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People-Pleasing and Burnout: How Your Need to Be Liked Is Sabotaging You

Do you find yourself constantly saying "yes" to every request, even when your plate is already full? Do you prioritize others' needs and wants above your own, leaving little time or energy for self-care? Do you feel guilty or anxious when you try to set boundaries or assert your own desires?


If so, you might be a people-pleaser. And while your agreeableness and helpfulness may win you praise and appreciation in the short term, over time, this pattern of self-neglect can lead straight to burnout.


What is People-pleasing?


At its core, people-pleasing is a coping mechanism rooted in a deep fear of rejection, abandonment, or conflict. People-pleasers often grow up in environments where love and approval feel conditional—based on meeting others' expectations and needs. They learn to suppress their own feelings and desires in order to maintain harmony and avoid disappointing others.


As adults, people-pleasers often find themselves in one-sided relationships, both personally and professionally. They may take on more than their fair share of emotional labor, constantly anticipating and accommodating others' moods and needs. They may struggle to say "no," set boundaries, or advocate for themselves, fearing that any pushback will lead to anger or withdrawal.


People-pleasing and Burnout


While people-pleasing behaviors may seem selfless and admirable on the surface, they come at a high cost to the individual. Constantly prioritizing others' needs over your own is a surefire recipe for burnout—a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress.


Here are a few ways people-pleasing leads to burnout:


Overcommitment and Overwork

People-pleasers often take on far more than they can realistically handle, both at work and in their personal lives. They may volunteer for every project, agree to every social invitation, and take on the lion's share of household chores, leaving little time for rest and recovery.


Lack of Self-Care

When you're always putting others first, your own needs get pushed to the back burner. People-pleasers often neglect basic self-care practices like getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, and taking time for hobbies and relaxation. Over time, this self-neglect can lead to physical and emotional depletion.


Suppressed Emotions

People-pleasers often bottle up their own feelings, particularly negative ones like anger, frustration, or resentment. They may smile through gritted teeth, say "it's fine" when it's really not, or apologize excessively for having needs or opinions. This emotional suppression is a major contributor to stress and burnout.


Lack of Authenticity

Constantly shape-shifting to meet others' expectations can leave people-pleasers feeling disconnected from their own wants, needs, and values. They may feel like they're living someone else's life, or like they've lost touch with who they really are. This lack of authenticity can fuel feelings of emptiness, alienation, and burnout.


Difficulty Receiving Support

People-pleasers often pride themselves on being the "strong one" or the "go-to person" for others. They may hesitate to ask for help or admit when they're struggling, fearing that they'll be seen as weak or needy. This reluctance to receive support can leave them feeling isolated and overwhelmed.


Breaking the People-Pleasing Cycle


If you recognize yourself in these patterns, know that you're not alone—and that change is possible. Breaking free from people-pleasing and preventing burnout starts with small, deliberate acts of self-care and boundary-setting.


Start by tuning in to your own feelings and needs. What do you want? What do you need more of in your life? What do you need less of? Practice expressing your preferences and opinions, even if it feels uncomfortable at first.


Next, start setting small, achievable boundaries. Say "no" to an optional social event or work project. Ask for help when you need it. Take a break when you're feeling overwhelmed, even if it's just five minutes to breathe and reset.


As you practice prioritizing your own needs, you may notice feelings of guilt, anxiety, or self-doubt bubbling up. This is normal! Remind yourself that self-care is not selfish—it's a necessity. You cannot pour from an empty cup, and taking care of yourself is what allows you to show up fully for others.


Finally, seek support from a therapist, coach, or trusted friend who can help you navigate this journey. Unlearning people-pleasing patterns and building healthier boundaries takes time and practice, and having a supportive ally in your corner can make all the difference.


Remember, your worth is not measured by how much you do for others. Treating yourself with the same kindness, care, and respect you so freely give to others is not just a nice idea—it's a radical act of self-love and a powerful antidote to burnout.


You deserve to live a life that feels authentic, fulfilling, and joyful. It all starts with honoring your own needs, one brave boundary at a time.


 


Photo of Kelly Judd, life coach for women, a white woman with dark hair and large tortoiseshell glasses, slightly smiling at the camera

Hi, I'm Kelly. 👋 I help you make hard decisions and do hard things. Like you, I spent decades putting others' needs before my own. After almost 20 years of leadership roles and a lifetime’s worth of plot twists in my personal life, I made the empowering decision to seek greater meaning and purpose in my work, helping others to reconnect with their authentic selves and discover the joy, peace, and clarity that comes with finally identifying and prioritizing your own needs.

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