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  • Emily Kohls, LCMHCA, LCASA


If you’re a chronic people pleaser who struggles to set boundaries, this blog post is for you!

Helping clients challenge their people-pleasing tendencies and learn to set effective boundaries is a core element of my work with many of my clients. For many, communicating to others that they’ve been hurt, a boundary has been violated, or something in the relationship needs to change is often really challenging.

It’s natural for people pleasers to sacrifice themselves in prioritizing the needs of others. When taken too far, this moves from selflessness to self-abandonment.

Why is this so prevalent? Why is this such a human struggle? While I don’t have all the answers, I have noticed several through-lines when diving into these issues with clients.

Here’s what I’ve learned –

Universally, we receive a ton of positive reinforcement for being “easygoing,” “flexible,” or “selfless.” What this really means is, when we choose not to disrupt the status quo or when we prioritize others' needs over our own, we get a LOT of praise. Naturally, it is hard to break a habit when it earns us so many compliments and such high esteem from loved ones.

The second commonality I’ve noticed is people pleasers overemphasize peoples’ INTENTIONS in order to excuse their IMPACT, which I am going to unpack in this blog.

I personally blame Hollywood for all the storylines about misunderstood, tortured souls who are said to have great intentions, yet they consistently hurt those around them. If I had a dollar for every movie I’ve seen with this sort of main character, who is magically healed by a chronic people pleaser with their love and selflessness…. I’d be pretty darn wealthy! (Don’t get me wrong, I love a good redemption story – let’s just all keep in mind that it’s much more complex and messy to create real, meaningful change than Hollywood leads us to believe, okay?)

Now let’s break down what intention and impact mean. Intention is the purpose or aim of our behavior – what we imagine the results of our words or actions will be.

Impact is the effect that our words or actions ACTUALLY have on others.

Unfortunately, since we’re not all mind readers, there is often a mismatch in our intentions and our impact. This is normal and expected. The most well-intentioned, kind people will hurt those around them from time to time. Our goal shouldn’t be to never make a mistake, because that’s just inviting shame into your world when you inevitably will or do.

Instead, our goal should be to take accountability and make repair when our intentions and impact are out of alignment. But in order to do that… We must first be made aware of our impact. The people-pleasing voice in your head might be saying “But they didn’t MEAN to hurt my feelings, doesn’t that count for something? Is it worth saying anything if they had good intentions??” While I absolutely agree that it’s important to give grace in our relationships… I also know that if all we do is keep silent and give grace, we eliminate the opportunity for others to recognize their impact, intended or not, and

adjust their behavior.

It’s easy to fall into a cycle of talking yourself out of addressing concerns, because, “Well I’m sure they don’t mean to be hurting my feelings or offending me, so I don’t want them to feel bad.” When we address things, boundaries can be set, and our relationships are strengthened. When we chronically suppress our feelings in the name of good intentions, our relationships will be boundaryless. This means the relationship has no backbone and is likely beginning to fill with resentment.

If someone hurt you, intentions can only go so far to dull that sting. Why should you have to suffer in silence? Communicating our experience to others is an essential building block of healthy relationships. By sharing how someone has impacted you, you give them the chance to take accountability and make repair. This opportunity is a gift to those committed to having healthy relationships.

The next time you find yourself falling into excusing someone’s impact because of their good intentions, ask yourself this: Would I want them to keep my negative impact on them concealed from me to protect my feelings, or give me the opportunity to repair this and trust I can handle it?

If this particular struggle resonated with you, therapy can help in challenging people pleasing tendencies, growing communication skills, and learning to set effective boundaries. Contact Honeybee Psychotherapy to begin this work with Emily by reaching out to get scheduled at:

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