Overcoming The Need To Please

Source: HumanSeeHumanDo - Flickr
Source: HumanSeeHumanDo – Flickr

Highly sensitive people have many ways of handling their nature and the overwhelm that they experience. Being different means that relationships are often difficult for us. We often feel at a disadvantage in relationships feeling one down because we feel disrespected.

There are many reasons for this. Our compassionate non-competitive natures seek mutuality in a one-upsmanship world which does not respect our kindness. So we often want the respect we deserve but cannot claim. So we seek ways to achieve social acceptance. Pleasing is one of those ways.

Do You Feel The Need To Please?

The need to please comes from our need to establish and maintain the interpersonal bridge with others. there are many ways that the interpersonal bridge is created and sustained. Most of the time there is some kind of shared experience or other kind of bond created through:

  • blood relationships
  • being neighbors
  • school and school activities
  • shared interests
  • work
  • community activities
  • shared values
  • shared life experiences

Highly sensitive people have trouble with the interpersonal bridge because often their values are different from those around them and also because they are different and experience most things differently it is hard for them to bond over shared experiences. Many times HSPs are loners but not by choice.

The weakness of the interpersonal bridge is something that we live with each day and it is often a source of feelings of vulnerability. We do not fit in and know it. We suspect therefore that we are unwelcome.

Coming To Terms With The Challenges Of Being Different

Being different does not necessarily mean that we are unwelcome. Humans are notorious for comparing themselves to each other so we may remind others of undeveloped aspects of themselves and in that way create feelings of discomfort. That is not our fault but something to be aware of.

However, if we expect to be close with people whose values are radically different then we are probably inviting some hurt into our lives. There are many people who do not and will not “get” HSPs and that is something that we have to accept.

We can improve our social life if we reserve our serious social investments to those where our values are compatible.

When Do We Start To Please?

The need to please will surface when we are trying to fit in with a group that is different from us where we would like to have some social standing. It could be a work environment or family group. Whatever the situation, pleasing comes from thinking that the burden of the interpersonal bridge is primarily ours and that unless we make a special effort their may not be a relationship and we may be harmed in some way.

In these situations being ourselves is something we think will harm us or cause us to be rejected. We have to be someone else in order to survive socially.

Overcoming The Need To Please

The need to please is above and beyond doing one’s part in a relationship. The need to please is a function of being made inferior in some way. It is an outcome of trying to survive in a social structure where you are disfavored. It is a way of trying to cover up your differentness so that you can acquire needed resources. Pleasing is a social strategy of minorities and social outsiders throughout history.

So what can you do?

Here are some questions to ask about how you are living to see if you can make some changes that will provide you with more social safety:

  • what relationships do I have where I feel a need to please?
  • in what way am I dependent on others for supplies (of any kind) that causes me to be in relationships where I need to please?
  • what changes can I make to reduce my needs so that I have fewer relationships that require unnatural pleasing?
  • if I cannot reduce my needs can I find alternatives that are more supportive of my self respect?
  • can I create what I need?
  • can you ask for more of what you need from relationships that are one-sided to make them feel more mutual?

Sometimes a little strategy can make all the difference in helping us rebalance our relationships and make them more mutual.


  1. says

    This is such an important point. From the perspective of art and creativity it’s one that really needs grappling with for the HSP. Because it has an impact on output and the way that we approach our work. We can begin to sabotage either the work itself (ie, water it down, try to be all things to all people), or we can hide it from public view once we’ve done it if we think there will be people who wont like it. The problem is, you can’t be all things to all people and if we are to make meaningful work that makes a difference then we need to accept that we can not aim to please everyone.

    • says

      Hi Andy,

      Thanks for stopping by. You are right about how we can sabotage ourselves as artists because of pleasing. I have a few paintings stored in my home, myself! It is not easy to get beyond but I find that it helps me to not turn everything into a matter of life and death.

      All the best,

  2. Annys says

    Thank you for an eye-opening blog, Maria. I hadn’t realised how strongly this operates in my life. I was brought up with stories like Cinderella, where all you have to do is be nice to the flowers and the birds, and maybe cry a bit, and your fairy godmother would appear and give you all your dreams – there are some excellent children’s stories now that talk about finding your own strength and exploring options. I would say that with some people, at least, we start to please very early, so we need to do some deeper work? But your list of questions has given me a lot to consider. Many thanks again.

    • says

      Hi Annys,

      Thanks for writing! I am glad that you are enjoying the blog. We are taught to please as a way to get us to conform and actually become subservient. I read some research that says that people often learn best through imitation, so when we are pleasing it is often a way to naturally learn. Unfortunately what we are learning may not always be helpful especially if we are being taught to give up our power. I hope you keep growing and learning and keep taking back more of yourself. Good luck!


  3. B says

    In the moments I catch myself where I try to please others, I’ve learned that I’m placing my happiness outside of myself then ultimately the situation collapses on itself.

    Thank you for the share. Great insights!

  4. Joey says

    A very valid connection to survival especially considering the situations people can find themselves. This please cycle wreaks of shame and learning based addiction.

  5. says

    Lived most of my life until more recently this issue being illuminated…now if something is disagreeable to me or I feel it is not serving me, supporting me or going to increase my self love etc. I avoid, close off, make an excuse and am more conscious of myself so I stop myself more often than not.

    It’s ok not to be agreeable, it’s ok to say no, remember people have probably been this way toward us in the past and this is why we have developed the need to please to begin with in order to try to bring us the needs we so desperately wished to be met but weren’t…learning to assert the self is challenging but worth learning…incremental progress will get us there…x

    • says

      Hi Susie,

      It’s great that you are standing up for yourself. It is a challenge since conforming to other’s expectations is expected. We had to put up with what we could get when we were young even if our needs were not being met, so pleasing was a way of trying to stack the deck to get our needs met.

      All the best,

  6. Kristin Parkes says

    The biggest help is being aware of our feelings, which we HSPs are so complicated on the inside. Not just the awareness but it helps to know I’m not over sensitive because that implies I can change it or it was a choice. I do aim to please,even to the point where I don’t want people to worry about me so I become quiet or private. I am trying to find the balance…

    • says

      Hi Kristin,

      It is hard to find the balance because we come at the world from a different perspective. The world often wants us to go along and thta does not always work particularly if we are honest with ourselves. I think it is great that you care about being a burden to others. That is very gracious of you. I hope you are appreciated.

      All the best,

  7. says

    Wonderful points about being true to one’s own spirit. I have learned that when healthy boundaries and safe zones are in place, communication and sharing become free flowing and neither party needs to ingratiate or bow falsely to another. In safe zones of communication, differences of opinion and agreement facilitate a joyful experience for both parties.

  8. says

    Great article, I’d like to add that upbringing has influence in a way as well. When I was a child I was very shy, when growing up and becoming a teenager and in adolescence I still was. It wasn’t until my first child was born that the feeling of ‘have-to-please’ and of course other life experiences turned for the best. The only ones I wanted to please was my own family, up to a healthy level though.
    We have to stand up for our own values and stick to our guns. It is a false kind of safe feeling that when you please others they will like you … well don’t think so!
    Healthy boundaries, stand up for yourself, think for yourself, and take care of you (and family).
    I rather turn pleasing into caring, however be smart about this one as well.
    Again thanks for sharing your article ..

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