The Coach's Corner

When people pleasing leads to burnout

I’ve often described myself as a recovering people pleaser – that person who wants to make sure others are getting what they need right away, saying yes to anything immediately and offering unsolicited items/ideas/ways for you to change that really do work much better, if you’d only just do what I suggest! Since I’m now in recovery, seriously, I have been observing how many clients, colleagues and friends ( just in the past two weeks) are drowning in a state of overwhelm, much of it erupting from this need to please others. A powerful piece this week from the Cleveland Clinic reminded me that this state of mind may start with a desire to please – but erodes into resentment and burnout when unchecked.

Now that we are officially into fall and are hyper-focused on our goals and deadlines, this week’s headline – when people pleasing leads to burnout- is spot on. Even if you’ve managed this tendency for yourself, the urge to please others at your expense might be creeping back into your work and life. Today’s insight comes from a coaching client who recognized how trying to make those on her team happy at all costs was creating huge resentment issues and affecting her mental health. So for the next step, today’s tool offers a number of ways for you to stop being a people pleaser, if you’re ready. Let’s dive in!

The Coach’s Corner Newsletter #16


When people pleasing leads to burnout

People pleasing is a series of behaviors in which someone exhibits a strong tendency to help others to the point that it impacts wellbeing, according to Medical News Today.

A person with a strong urge to please may feel they need to be whatever others want them to be. They may cover up how they really feel or agree to too many favors.

You may be someone who’s helpful, but if you’re wondering if you’re bordering on people pleaser behavior, here are some key signs:

  • You say ‘yes’ even if it is inconvenient or interrupts your work or life.
  • You over-apologize or accept fault even when you’re not responsible.
  • You feel drained/stressed with all the work you’re doing to keep others happy.

Clinical psychologist Debbie Sorensen finds that people pleasers are prone to burnout at work. In an interview on, she describes how this happens.

They tend to be very kind, thoughtful people, which makes it that much harder for them to set boundaries, not take on too much work or get emotionally invested in their jobs.

Natalie Lue is a blogger, podcast host and author of The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want.

She describes why people pleasers are at risk for burnout.

Burnout is physical and emotional exhaustion from long-term work-related stress. People-pleasing and burnout are inextricably tied together. In a world that conditions us from early childhood to be people pleasers, many of us regard people-pleasing as a virtuous quality. But people-pleasing combined with unhealthy attitudes towards being “productive”, “successful” and “hard-working” is toxic for our bodies. We’re not designed to behave like machines and put intolerable levels of physical and mental stress on the body. In fact, we’re experiencing record levels of burnout.

If you recognize this is happening in your life and work, there are ways to slow down and stop this behavior. I’ll share those tools in a moment.


Making others happy impacts your mental health and builds resentment

First I’d like to introduce you to Megan, who arrived at our session last week under the weight of work and life pressures that had her wondering what happened to the way she used to lead.

She described how little by little, the ‘help’ she was offering her team was going off the rails. With a deadline for a critical implementation just weeks out, very little progress had been made. When she met one on one with various team leads, three of them said they weren’t worried, going as far as to tell her, “Megan, you’ll pull us through, you have before.”

To add to her overwhelm she had taken charge of putting her father in an assisted living facility, rejecting offers of assistance from her siblings because she knew what to do best.

The final straw? A recent storm damaged her roof and rather than ‘bother’ her husband with the details she took over the calls, inspections and being physically present to monitor the work of installing a new roof.

With that last declaration Megan paused, “I thought I was doing something for all of these people – to make them happy or ease their load – and now I resent the fact that I’m doing everything and no one is there for me.”

That acknowledgement is paving the way for a new perspective, ensuring she’s got the space to live a life that is fulfilling for her as well as those in her sphere.


Yes, you can stop being a people pleaser

There is good news on this people pleasing front. Your way out includes getting to a place where you are taking care of yourself, setting boundaries, offering help where you choose and saying no with conviction.

Image from

Kendra Cherry has some insightful tips on how to stop people pleasing in her post on

Establish Boundaries

It’s important to know your limits, establish clear boundaries, and then communicate those limits. Be clear and specific about what you’re willing to take on.

Start Small
It can be hard to make a sudden change, so it is often easier to begin by asserting yourself in small ways. For example, try saying no to a text request. Then work your way up to telling people “no” in person. Learning to say no is a crucial skill to develop to break the habit of people pleasing.
Set Goals and Priorities
Consider where you want to spend your time. Who do you want to help? What goals are you trying to accomplish? Knowing your priorities can help you determine whether or not you have the time and energy to devote to something.
Stall for Time
When someone asks for a favor, tell them you need some time to think about it. Before you make a decision, ask yourself:
  • How much time will this take?
  • Is this something I really want to do?
  • Do I have time to do it?
  • How stressed am I going to be if I say “yes?”
Help When You Want to Help
You don’t need to give up being kind and thoughtful. Those are desirable qualities that can contribute to strong, lasting relationships. The key is to examine your motivations and intentions. Don’t do things only because you fear rejection or want the approval of others.

My takeaway

When you spend a considerable amount of time making sure everyone around you gets what they want, without ensuring you are taking care of yourself, your mental health takes a huge hit.

Maybe you’re feeling the pressure of deadlines, the end of the year, loss, major change – pile on what you experience when you step in, over promise or feel guilty when you say ‘no’ – and there’s a good chance you’ll hit the wall, too.

“If you spend your life pleasing others, you spend your life.”

Cheryl Richardson

Spend your life the way you choose – and bring others along on your terms.

From my experience, it works.

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