How to use Play & Joy to Stop People Pleasing

This is a BIG one for me and it’s a habit I have that has become SO incredibly obvious during this 40 Days of Play adventure.

I am now officially in “people-pleasing” recovery. I thought I’d “recovered” a few years ago and was much further along on my recovery than I actually am. My 40 Days of Play adventure made me realize that I still have a ways to go.

What is people pleasing?

Before I dive in, let me define “people-pleasing” because doing things to bring others joy, satisfaction, or happiness is not ALL bad. It only becomes a problem when you completely and continually disregard yourself and your own joy, satisfaction, and happiness in order to make sure everyone around you is happy.

And that’s what people pleasers like myself do. We disregard our own joy to make sure others feel happy and satisfied. For me, it’s not a healthy place to live.

I’m also not talking about caregiving here. As a mother of babies, toddlers, or teens, your job is to make sure that the little humans in your care are loved on, fed, and taught to be decent human beings. Or, if you’re the caregiver of an ailing spouse or parent, sometimes your happiness gets sidelined to meet their needs. That’s a totally different situation that’s not people-pleasing even when you continually put their survival needs above your own happiness.

I get it. Changing the umpteenth poopy diaper or getting puked on by a toddler with the flu sucks. But in this case, disregarding your own gag reflex to take care of your kiddo is part of the job.

Putting others first becomes a problem when you give so much to your kids, family, friends, colleagues, and clients that you totally forget yourself and your own joy and happiness.

An article in Psychology Today lists ten behaviors that are signs that you might be a people pleaser. They are:

  1. You pretend to agree with everyone.
  2. You feel responsible for how other people feel.
  3. You apologize often.
  4. You feel burdened by things you have to do.
  5. You can’t say no.
  6. You feel uncomfortable if someone is angry at you.
  7. You act like the people around you.
  8. You need praise to feel good.
  9. You go to great lengths to avoid conflict.
  10. You don’t admit when your feelings are hurt.

Several years ago, when my husband went through a severe health crisis and spent three months in the hospital, I worked really hard on healing my people-pleasing tendencies.

I had zero control over much of my life and because I couldn’t control anything about his health situation, I realized that it was a waste of time to even try. I stopped “shoulding” on myself. As a chronic migraine sufferer, during one of the most stressful times of my life, not a single migraine hit for months.

I let go. I surrendered. I didn’t try to control others, try to make them feel better. Nor, could they do anything to fix my situation. It was an incredible lesson for me.

Then, I started my own business and my people-pleasing tendencies returned, becoming sharp and red and impacting my personal life in a dramatic and negative way. The migraines also returned with a vengeance.

I put clients’ needs before my own and my family’s needs. These people were paying me, right? So even though my contract and my “welcome packet” clearly stated that I didn’t work nights or weekends, I totally worked nights AND weekends for clients. I’d respond to emails right away, do a job on a Sunday afternoon because it was just a “quick task” – anything to make sure they were happy with me.

I couldn’t say no to a client. I hated the idea that a client might be upset with me or my work, so I did everything I could to make sure that never happened. Side note – it did and that was no less than horrifying for me.

This was NOT fun, in any way, but it had become a habit, a super unhealthy and unhappy one.

It wasn’t until just before this 40 days started that I responded to an email on a Saturday night. That client commented that she was really surprised to get a response from me that soon.

I actually asked, “What do you mean?”

She said, “Well, I emailed you on Saturday night because I was thinking about the project, and I didn’t want to forget. I totally didn’t expect a reply until Monday.”

Huh. Really?!? This was all on me. When I started to pay attention, really pay attention, to this pattern in myself as well as to how I was NOT having any fun and playing on a day to day basis, I discovered that I was squashing my own feelings all the time in order to make sure everyone around me was happy and satisfied.

I’d turned into a people pleasing workaholic.

My business highlighted this for me in an extreme way in my work life.

Focusing on play over the past 40 Days of Play challenge highlighted this in my social and personal life.

For example, if I got invited to something and I didn’t really want to go, I’d go anyway because I felt like I should and didn’t want to let somebody else down. I’d do this, despite my realization of how bad I “should” on myself.

I never connected the “shoulding” with people-pleasing, but they go hand in hand. I was doing things all the time and ignoring my own feelings, to make sure that everyone around me was happy and satisfied, especially my clients. Which is craziness – I wasn’t even putting my family first.

And I LOVE my family. I’m married to the BEST man on the planet, and I was putting clients before them OR me. What?!?

All of this people pleasing is both arrogant and ridiculous for two reasons:

One – How arrogant of me to even think that I have control over how another feels.

Two – I honestly don’t want to have control over how someone else feels. That’s WAY too much pressure. And for me that pressure appears as a migraine. Ouch.

I’ve also found that the people-pleasing for my clients really eats into my play time. Because of my total lack of boundaries, I was working nights and weekends because I thought it would make someone else happy. I wasn’t making myself or my family happy, and I also had no idea if I was making my clients happy.

Oh, the ridiculousness of it all.

I’m not saying I no longer work hard to do a good job for my clients. I’m saying that I’ve learned that I must have boundaries. That I can respond in a timely manner during working hours, or tell a client “no” or to give them an additional price if what they want is beyond the scope of our project.

And in terms of my personal life, before the 40 days when I’d say no to something I didn’t want to do, the next thought would be, “But if I don’t do something that some good friend or really great person I like wants me to do, I must be a selfish bitch or a bad person.”

Seriously, I’ve thought that throughout my life…a lot.

The ONLY reason to do something I don’t want to do in order to make somebody happy (which I can’t guarantee or do anyway) is if I’m more concerned about their state of mind and joy than my own.

And the reality is…that’s a total waste of time AND it’s no fun.

This has been one of my biggest realizations during this 40 days of play.

And so, I’ve actually been saying “no” to “fun” activities that actually don’t sound that fun to me. One friend asked me if I was going to an event that she was super excited about. I didn’t go because it just didn’t sound like that much fun to me. She couldn’t wait. She loved the activities that were planned.

I told her “Nope. I’m not going,” and it felt SO good to begin to honor my own feelings and actually feel them, to not even worry about if I was letting the host down by not going. If I’d have gone, I would have spent my time there been thinking that I could be riding my bike or doing something else that I do find fun and honestly, I’d be feeling slightly resentful about a situation I created myself.

So, I said “no” with no guilt and no apology. And you know what? It felt great. I’m getting over the people pleasing thing.

I’m sure it’ll take a bit, but I am officially labeling myself as a recovering people pleaser.

Some Quick Steps to Stop People Pleasing

Here are some things I’ve been doing over these past 40 days to heal my chronic people pleasing problem:

  1. Say No – there is no reason for me to do things with friends that I don’t want to do. Saying “no” does NOT make me a bad person, a selfish person, or a bitch. Ever. It doesn’t mean I don’t like my friends. It means “I don’t feel like doing that.” That’s all. Nor does it mean that I’m letting my clients down because with them the answer is either “No, not now” or “Yes, and here’s what that will cost.”
  2. Set boundaries and stick to them – I have strict boundaries in place in place in my business in terms of when I work. My task now is to abide by those boundaries.
  3. Do your best when it comes to your work and know that that’s all you can do – don’t do it for the praise or the “atta girl.” You can’t control how people will respond. But you CAN control what you provide and how you show up.
  4. Feel into situations and requests before responding– when a friend or client wants me to do something, I pause and feel into it before instantly responding with “of course I can do that.” I feel it in my body. If I’m not sure, I’ll tell them that I’ll get back to them and I can sit with it. I’m not instantly saying “yes” to people and that feels good and empowering.
  5. Do something fun, that brings YOU joy, totally for yourself to break that cycle and habit of putting your own desires last.


What’s so interesting about all of this is that my recovery started with a deep desire to add more fun and joy to my life.

The 40 days of play plan was to ADD joy. I didn’t realize that first, I’d have to create some space for joy and much of that space has come from honoring myself and becoming hyper-aware of my people pleasing whether it’s with clients, friends, or colleagues.

I had to remove all of their needs first.

The best part is that at this stage in my life, as an almost 50-year-old empty nester, I’ve got the space and the self-confidence to figure this shiz out.

And, I love that.

But maybe even better, I’m curing my people pleasing by having fun! By listening to myself, by embracing what brings me joy and doing more of that and doing less of what doesn’t bring me joy.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

When I started this journey, I thought it’d be about getting back to doing some things I love to do. And it definitely has.

I didn’t realize that it would also lead to this level of learning. And I’m so glad it has.


  1. Patti on May 14, 2019 at 12:44 am

    Thought provoking, in a Good way.
    Thank you for sharing your insight with all who wish to enjoy life in a positive & healthy way.
    Your Mil ?

    • Amy Isaman on May 15, 2019 at 3:35 am

      Thanks my one and only and fav Mil. This whole entrepreneurial journey with Gary getting sick and my Dad passing in the middle has definitely impacted my mindset on so many things. Love you!!

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