As a career and wellbeing coach, my role is to help women to achieve their personal and professional potential without sacrificing their wellbeing.

I have noticed the most common way women self-sabotage is people pleasing and I’ve seen first-hand how detrimental it can be to our mental and physical wellbeing.

But what exactly is people pleasing?


Dr Shirzad Charmine, author of Positive Intelligence and mental fitness expert, characterises a people pleaser as someone who:

“Indirectly tries to gain acceptance and affection by helping, pleasing, rescuing, or flattering others. Loses sight of own needs and becomes resentful as a result.”

Renowned physician and stress expert, Dr Gabor Maté, says:


“If I chronically repress my emotional needs in order to make myself acceptable to other people, I increase my risks of having to pay the price in the form of illness.”

In his book, When The Body Says No: The Cost Of Hidden Stress, he explains that if we don’t express our true selves, then our body will do it for us – with pain.

So what can you do to stop being a people pleaser? Here are my three steps to stop people pleasing…

1. Use the STAR model


Use the STAR model to gain awareness of when this behaviour is triggered and how it’s sabotaging you.


  • Situation: Think of a time when you have pleased others over your own needs or sabotaged your own happiness for someone else.
  • Thoughts and Feelings: In that moment, what were the thoughts that entered your head? What did you say to yourself? Can you label any of the emotions you felt? Where did you feel it in your body?
  • Action: What did you do next? How did other people react? How did you then feel?
  • Results: What was the outcome of this pattern? If you continue to do this, what are the negative consequences? What are the positive consequences?


2. Acknowledge your social conditioning


In western society, young girls are taught to be ‘the good girl’ and this means adhering to a certain set of rules and behaviours in order to belong, be accepted, be worthy of attention and love. For example, don’t be selfish, put others needs before your own, don’t make a fuss, be humble, don’t brag or talk about your achievements, stay small, be of service… etc.


We are then conditioned to adhere to another set rules when we enter motherhood – ‘the good mother’ – these are in line with ‘the good girl’ rules and are conveniently given to us at a time when we’re at our most vulnerable searching for certainty and guidance, so we don’t question them.


It is possible to detox from these toxic patriarchal messages. It requires a paradigm shift but consistently building healthy habits like setting boundaries will, in time, make a difference to your wellbeing.


3. Identify your core values


A game changing reframe when working to change people pleasing behaviour is to understand your core values. Interestingly, I’ve noticed that many people pleasers cite authenticity as a core value. If this resonates, reflect on this question:


When you are people pleasing, ie putting other people’s needs before your own, how does this behaviour sit alongside your value of authenticity? Are they aligned? Or do they jar? And what are the implications of not acting in alignment with this value?


As a recovering people pleaser, I have a huge amount of empathy for anyone who feels stuck in this behaviour. I remember feeling like it had become so much a part of my identity, I honestly didn’t know who I was without it.


It’s not easy but new mindsets and behaviours can be created and maintained to support your goals and wellbeing, such as creating your life and career vision and values, setting healthy boundaries, dealing with conflict and difficult conversations, emotional resilience and self care habits.



Identify your top sabotaging behaviours by taking this short assessment from Positive Intelligence, entitled 9 Ways We Self Sabotage.


Click here to do a Core Values exercise:

Lucy Higgins is a Careering into Motherhood partner coach.