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ILENE S. COHEN, Ph.D.

“The more you identify with being nice, instead of being real, the more you will
find yourself plagued by nagging doubts, insecurities, and lingering fears.”

–Harriet B. Braiker, Ph.D.

Let’s talk about people-pleasing. If it’s something that comes naturally to you, then
you know it lies at the core of many stress-inducing issues in your life. I see the effects
of people-pleasing everywhere I turn—not surprisingly, in women more than men.
People-pleasing is a serious, sometimes debilitating issue that comes with a diminished
sense of self and many other life-altering consequences.

Maybe you’re starting to wonder if you’re a chronic people-pleaser. Maybe you’re


beginning to think that pleasing behaviors might be contributing to (or the reason for)
your anxiety, health issues, or inability to launch a successful and satisfying career. Or,
perhaps, you’ve determined that you are a people pleaser, but think it isn’t such a big
deal or something you need to change.

No matter where you are in your personal process, this quiz will help you find out
if your people-pleasing behaviors are a major issue in your life, so that you can start
making some important changes! You deserve the freedom to make the best choices
for you, without feeling any guilt at all. It’s your life, after all! If the quiz reveals that you
are a chronic people-pleaser, this e-book will offer you some helpful next steps.

The quiz has 22 True or False questions that will help you assess the severity of
your people-pleasing behaviors. Read each statement and consider how it resonates
with how you feel. Your answers should reflect your personal experience; don’t judge
your responses, just answer authentically as you go. Remember, these are True or False
questions, so mark a T or F for every response.

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Are You a Chronic
People-Pleaser?

1. It is very important for me to be liked by everyone I meet.

2. The needs of others should always come before my own.

3. Engaging in conflict and arguing with others is beneath me.

4. I find myself doing more for others, even feeling used at times, so that people
will like me.

5. I think that conflict is always a bad thing.

6. The need for approval from others comes before how I feel about myself.

7. It’s easier for me to take blame than to tell other people negative feelings I have
towards them.

8. I sometimes feel like pleasing others is an addiction or like a natural urge I can’t
control.

9. I work hard to avoid conflict with people.

10. It’s selfish to put others’ needs ahead of my own, and people will no longer like
me if I think of myself first.

11. Thinking I may have to confront someone makes me feel uneasy, and sometimes
I get physically sick over it.

12. It’s very difficult for me to express myself.

13. I have to make others feel happy, even at my own expense.

14. I have to give all of myself in order to receive love.

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15. I do a lot to try to make others happy, including ignoring my own needs.

16. If I am always nice I will get love, approval and avoid conflict.

17. I should never let people disapprove of my actions.

18. I sometimes feel like love is a transaction, and I’m “buying” my friends by
always doing things for them.

19. I feel guilty if I say “no” to something that is requested of me.

20. I’m very uncomfortable with the thought of someone being upset with me.

21. I think I’m a selfish and bad person if I don’t put others first.

22. Instead of expressing myself, I internalize my feelings.

Scoring Your Answers

So, are you a chronic people-pleaser? To find out, generate your total score by
counting the number of times you marked True for your answer. Then read the section
that corresponds with your score.

●● Score between 16 and 22: If your score falls in this range, you’re a chronic
people-pleaser. Living this way significantly affects your ability to live your own
life and have fulfilling relationships. It’s time to start making changes in your life
so you can take back control of your true self!

●● Score between 10 and 15: If your score falls in this range, your pleasing behaviors
are moderate, but enough to affect your life in a negative way. It’s important
for you to address this pattern of relating to others, because it could become
worse over time.

●● Score between 5 and 9: If you fall in this range, you’re probably maintaining
some good relationships, and your life hasn’t been significantly affected by
pleasing behaviors. You have the strength and resilience to be able to stand

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up for yourself when necessary. But keep in mind that scoring in this range
reveals you still have some people-pleasing tendencies that could create some
downfalls in your life. Keep building on your internal strength in an effort to
bring down your score.

●● Score 4 or less: If your score is in this range, your people-pleasing is mild.


However, it wouldn’t hurt to identify the cycle that does exist in your life, so
that it doesn’t progress. This is a great time to create more self-awareness and
learn some new tools that could spare you trouble down the road.

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My Personal Experience

Now before you get down on yourself about your score, I want to share something
personal with you. When I took this quiz just a few years ago, my score was close to
22. So believe me when I say that I know how hard it is to be a chronic people-pleaser,
never feeling good enough, constantly feeding an impulse to please, finding it hard
to say no to others and yes to your own needs. Growing up, I discovered that I had a
certain automatic way of dealing with stress, which I thought helped guide me through
some tough times. As challenging as things sometimes were, I continued to engage in
the same behavior patterns, thinking I would get the outcome I wanted.

I truly believed that by constantly aiming to please others, I was making everyone—
including myself—happy. As time went on, however, I started to realize that this strategy
wasn’t working very well at all. As my urge to please became overwhelming, my drive to
become my own self grew stronger. I had spent my life constantly giving in and doing
things for other people, negotiating things that should have been non-negotiable in
my relationships. Living as a people-pleaser held me back in many aspects of my life.
I wasn’t able to say no. I felt guilty all the time. I didn’t do things for myself. I let go of
my own dreams. Eventually, I found myself empty, alone, and endlessly exhausted. My
relationships became one-sided; they seemed to work fine for everyone else in my life,
but they were no longer working for me. I started to lose myself in my relationships

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with others and thought that if only I could do a little bit more, I’d feel better about
myself. But this didn’t work. In fact, it had the opposite effect.

For years, I tried to find myself by losing myself in my relationships with others.
Naturally, it didn’t work. I wound up feeling alone and lost, at a complete standstill in
my life. Although I knew the way I was living wasn’t working, I still had a strong urge
to do everything that was asked of me. I didn’t know how to stop it, and parts of me
didn’t want to. The truth is, I was addicted to people-pleasing—or, at least, it felt like I
was. Doing what others wanted and expected from me made me feel euphoric at first;
but after the high wore off, I realized I wasn’t helping anyone. I was only making things
worse. This led me to start resenting the people who continued to make the same
mistakes in their lives, no matter how hard I tried to help them. I thought, if only I can
get better at helping them, they’ll finally make better choices, and I won’t need to do
so much for them anymore.

My family and friends had become so dependent on me to do so much for them


that I couldn’t keep my head above water. At first, I wrongly thought that if other
people in my life would just be less demanding, or if I could just cut out the difficult
people, then my life would be easier and I could be the person I wanted to be. But what
I didn’t realize is that I was drowning in a pool that I—and no one else—had filled with
water.

Constantly falling into the trap of people-pleasing, I eventually started to wonder


if I’d ever get around to accomplishing my own goals. Would I ever find a way to make
others feel happy and appreciated while also tending to my own wants and needs?
Exploring this question marked the first step of my journey. Through my own process
of self-discovery, I went from being a shy girl with little nerve to a self-reliant, self-
confident woman. When I finally got sick and tired of trying to be everyone’s hero, I
changed my mindset and started to champion my own cause. Here I will offer you the
top 4 ways you can start breaking the cycle of people-pleasing, borrowed from my book
When It’s Never About You: The People-Pleaser’s Guide to Reclaiming Your Health,
Happiness and Personal Freedom. I hope it inspires you to make the same changes in
your life—starting today!

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Breaking the
People-Pleasing Cycle Now

1. Becoming Self Aware.


Going through life people-pleasing is
kind of like sleep- walking; it keeps you
disconnected from your true self. It’s easy
for people-pleasers to give others control
of their lives, only to later wonder why
they’re always dissatisfied, depleted, and
surrounded by demanding people. The
only way out of this dilemma is to start
becoming aware of your own internal
world, recognizing that the only person
you can change is yourself. At first,
changing can feel uncomfortable and
impossible. Even if your old behaviors haven’t been working, you’ll naturally fall back
into familiar patterns of pleasing or blaming, since it’s how you’re accustomed to
dealing with things. In order to become more self-aware, start becoming an observer
of your life. When situations arise, take note of your reactions; carefully notice how
you feel, and start questioning how you interpret the events in your life.

The greatest changes begin when we look at ourselves with interest and respect,
instead of judgement and denial. When we invite our thoughts and feelings into
awareness, we have the opportunity to learn from them instead of unconsciously
reacting to them, and we increase our awareness of reality by being willing to encounter
our personal truths. This gives us more of a handle on our instinctive but unhelpful
impulses. It also allows us to make choices that will improve our future, instead of
replaying old, unhelpful behaviors.

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2. Understanding That It Isn’t
Selfish, but Self-Full to Prioritize Yourself.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been believing that it’s selfish to consider
your needs first. Taking your focus off other people and placing it on yourself is
commonly viewed as a selfish thing to do. Realizing that this isn’t the case can be life-
changing. Once I made some necessary adjustments in my life, I started to become
more attuned to my own needs. I was able to change my perspective by re-considering
what it means to be a good, responsible, and helpful person.

The health of your relationships depends on you taking care of your share and
being true to yourself. When you do too much for others, you over-function in your
relationships, which inevitably leads others to under-function and not take responsibility
for themselves. Though your intentions behind people-pleasing may be good, your
pleasing behaviors ultimately hinder the overall wellness of your relationships. Although
it might seem counterintuitive, prioritizing your needs and gaining a strong sense of
self is actually better for your relationships, because it serves to strengthen them. It’s for
this reason that connecting with yourself isn’t selfish; it’s self-full.

3. Learning to let go:


If you’re stuck in the past and can’t let go of things that happened to you, chances
are you’re accepting what your abusers, bullies, or other negative people in your life
believe about you. You’ll remain imprisoned by them, never able to access your full
potential, if you don’t learn to let go. We’ve been told that time heals all wounds. But
time is just time. If you don’t allow yourself to heal and move forward, many years will
pass but your pain will stay the same. The distance between the years doesn’t make
healing happen; you heal by changing your relationship to the past.

Other people’s viewpoints are manifestations of their unresolved issues and anxieties;
they have no bearing on the facts of who you are. Putting others’ opinions above your
own ideas about yourself devalues your worth and makes their word stronger than

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yours. Your ideas, and the way you experience yourself, should take center stage. Try
to let go of whatever’s holding you back from experiencing your self. You’ll probably
realize that you’re not what other people say you are. You’re not your pain, your past,
or your emotions. It’s usually negative ideas about ourselves and hurtful self-talk that
get in the way of who we really want to be. Being able to let go requires a strong sense of
self, which gives you the ability to better govern your need for other people’s approval.

4. Realizing that avoiding


problems doesn’t help you grow:
When problems arise in our lives, we tend to react by immediately trying to get rid of
them and the feelings they bring. We try everything in our power to avoid experiencing
even the slightest discomfort and pain, which fuels our natural urges. When we avoid
our problems or try to get rid of them immediately, we only make things worse for
ourselves in the future. Suffering comes from wishing things were different and believing
that happiness should be a 24-hour state of mind. It comes from refusing to accept the
facts of life and failing to look at our own behaviors. From this perspective, most of
our misery is self-inflicted. We expect the ideal to overcome the actual, and we expect
things or people to be different so we can be happy. One of the tricks to contentment
and self-full living is letting the tough stuff happen and allowing life to be difficult
sometimes—trusting in the process, and self-managing through the storms.

When life gives you a bad situation, instead of jumping to find relief, honor the
struggle and appreciate that it’s a crappy predicament. Nothing gets better by wishing
things were different and wanting your life to be perfect. Looking back, I realize that my
need to please derived from a desire for everything to be perfect and an unwillingness
to see others suffer. I thought if I could just solve all the problems, everything would
be okay. But that’s not how it works. Taking others’ suffering away from them doesn’t
solve anything. It just increases your anxiety and makes other people more dependent
on you, ultimately raising their anxiety as well. People need to learn how to rely on
themselves, and you need to learn that it’s okay to let them do it.

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Staying Consistent and
Making Changes That Last

Okay, there you have it! You now know what you need to do in order to make
yourself a priority, change your life, and finally feel alive. Simple enough, right? I know.
I know. It’s much easier said than done. I’ve been there before, too—and, if I’m being
honest, I still find myself there from time to time. It’s easy for me, in a moment of conflict,
to go straight to old people-pleasing behaviors in order to escape my discomfort. But
here’s the thing. It’s one thing to acquire new information, but quite another to truly
understand it—and it’s something else altogether to actually apply it. True changes
begin when you apply what you’ve learned and stay consistent with the changes you
make. This process of change doesn’t happen by taking some time to read a great e-book;
it comes from applying those changes any time life delivers a difficult (yet marvelous!)
learning opportunity. If you haven’t gotten to the “I totally understand what I need
to do” phase, then I recommend you read my book, When It’s Never About You: The
People-Pleaser’s Guide to Reclaiming Your Health, Happiness and Personal Freedom.
It offers lots of detailed information about how to change the way you think about
pleasing behaviors, what real people have done to change their lives, and what kinds of
activities will allow you to apply your new knowledge and make meaningful changes.

Learning to say yes to yourself and no to others is an ever-evolving process. But


it starts now! This is the time to know your worth and start taking on the project of
becoming your best self. So, what are you waiting for?

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