Katie Parker On How to Recover From Being a People Pleaser

An Interview With Brooke Young & Yitzi Weiner

Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine

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FOCUS ON SELF-CARE. People pleasers often feel selfish or guilty when they are focused on themselves. However, I assure you that it is essential to regularly take time to decompress, recharge and relax. Make taking care of your physical and mental health a priority. Get optimal sleep and nutrition. Address any issues with a professional before they get out of hand. Evidence-based practices such as Mindfulness techniques like yoga, deep breathing exercises, and meditation can help you to de-stress. Engage in activities and hobbies that you enjoy…have fun!

In today’s society, the tendency to prioritize others’ needs and expectations over one’s own can lead to significant emotional and psychological challenges. In this series, we would like to explore the complex dynamics of people-pleasing behavior and its impact on individual well-being and relationships. We would like to discuss the root causes of people-pleasing behavior, its effects on personal and professional life, and practical steps for cultivating healthier relationships and self-esteem. We hope that this series can provide insights, strategies, and real-life experiences that can help individuals navigate and overcome the pitfalls of being a people pleaser. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Parker MA, LPC.

Katie Parker is a licensed professional counselor in Oakland County, Michigan with a mental health career spanning nearly two decades. She has experience working in a variety of clinical settings in various roles ranging from collaborating on a crisis team, training fellow therapists to currently providing outpatient therapy in her private practice Katie Parker Counseling PLLC . This diverse background has allowed her to gain experience in working with individuals of all ages dealing with mental health concerns ranging from mild issues to severe mental illness.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up as a Generation X kid in the suburbs of Metro-Detroit spending time outdoors playing with neighborhood friends and riding bikes. My childhood was life before internet and smartphones. I sound like a cliché. “It was a simpler time.” Haha, it was, and I loved it!

Can you tell us a bit about what you do professionally, and what brought you to this specific career path?

Sure! I’m an outpatient therapist currently working with adults and young adults. My areas of specialization include anxiety (especially social anxiety), depression, and overcoming significant life challenges. My therapeutic approach is grounded in evidence-based methods, which means I prefer using techniques that have been extensively researched and scientifically proven to be effective.

While learning positive coping skills and talking through problems are still crucial aspects of my practice, I also incorporate research-based methods such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Mindfulness techniques and provide psycho-education. Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work in different clinical environments including private practice, group practices, and at a community mental health agency.

My path to the field of mental health was not planned. After earning my bachelor’s degree, I actually started in the music industry and set out on a career in Marketing. I interned at RCA and then was hired on permanently for my first professional position at Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG.) After 7 glorious years of rock and roll, BMG merged with SONY music and I experienced my first taste of painful workplace rejection when I was eventually laid off by the newly formed SONY BMG. The music industry was changing due to streaming services and piracy and my role became redundant.

I had a longing to contribute something meaningful to society and I had already begun to mentor in a program for at risk youth as a way to try and fill that need. After my lay off, instead of seeking another marketing position, my then roommate helped me get hired at a Community Mental Health Agency where she was working. The work was fascinating and I loved it! My employer offered a matching program for graduate school tuition credit which encouraged me to complete my master’s degree and started me on the career change path leading to where I am today.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about People Pleasing. To make sure that we are all on the same page, let’s begin with a simple definition. What does “People Pleaser” mean to you?

To me, a “People Pleaser” is someone who does things for others in seeking validation, approval or to be liked by others. It is an innate human desire to want to be liked. Being a people pleaser, however, takes it to another level and to a place where the needs of others can often be prioritized over your own. It can look like having difficulty saying no, being overly apologetic, excessively worrying what others will think, going to great lengths to avoid conflict, or doing for others at a personal cost.

On the surface, it seems like being a person who wants to please others is a good thing. Can you help articulate a few of the challenges that come with being a people pleaser?

While the intentions behind people pleasing may be genuine, constantly prioritizing others over yourself can have detrimental effects on the quality of relationships, emotional and physical well-being, self-respect and potentially use up valuable resources such as finances or time.

Does being a people pleaser give you certain advantages? Can you explain?

If you are a people-pleaser, you are generally well-liked by others due to your willingness to go the extra mile and make other’s lives easier. Others appreciate having you around because you are eager to lend a helping hand and make yourself readily available.

Advantages can also include favorable attributes such as strong interpersonal skills, being an attentive listener, and being genuinely interested in the welfare of others. You may be adept at diffusing tense situations, resolving and avoiding conflict and you can be a useful buffer in toxic dynamics. Having a high degree of empathy allows you to offer comfort when others are going through challenging times, making you a reliable and favorite go-to support person.

Can you describe a moment in your life when you realized that your own people-pleasing behavior was more harmful than helpful?

Not so much a single moment, however, as I have taken on more roles including wife, mother, professional, etc. it has become increasingly clear that I am unable to give my undivided attention to every person and task simultaneously. This was not always the case. There was a time in my life when I attempted to do it all and to everyone else’s satisfaction. I did not want to let anyone down. Trying to be perfect and make everyone happy only led to burnout and frustration. I was neglecting my own needs! By establishing boundaries, setting realistic expectations and prioritizing self-care, I have found a healthier approach to managing my responsibilities.

In your opinion, what are the common root causes of people-pleasing behavior?

In my therapy practice, I often see people-pleasing behavior from those struggling with social anxiety. Due to extreme fear of negative judgement from others, the need to be accepted and liked can create a vicious cycle of overly attentive and validation seeking behavior which in turn increases intense anxiety due to worry of embarrassment, humiliation, or creating faux pas, etc.

Other common causes of people-pleasing behavior are fear of abandonment, poor self-concept, fear of rejection, social and cultural expectations and personal attachment style stemming from childhood abuse or neglect.

How does people-pleasing behavior impact personal relationships?

Personal relationships can be negatively affected by people-pleasing behavior in a multitude of ways. There becomes an imbalance of power in relationships: dominance and passiveness. In this dynamic it is hard to maintain the status of equals and ultimately as a people-pleaser, you will end up adjusting or ignoring personal aspects of yourself to better accommodate the other individual.

By constantly putting others needs above your own, you are inadvertently sending the message that your own needs are less important. This can lead to a loss of respect from others, as they may perceive you as weak or lacking in self-worth. Meanwhile, by always prioritizing the needs of others, you can have feelings of resentment and generally feel let down by others due to lack of reciprocation or appreciation.

People pleasers often struggle with setting and maintaining healthy boundaries, especially those struggling with social anxiety. It may feel more comfortable to avoid conflict and easier to give in then to say no, even when others may be obviously taking advantage of your willingness to always say yes.

Constantly seeking validation and approval from others can be emotionally draining for everyone involved in a personal relationship. Also, you may become overly dependent on external validation, making it challenging to be authentic, decisive or confident. This can make it difficult to have a genuine emotional connection and for an interpersonal relationship to organically grow.

How does people-pleasing behavior impact professional relationships?

Being a gold star employee is often seen as a badge of honor in the workplace. It shows dedication, hard work, and a willingness to go above and beyond. However, constantly seeking that gold star can have its downside. While it may make you the ideal employee, it can also lead to employers taking advantage of your willingness to go the extra mile.

It’s a sad reality, however, many businesses are known for asking employees to work unreasonable hours and take on an overwhelming workload. They see the gold star employees as the ones who will always say yes, and therefore pile on the work. And while it may seem like a good thing to be the go-to person, it can quickly become overwhelming and lead to burnout.

Those struggling with social anxiety often need the recognition, praise and approval from those in authority positions. Seeking that gold star can lead to a never-ending cycle of stress and perfectionism. This level of pressure, worry about making mistakes, and constantly trying to prove yourself can be exhausting and detrimental to mental health.

How can long-term people-pleasing behavior impact an individual’s mental health?

Issues such as self-neglect, low self-esteem, anxiety, acute stress, and depression are just a few of the possible consequences of long-term people pleasing behavior on mental health. It has the potential to trigger symptoms from past trauma, feed into a cycle of emotional abuse and cause self-loathing.

For those struggling with challenges such as social anxiety, excessive worry about others not liking you or criticizing you can drive you to isolate, withdraw or conversely, bend over backwards to try and earn their favor. In general, being a people pleaser can have the effect of making you feel emotionally disconnected or used by others.

In your experience, what is the role of self-awareness in overcoming people-pleasing tendencies, and how can individuals cultivate it?

I have been taught that self-awareness and insight into behavior is the key to change. People-pleasing may be a conscious or an unconscious behavior. Since motivation to change is a known determining factor to successful therapeutic outcome, it would reason that you would need to agree that there is problematic behavior that needs to be addressed.

It is for this reason that I prefer to use an eclectic and psychodynamic approach to therapy. Psychoeducation helps to build insight and self-awareness. Processing emotion, narrative telling and talking lends to gaining perspective and cathartic release. In therapy you learn positive coping skills and techniques that you can apply once you better understand maladaptive ways you have been coping through people-pleasing. The evidence-based practices such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), for instance, can help you identify errors in thinking so you can and challenge and replace with more realistic and positive thoughts therefore restructuring your cognitive pathways.

Based on your experience or research, what are the “Five Strategies Or Techniques That Can Help Individuals Break Free From The Cycle Of People-Pleasing”?

1 . ESTABLISH HEALTHY BOUNDARIES. Define what is and what is not acceptable in your relationships and interactions with others. Take some time to reflect on your own needs, wants and values. What are your non-negotiables? What lines shouldn’t be crossed? Having a better understanding of your own priorities will help you establish healthy boundaries and set limits when necessary.

Be assertive and communicate your boundaries without feeling guilty or apologizing excessively. Practice saying no. Saying no can be challenging, especially if you’re always used to saying yes. You can first role-play with a therapist or practice with yourself in the mirror to help workout how you would handle pushback.

2 . USE DIRECT, HONEST AND ASSERTIVE COMMUNICATION. Use assertive communication to clearly, respectfully and confidently express your wishes to others. Once you identify personal wants, needs, and values determine if they are being met. You can measure your actions and behavior by asking, will this help me achieve my goals, desires, hopes and dreams? By expressing your needs assertively, you have more likelihood of others understanding and respecting your wishes. Other styles of communication such as passive or passive aggressive styles will only lead to mixed signals, feeling invalidated and feelings of resentment.

3 . FOCUS ON SELF-CARE. People pleasers often feel selfish or guilty when they are focused on themselves. However, I assure you that it is essential to regularly take time to decompress, recharge and relax. Make taking care of your physical and mental health a priority. Get optimal sleep and nutrition. Address any issues with a professional before they get out of hand. Evidence-based practices such as Mindfulness techniques like yoga, deep breathing exercises, and meditation can help you to de-stress. Engage in activities and hobbies that you enjoy…have fun!

4 . WORK ON IMPROVING SELF CONCEPT. Be your own hypeman and use affirmations to build self-esteem. Start to validate yourself which can help alleviate the need for approval from others. Recognize your efforts and give yourself credit for hard work and accomplishments. Often, people-pleasers have a tendency to engage in distorted thinking patterns that contribute to their need for external validation. Working with a therapist can help you to identify errors in thinking and learn how to replace those thoughts through cognitive restructuring methods like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT).

5 . GET SUPPORT. By talking with a licensed therapist, you will gain a collaborative partner guiding you toward self-improvement. People-pleasing behavior may be a symptom of an underlying issue and can lead to depression or anxiety. If you are struggling with people-pleasing behavior or any troubling symptoms, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional who can correctly diagnose and create an effective treatment plan to help lead you to lasting change.

What steps should people pleasers take to establish healthier boundaries?

As I stated earlier, saying no may take some practice and rehearsal. First, identify your own needs and see that they are met before meeting the needs of others. Ask do I have the time, money, or emotional resources to spend on that right now?

Then, use honest, direct and assertive communication to state a need, boundary or limit. Understand that just because you express yourself in an assertive and direct way, does not necessarily mean someone will respect your wishes.

Finally, stick to your guns. Once you establish a boundary or limit, be prepared to enforce it. Inconsistent enforcement of boundaries sends the message that with a little pushing your boundary can be crossed. Speaking with a therapist can help you overcome barriers to setting limits as well as help you manage any emotional discomfort that may come from setting healthy boundaries.

How can someone who is naturally empathetic maintain their compassion while becoming more assertive?

Setting boundaries and limits does not mean shutting people out or cutting them out completely. There does not have to be an all or nothing approach to maintaining the balance between meeting your own needs and caring for others. Being assertive can look like simply using a direct, honest and open communication to express yourself.

Taking time for introspection and assessing your own wants and needs is an importance for all people and something that may not occur naturally for people-pleasers who are typically outwardly focused on others. I am sure you have heard the flight attendant safety briefing analogy of making sure you put on your own oxygen mask to breathe before attending to your neighbor? Checking in with yourself, prioritizing self-care, asking for help and maintaining boundaries as needed, are all ways to keep a healthy balance by allowing you to have empathy for others without it taking a personal toll.

What are the most common misconceptions about people pleasers, and how do these misconceptions affect their journey toward recovery?

One common misconception is that they are not capable of saying no. We have identified that people pleasing behavior can stem from poor self-concept and therefore you might have the belief that you cannot change. A distorted or maladaptive view of reality can keep you from taking the steps to initiate change. A therapist can use evidence-based interventions to help, gain insight, correct errors in thinking and encourage self-empowerment.

Another misconception is that they are weak. Actually, the opposite is true. It takes strength to be a detail-oriented perfectionist carefully looking out for others while you are struggling. Similarly, seeking therapy is not a sign of weakness, instead it speaks to self-awareness and a desire for personal growth.

It is sometimes perceived that as a people pleaser you are happy to go above and beyond. That you do it because you derive great joy from pleasing others. However, the truth is the behavior can typically stem from a maladaptive motive such as a longing for acceptance, conflict avoidance or a learned coping mechanism developed from your needs not being met in childhood, etc.

What role can therapy or counseling play in helping individuals overcome people-pleasing behavior?

Therapy can help you gain insight and self-awareness into possible underlying sources and causes of your behavior. Therapy gives you a non-judgmental and safe place to process emotions and discuss the impact of the behavior, how it has affected your life and relationships. A therapist will provide psychoeducation to help you learn more about the relationship between the behavior and you brain and body systems, as well as teach valuable coping skills, strategies and techniques. Therapy can help keep the behavior from exacerbating into a larger issue and help implement lasting positive change.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Inspired by the annual “Celebration of Kindness” week at my child’s elementary school, I would start a kindness challenge hoping to create a ripple effect of empathy and paying it forward. In today’s world it feels like even the smallest kindnesses can make a significant impact in someone’s day.

Incidentally, a simple act of anonymous kindness or paying it forward without expectation of validation or recognition would be a wonderful exercise for a recovered people-pleaser ;)

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can stop by and visit my website at https://katieparkercounseling.com

About the Interviewers:

Brooke Young is a multipassionate publicist, public speaking mentor, and communication consulting. She works with a wide range of clients across the globe, and across a diverse range of industries, to help them create, develop, and promote powerful messages through heart-centered storytelling. She has formerly worked On-Air with FOX Sports, competed in the Miss America Organization, and is the Author of a Children’s Book. She frequently works with children as a professional speaker where she educates on Volunteering and Therapy Dogs. She has over a decade of professional performing background and finds joy in sparking creative passions for her clients.

Yitzi Weiner is a journalist, author, and the founder of Authority Magazine, one of Medium’s largest publications. Authority Magazine is devoted to sharing in depth “thought leadership interview series” featuring people who are authorities in Business, Tech, Entertainment, Wellness, and Social Impact.

At Authority Magazine, Yitzi has conducted or coordinated thousands of empowering interviews with prominent Authorities like Shaquille O’Neal, Peyton Manning, Floyd Mayweather, Paris Hilton, Baron Davis, Jewel, Flo Rida, Kelly Rowland, Kerry Washington, Bobbi Brown, Daymond John, Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec, Alicia Silverstone, Lindsay Lohan, Cal Ripkin Jr., David Wells, Jillian Michaels, Jenny Craig, John Sculley, Matt Sorum, Derek Hough, Mika Brzezinski, Blac Chyna, Perez Hilton, Joseph Abboud, Rachel Hollis, Daniel Pink, and Kevin Harrington

Yitzi is also the CEO of Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator which helps business leaders to become known as an authority in their field, by interviewing prominent CEOs, writing a daily syndicated column, writing a book, booking high level leaders on their podcast, and attending exclusive events.

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Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator