like this post; I’m finding myself in this vicious cycle. I people please, then hate myself for it and then end up people pleasing again. It leaves me drained and most of the time miserable, ‘I’m the go to girl’, I have recently started saying no to when people ask me to join projects (I’m a uni student) and the one time I did, I had a friend constantly asking me why I didn’t do that project and saying I’m idiot for not doing that project. It was a project that I wasn’t interested in and the nature of the project didn’t help my career prospects so I passed it on. Sometimes I give so much that I don’t know who I am or I don’t even speak my opinions, so that’s no fun. But I am currently going to counselling, it’s a little helpful.

    Once again, thank you for this post x

    Freda x

    • Freda,

      Sounds like you are well on your way to leaving people pleasing behind. The first step is to become aware of it. As you say “No” more often, you will become more comfortable with it and realize that a “no” is not bad,any more than a “yes” is good. Do what makes YOU happy and meets your needs, regardless of who thins what about a project. What is important is what YOU think.

    • Freda,

      Sounds like you are well on your way to leaving people pleasing behind. The first step is to become aware of it. As you say “No” more often, you will become more comfortable with it and realize that a “no” is not bad,any more than a “yes” is good. Do what makes YOU happy and meets your needs, regardless of who thins what about a project. What is important is what YOU think.

  17. I fell in love with what I thought was my soul mate and still do but it was all a lie are rather the man I consider my best friend my enemy at times my night in shining armor we were strong together I found out some really bad things about him and I mean pretty much everything u can think of but murder .I was raised southern Baptist and Catholic.and after he knew I knew things got even worse .especially for me he changed in a manner that was like there where two of him .for the last eight months we have lived apart ..well a mile apart .we would see each other often and talk and text he had a wonderful job there 16years but then the more I got to know this other person and things he did the more I tried to help him at at times wanted to kick his a.. but to no avail he went to the most beautiful man are life’s were a fairly tail .we had everything and eachother and I knew the truth and the worst about him but when I look at him now I’m not sure who he is now he’s in jail for agg asalt on me four times and more things I won’t mention but no one could understand why I still love him the police the Da if set here alone in my house as a hurmet for almost the whole 8m.trying to find the man I still love and will always love and I know he loves me ofcorse I’m not a perfect person more of a hand full to weigh 110.iv been undergoing a soul enlighten a spiritual enlightenment and though I have suffered emotion pain and mental breakdown been beat on by the one that was was my everything I finally came to a conclusion I isolated my self to find my self and my husband is looking at serious time I’m just dealing with one person and I still feel the same love and friendship I did .just u people out there that think life is impossible .God got his hands full .and this is coming from someone who has been cussing him out for years I know him and he knows me we have that tete contest from time to time and I always loose .but he still has my back and me him so the lessen I learned love and forgiveness has no boundaries life is a beautiful thing a gift so I won’t turn my back on my husband my best friend my soul mate .even when I want to put my foot in his a..and thank u Rafael and Michael for all the help life is doable stop fighting ur self and enjoy every moment ..Shelley breeding

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  20. I am so glad you started living for yourself. I am 29 years old male who suffers from GAD. All my life, I have lived for others and not for myself. Got married 7 months back and marriage is on the rocks as I didnt get anything back. I only gave and gave. Its been 15 years since I accepted any gift even from my own parents.Since the past 20 years I have suicidal thinking and right now its at the peak. I have researched on everything. From sourcing cyanide to sourcing nembutal. But then i won’t kill myself because I know it will affect people closebto me. If I was an orphan or not married, I would have committed suicide. I don’t even know why I am blabbering all this and spoiling your post. But, honestly I am so happy that tou have been able to change yourself :).

    Ps: sadly i live in India where everyone is being judged.

    • Tashar,

      You aren’t spoiling my post. Thanks for reaching out. I have been working with a woman in India, and it is very difficult to establish mentally healthy practices in a culture that imposes certain standards which do lead to self criticism, loathing , and judgement. BUT It can be done! She did it – even under the pressure to marry and being judged for not doing so while all her younger sister did.

      I would encourage you to start thinking of yourself as a friend. Whenever you talk to yourself or find yourself criticizing and judging yourself, think “Would I talk to a friend this way?” Read this post:

      You have got to start being your own best friend and make your mind your friend. When it bullies or belittles you, argue with it. You might find this post helpful:

      Lastly, I can tell you that most people who try to commit suicide do not succeed. And in attempting it, you make thing worse – MUCH WORSE! I implore you to take the mental energy you are using to investigate and explore suicide to find out about helping yourself. For example, read more on this website. (You’ve already got a good start there.)

      Make on small decision every day that you are going to do to help yourself that day…and DO IT. Bottom line is: You CAN help yourself. You CAN change your life and brain. It all starts with making friends with your mind and being kind to yourself.

      Blessings to you.

      • Thanks a lot Debbie. I will definitely try to follow and practise each and everything you have said. Highly appreciated:)

        • Welcome Tushar. Keep going. The better it gets, the better it gets. Do one thing today to make it better. Then another tomorrow. Small changes add up to big differences.

  21. This is me…although I now say no I feel like I’m a horrible person and when I do say no I should do something for myself but I’m not. Iv lost all interest and I’m not happy at the moment. I don’t want to be like this…everyone is very wrapped up in themselves which is fair enough, I am wrapped up in myself but I am not doing anything….I sit there sometimes in silence and cry…that’s all I do when I have spare time or I go to bed early. I just need some guidance I’m lost

    • You’ve got to take care of yourself and meet your own needs…not in a narcissistic selfish way, but a healthy way …to be happy and healthy yourself. Start doing some things to make you happy, work with your thoughts, learn to say”No.” I would encourage you to read through my website for some guidance or either of my books provides good info on how to change. You CAN do it.

      All the best to you.

  22. Zachary McReynolds Reply

    I feel this blog on so many levels. Why I stopped giving a fuck about people in general. Why I also just started being my genuine self wrather people like me or not. I also live by my own rules as well not by the worlds rules.

    “My parents taught me a different lesson. Die in the gutter for no reason. The worlds rules only make sense if you force it to.” Batman – Batman vs Superman movie

    • Zachary,

      I think you will probably soften your stance with time, but at first swinging to an extreme is not altogether a bad thing. Just don’t stay angry and hostile in your position. It hurts you in the end.

  23. Thanks for an awesome explanation for this situation! I felt everything you said cause I’ve into that state. I just forget that other people first think you’re good person but then they just try to end everything on a bad relation basis.
    Thank you so much for helping

  24. As a recovering ‘people pleaser’ myself Debbie, I find it amazing how many people have experienced the same syndrome. If there is such a thing. I learned a little trick that helped me get started with saying no…using the words let me think about it, or check my calendar was a way to stop me from the habit of saying yes to everything. And today I have balance between my yes and no. Great article.

  25. I love how I am NOT a people pleaser anymore 🙂 Well it does creep in at times…but for the most part I know that my peace of mind has been linked to pleasing me more than pleasing others.

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