People Pleasing, An Unlikely Addiction: 5 Steps to Recovery

Dec 21, 2020

I used to feel guilty that I wasn’t a drug addict.  

Early in my career, I worked at a drug and alcohol treatment center. The setting was a petri dish for my rapid growth as a counselor and in hindsight, as a human. 

We taught our patients that recovery from addiction was a journey, not a destination and how to commit to recovery every single day.  I admitted to my supervisor that I felt guilty I wasn’t a recovering addict or alcoholic like many of the other therapists.  I wanted the patients to feel I was qualified and worthy of guiding them through this journey.  He responded, “Anne, we’re all recovering from something”.

As time went by, I began to understand that I too was on a path of recovery. I was recovering from an addiction to people pleasing. It was and still is my “drug of choice”.  

We all engage in behavior that doesn’t serve our highest self. That behavior can become habitual or “addictive”.  It’s rewarding in the short-term, so our brain sets the behavior on autopilot, making it difficult to interrupt and to change, even if we want to.

However, behavior change is absolutely possible.

Every single day I make the conscious commitment not to engage in people pleasing behavior.  I choose healthier coping skills to manage my emotional baggage.  And, when I do that, my highest self shows up. 

What is people pleasing?

Please pleasing is an inauthentic pattern of behavior that may involve one or more of the following:  

-Consistently putting the needs and desires of others before your own

-Working hard to make others comfortable, often at the expense of your own comfort

-Overly focusing on being liked by others

-Telling people what they want to hear, instead of what you truly think

-Engaging in activities you don’t want to do in an effort to be liked

-Avoiding confrontation in an effort to keep the peace

-Deferring to others to make decisions that concern you, in an effort to remain in their favor

People pleasing is tricky.  It may appear as generous and kind but it’s a negative coping skill in disguise. The key difference between people pleasing and authentic generosity is in the motivation of the behavior. People pleasing is motivated by lack, where authentic generosity is motivated by abundance. 

Think of it this way, when you’re emotionally thirsty and your self-worth is low, you will compromise your own comfort to fill your cup.  You will bend, twist and accommodate to get approval, attention and love. That’s people pleasing. Whereas, when you’re emotionally full and your self-worth is high, you’re not seeking to fill an empty cup.  You’re operating out of abundance. There is no drive to please in order to get your needs met. And the abundance naturally spills over to others. That’s authentic generosity.

Like other drugs, people pleasing provides a short-term rush of good feels (or at least a numbing of bad feels). But like most highs, the good feels and numbness eventually wear off and you’re stuck with the consequences. Consequences range anywhere from others never knowing where you stand on things, to being stuck in an unhealthy or unfulfilling relationship or career. Ultimately, it can lead to a lost sense-of-self and purpose.  Because when we’re people pleasing, we’re not acting in alignment with our authentic selves.

The origin of people pleasing

People pleasing can originate from a variety of circumstances that may include:


-Growing up feeling responsible for the happiness/comfort of others

-Unstable attachment to a caregiver leading to feeling as if you have to perform to earn love

-Fear of abandonment based on the absence or death of a caregiver

-Traumatic event(s) resulting in a stunted sense-of-self or buried self-worth


 5 steps to recovering from people pleasing


There are multiple paths of recovery. Consider talking to a mental health professional if you need a guide for this work.  Although it may not be necessary for you, it’s a valuable option.


These steps will put you on a path of recovery:


  1. Raise your awareness to the behavior and accept it.

This is the first step to any behavior change and by far the most important. Practice this and the majority of the battle is won. Awareness and acceptance allow you to move through struggles and transcend them.


  1. Research your own mind for the origin of the behavior.

Knowing the origin leads to increased understanding and self-forgiveness.  You can then begin replacing the old behaviors with new ones.  Thinking deeply about your past can be painful. This is where the support from a mental health professional could come in handy.


  1. Do the work to uncover and raise your self-worth.

Uncovering your self-worth is crucial to crushing any unhealthy coping skill. This is the work of filling your own cup! It also opens the door for finding authentic purpose. I have a free downloadable guide for this work at


  1. Shift your focus from what others are thinking about and feeling, to what you are thinking about and feeling.

People pleasers tend to focus on external validation and approval, so they are often in a state of assuming or trying to predict the feelings of others. Shifting your focus to your own thoughts and feelings will allow you to begin to give validation and approval to yourself. Try asking yourself on a regular basis, “Is this what I want or is this what I think will make others happy?”.


  1. Practice expressing your emotions, needs, likes and dislikes verbally and authentically.

Allow your authentic self to be seen and heard! This is how you will attract the people you are meant to be with and discover your authentic purpose.


Despite feeling a million miles away from the people pleaser I used to be, I still find myself faced with the choice to either people please or to authentically respond. Staying on the path of recovery is both challenging and freeing at the same time. It requires staying focused on your highest self and believing you are worth it. It requires sacrificing short-term comfort for long-term reward.

 You are meant to live a life in alignment with your core values, and deepest desires. Seek healthy coping skills to life’s challenges and your internal battles. Every time you do this, you fill your cup.

In time, abundance will follow!



Dive deeper.

I have a FREE journaling guide to help you uncover your self-worth. Sign up here and I'll send it straight to your inbox. Your information will not be shared.


50% Complete

S E L F - W O R T H  G U I D E

Sign-up to receive my weekly newsletter. (Unsubscribe at any time.)