Musings + Essays

On People-Pleasing.

By: Jen Shoop

I read a quote two or three weeks ago that has sat uncomfortably with me for awhile:

“People-pleasing is an unconscious attempt to control someone’s opinion of you.”

Initially, I bristled at the idea that accommodating someone else’s wants, needs, or preferences was in some way self-serving, or self-aggrandizing. If anything, people-pleasing seems to me akin to self-erasure! I think back on my teenage self and feel my “people-pleasing” instincts were a manifestation of politeness at the expense of backbone, or lack of confidence, or fear of rocking the boat rather than a subtly nefarious desire to control another person. However, I’ve been riding this rodeo too long to know that when something nettles me for weeks on end, there must be something deeper going on. (Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.) I’ve been wondering ever since whether there is some connection between my “people pleasing” tendencies in my teens and early twenties and my discovery earlier this year that I have on many occasions in my life assumed too much responsibility for things outside of my control. Is it all of a thread? Something about owning more than I can, or carrying more than I should?

Tangent: it seems as though there is a spectrum that runs from selfishness to self-care to empathy to people-pleasing. I suppose the ideal spot is, to borrow that quote from my sister that I’ve shared previously: “holding your needs in one hand and the needs of others in another,” i.e., right smack dab in the middle of self-care and empathy.

What do you think? Does this resonate? Have you ever been prone to people-pleasing? How did you move out of it?

P.S. On negotiation as a form of self-advocacy.



+OK, but these under-$40 gingham heels are incredible. Would be sweet with a white dress for a bridal occasion, or a gender reveal (boy!), or newborn shoot, etc. I love mixing patterns at the moment, too — these would look amazing with a blue-and-white print dress.

+Speaking of pattern mixing: this dress with these shoes. Boom goes the dynamite.

+So many of you are loving this brilliant hat-holder for travel!

+OMG – Little English just restocked their classic quilted luggage for littles (which I just mentioned here!) and are offering a monogram on ALL FOUR PIECES of the set for only $1 through this weekend (7/18). The discount appears in cart. A great way to get a tailored and personalized tote at a reasonable price.

+Only a few of these gorgeous dresses left — perfect for a Baptism, bridal luncheon, etc. Reads Oscar de la Renta to me.

+Three great, minimalist, cotton/canvas totes for summer: this Cuyana (looks like Celine to me), this Dagne Dover, and this Paravel (I got the one with blue and red stripes! SO chic — they also just launched a few new colors).

+In case you’re more of a straw tote gal.

+Reformation vibes for under $30.

+And speaking of straw totes, do not miss Pam Munson’s just-launched collab with Julia Amory! I love the Isla Bahia with the “clambake” dress to match (I have this dress in another print and it is perfect everyday wear!)

+Speaking of clambakes, lots of great sealife-inspired finds here. Y’all loved this post!

+And speaking of actual seafood, an indoor shrimp boil you must try.

+These earrings are in my cart. SO CHIC. Would go with everything. And $125!

+More amazing jewelry for under $125 here.

+Minnow just launched a few new colors of their ultra-popular canvas shorts for boys — I love the blue and white stripe! These will sell out quickly.

+My son is in love with these puzzles.

+Have always lusted after these beach umbrellas…sooo chic!

+Maybe the chicest AirPods case I’ve ever seen?

+Trust me, you will never want to take these off.

+Easy breezy everyday dress.

+LOVE these fun mules. Great with white dresses or a fun yellow and white gingham.

+Love a statement collar.

+Has anyone tried Hoka One One running shoes? Chic and I read a few reviews online that, despite the thick sole, they are ultra-light and great for running.

+Some amazing Zimmermann on sale at Outnet: super love these rainbow polka-dots (would work with bump and how cute with RA earrings?!), this embroidered midi, and this bow-shouldered beauty.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

8 thoughts on “On People-Pleasing.

  1. Oooh. Closet people-pleaser over here. I’m musing now that it’s related to another point on your spectrum, which is self-preservation. So often, I “people-please” because I’m aggressively non-confrontational. Would rather preserve myself (by preserving calm waters) than “confront,” i.e., not please. Does that make sense? Hmmm…

    1. Hi Susie – Totally. I do think it is partly out of self-preservation, and not in a pernicious way, either. It’s: “I don’t have the emotional energy to deal with this” or “The emotional stakes are too high” or something along those lines!


  2. WOW to this quote and Joyce’s! I constantly wonder if my people pleasing tendencies are a result of my gender rather than my natural disposition. Recently at work, a male colleague showed me an email he sent to management, which demanded answers regarding his job security and iterated the poor manner in which a transition had been handled. It was clear and to-the-point, if not brusque. Reading it, I bristled, thinking about the ways I would have gracefully danced around the central question – if I were to say anything at all.

    This type of scenario is particularly top of mind as I seem to find myself contending with men in the workforce who demand instead of ask, who direct instead of proffer, who rage rather than repent. I find myself bending to accommodate while attempting to be the cool headed or gracious person in the room – more likely for my own comfort and the painstaking desire to be seen as kind, easy-going, “likable” in the face of uncomfortable outbursts.

    After these encounters I feel wracked with discomfort and anxiety – did I lose important ground for the sake of pleasing or soothing this other adult? Did I play along with their wants and needs for fear of misstating the reasoning behind my own? Did I bend to the will of another just to end an unpleasant encounter?

    I want to find the sweet spot between kindness and backbone. In these efforts, I find the eloquent words of FKA Twiggs in the wake of her exposure of Shia Lebouf’s problematic and abusive conduct poignant – she talked about why victims of abuse are often asked why they stayed silent or failed to leave relationships earlier when the real question is why the person inflicted abuse upon them. Of course, workplace transgressions are hardly comparable to horrific physical and emotional abuse, but I like the idea of placing the responsibility of another person’s inappropriate conduct squarely on their shoulders instead of my own. I seek to let uncomfortable post blow-up silences lapse and to advise the opposing party about why their behavior is making others uncomfortable rather than attempting to mitigate it on the behalf of all parties. Love this topic – it is important food for thought!

    1. Hi Paige — So much of this resonated with me, especially the conundrum of why some people tend to bend to accommodate others, while others barrel straight ahead, advancing their own emotions/agendas/etc with little concern for the reactions of others. Is it personality? Gender? Situational? The way we were raised? Family values? Cultural expectations? Etc. I tend to land where you have, too, aiming to remember that I am not responsible for how others react. Sometimes it is SO hard to sit back quietly without trying to smooth things over, or patch over the awkwardness, but you are not required to be the peacemaker in every situation! Sometimes people need to deal with the fallout of their own actions. Even while I write that, I am shuddering thinking back on awkward or unpleasant situations between others — I always want to play the role of peacemaker!!

      Anyway, just nodding along over here. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  3. I recently heard a similar quote which struck a nerve as I am a huge (recovering?) people pleaser: “Honesty without kindness is cruel. Kindness without honesty is manipulation.”

    I wish I had some grand conclusion but I’m still working through this myself.

    Are you a fan of the enneagram? When you posted about anger vs shame over covid (how you never imagined feeling anger outward, only inward) I immediately thought of enneagram bc I’m pretty obsessed, though I think it gets truly useful only when you get deep into it — including, for example, looking at the shame triad vs anger triad.

    I am a type 2, a member of the shame triad (2,3,4), and I hardly ever feel outward anger, which for a long time I was proud of but I’m coming to realize might be classic repression. 2’s operate with the inner motivation of “I need to be helpful/caring/useful to be loved” and can definitely be huge people pleasers. They are an others-referencing personality type. (My husband and mom are self-referencing types and it’s been interesting to note even how that single difference in our personalities plays out.)

    And! There’s this concept of each of the 9 types having a particular vice they struggle the most with — and for type 2 it is pride. Immediately I rejected it: me? Proud? No way! I am overly self-sacrificing how I could I be proud…. But, much like your quote, the idea kept nagging away at me; there’s definitely truth to it.

    TL;DR: no grand conclusions, just enneagram ramblings 🙂 p.s. congrats on the move!!

    1. Hi Joyce! This is so interesting. I tend to find those personality tests/constructs helpful for giving us a shared/mutual language to discuss differences, especially (!) in the workplace. I remember going through a similar exercise with my team many years ago and it helped several team members better communicate around why some people spoke up / did not and why some people left things to the last minute vs. planned ahead, as examples. Anyway, have not done the enneagram but I am intrigued!


    2. Hi Jen! I do think enneagram is maybe the least-corporatized of the major personality tests. My theory for why is because it is complex and also it focuses less on strengths and more on helping you “confront your junk” (as I heard one coach say). If you’re interested, you could check out a few IG’s — @ninetypesco comes to mind. I took the RHETI test over a year ago when Brene Brown recommended it, but the way I got deeply into it was listening to the podcast “enneagram and coffee” more recently. I haven’t read a full blown enneagram book yet (there are several) but might soon:)

Previous Article

Next Article

Discover more from Magpie by Jen Shoop

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading