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  • Writer's pictureSamantha McMullen

Supporting a "people pleaser" without making them try and please you.

Many people experience symptoms of exagerated responsibility, and have parts of themselves that are hyper focused on pleasing others, often as a way to protect themselves from rejection.

I was recently struck that despite the pleathera of articles written around how to, "not be a people pleaser," there was nothing offered on how loved ones can support someone trying to not take on exaggerated responsibility-or people pleasing behaviors.

We know that human beings do not function in a vaccum. If you are trying to work on setting boundaries, speaking up, saying no, your loved ones are bound to notice.

If you are comfortable sharing that this is something you are working on, then they may even offer to help.

My goal in writing this blog post is so that it can be shared with those wanting to be supportive on a loved one's healing journey, but not really knowing how or where to start (OR, perhaps even feeling like they are doing EVERYTHING right and they still see their loved one suffering).

Congratulations, if someone sent you this article, that means they trust you enough to share this vulnerable thing with you, and want to empower you so that your good intentions can elicit the help and relief you are wanting to give your loved one.

Sharing this article with a loved one, as a person who is trying to stop taking on exagerated responsibility, is a HUGE move towards this goal. You are not responsible for educating your loved ones, justifying your needs or over explaining yourself, so feel free to share this resource and hopefully that is one less thing on your ever full plate.

Okay, now that we have set the stage, are you ready to dig in?

If your loved one is struggling with the above, there is much you can do to help:

1. Ask them what their needs are and then respect them. They know what is best for them, they wouldn’t ask for something if they didn’t really need it- it is hard enough for them to ask in the first place, so they would have thought long and hard about an ask. Trust them, and follow through with whatever their request is even if it isn’t what you would think of.

2. If the above activates anxiety in you (or excessive worry about how they are doing and urges to check in on them constantly), then seek your own therapy to process this. Even though these "good" intentions are coming from a place of care, this behavior can actually increase someones feelings of exaggerated responsibility, guilt and anxiety, making them feel worse rather then better as they strive to feel better for you (people pleasing) versus taking care of themselves for them (which is the only way we can make sustainable long term change).

3. Model trusting your loved one so they can learn to love themselves. “I am here for whatever you need.” “I know you’ll get through this, look what you have already survived. "I am so proud of you.” Providing this positive reinforce is life changing and life saving. Notice how different this would feel for you to receive versus a check in fueled by anxiety that might sound like “I am so worried about you, text me so I know your safe.”

4. Know that your loved one setting boundaries might be uncomfortable for you, it might feel weird, after all by doing this work to not people please they are untangling years of learned behavior. For example, maybe they usually are open to take on all the responsibility to plan a family function, or around the house, or on a job, and all of a sudden they are setting a boundary that they can only do a much smaller (and likely more realistic) percentage. This is normal. Change can feel weird AND that doesn’t mean it is bad.

5. Remember, intentions do not matter (that can feel harsh I know, but what I mean is that intentions can be helpful for understanding, however they do not justify harm). The most well intentioned people can cause the most harm, becuase someone that struggles with people pleasing parts of themselves tends to think intentions matter at all costs, and often sacriface their own discomfort to protect someone else. Ex. Someone sending you flowers is nice right? But what if they send you 10 bouquets a day! That would be overwhelming, even when the thing itself is nice and the intention is caring. If the result of something isn't benneficial, then regardless of intentions, the thing ain't working.

6. Model taking responsibility for your own feelings/needs to decrease the chances of a loved one having to take on those old roles of people pleasing/exaggerated responsibility. Seek your own therapy, talk to your supports, and think twice before reaching out by answering this filter question: “Am I doing this because I am anxious/ worried and seeking relief or am I doing this because my loved one has asked for it/and it would help them find relief?”

7. Lastly, model your own self love. Remember, by doing anything in the examples above, you are not doing anything bad or wrong, so no need to overly apologize to your loved one- this actually might activate more exaggerated responsibility as it forces them to soothe/reassure you, or beat themselves up about it. Model self accountability by taking responsibility so that your loved one can see what it looks like.

This might mean working on your own people pleasing behaviors or exaggerated sense of responsibility!

Remeber, this list is by no means extensive, and I hope that it sparks some reflection on how your well intended behaviors may be affecting those around you, and how you can easily take action, and get the results you want, and your loved one as well!

If you are interested in working with me, please feel free to contact me through my website, email me at or call me at 818-465-8516.

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