Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive person gives in to people-pleasing behavior and appears to be saying "yes" but looks uncomfortable

How HSPs Can Stop Falling Into the People-Pleaser Trap

HSPs feel like if we don’t say “yes,” we’ll disappoint someone. But those “yes’s” add up — and pretty soon you’re your own lowest priority.

Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are often more prone to — and affected by — people-pleasing tendencies or behaviors than others. I am certainly one of those people. I will worry myself to the brink of madness in a variety of situations: if I think I’ve annoyed someone; if people think I’m dumb for a suggestion I’ve made in a meeting (and, therefore, my boss will think I’m an idiot); or if I’ve had to cancel plans with a friend and they will be super annoyed since I’m letting them down. Sound familiar, anyone?

Throughout my career, I have worked many long hours (as many of us HSPs often do). But when you’re a people-pleaser, you can fall into the “people-pleasing trap,” whereby we fear we will be abandoned or rejected, So, therefore, we often go out of our way to make others happy, at our own expense (whether that’s sleep, time with our family, and so on). 

I’ve often stayed at work really late, not thinking much of it. Or been asked to complete something last-minute and get it done that day. Or go home after quitting time… These “asks” — and then expectations — for me to work late would then snowball, and happen more and more often: I’d constantly be working hard to keep clients (and my bosses) happy.

‘People-Pleasing’ Is Related to a Lack of Boundaries

Ultimately, it all boiled down to the feeling I had that if I didn’t say “yes,” I would disappoint my boss (or whomever) and would be letting them down. (I’d hate for them to think I couldn’t handle the work.) So, instead of enacting boundaries, I would say “yes” every time

This can also happen in situations of wanting to “fit in” — or you may find yourself agreeing with something when you’re actively trying to avoid conflict. As HSPs, we will often avoid situations that can be distressing or overwhelming. So if this is what we need to do to avoid such situations, to keep the peace, then we may find ourselves doing this. 

Doing nice things — and being kind and helpful — is obviously a great trait to have (and innate to being an HSP). If you are offering your help to others because you want to help, then that’s great! However, if you’re worried and ask yourself, Hang on — if I say “no,” or if I don’t agree with what they’ve said, will they be mad at me? Will they not like me anymore? Will they look down on me or think badly of me going forward? then this is when it becomes concerning.

If you’re reading this — and have gotten this far (and thank you for that!) — I assume you, too, may be a people-pleaser, as well as an HSP. To try and reduce my people-pleasing tendencies, namely for the sake of my mental and physical health, I’ve been trying out some new tactics. Perhaps — hopefully — they’ll work for you, as well.

4 Ways for HSPs to Stop Falling Into the People-Pleaser Trap

1. Take time to connect with yourself.

Many of us have lots of things happening all at once. However, I’ve been finding that by taking time on my own, and in silence, it’s easier to “tune in” to myself. You can try meditating, journaling, or just sitting and watching the world go by. 

Being with yourself — with no distractions, such as the TV, music, social media, and so on — can be really beneficial. It’ll help you become more familiar with who you are and what it feels like to be your true self. This may require saying “no” to something (or many things) in order to set aside some time for you. But this is very important for us HSPs to do, so that we can reduce the overwhelm around us and get grounded in the present moment.

2. Step away from your phone.

Taking time away from social media (as crazy as this is to suggest as someone who works in digital marketing) can really help. We’re often being sold (or “told) what’s “in” or “attractive” or what we should aim for. But what we might really need is time away, in order for us to discover what we truly want, what our goals and passions are, and what we like and value.

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3. Try to stop asking for people’s opinions and advice.

I am really bad at this. Even decisions some would consider very small and easy to make, I sometimes ask for feedback on. For example, I would ask everyone and their dog what color nail polish I should use (as opposed to actually picking a color myself). Or I’d ask for someone else to hear an idea first, out for fear of looking stupid in a meeting and disappointing my manager. 

But, these days, I’m actively trying to stop asking for opinions or feedback on smaller things that I know I can decide for myself. (Of course, feedback is incredibly useful for many other things, but not for everything). Instead, I try to take a little time to think, Okay, but what do I really think of this? How do I feel about it?

This sounds so simple, but can make a big difference. And, oftentimes, it can sound a bit daunting to those who will often ask others’ opinions first. Just start slowly! Moving away from asking for opinions can be really powerful! Plus, as HSPs, our intuition is incredible, so now’s the time to listen to it!

4. Take time with decision-making.

Speaking of making decisions, I now try and take my time to think things through a little more, especially before I commit to a larger decision. Thinking about it — and considering how long it may take me — are important factors to consider. Do I have the time to do it? Will this cause me stress? These are key questions to ask yourself before committing to the decision. Try, if you’re able to, to step away and think about these questions first. Overcommitting can lead to burnout — which HSPs are prone to — and can put us under a lot of (unnecessary) stress.

In the End, It’s Not Just About Saying ‘No’ to Others — It’s About Saying ‘Yes’ to Yourself

As people-pleasers and HSPs, we need to remember that saying “no” doesn’t make us a bad person. Not at all. Boundaries are healthy — and crucial for HSPs. For, if we always say “yes,” we can easily burn ourselves out. 

Yes, it’s difficult to remove ourselves from our people-pleasing ways of thinking. But with small steps, it can have a positive impact on our mental health and happiness. And that’s most important of all. 

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