Being a working mom is like juggling multiple full-time jobs at once – you’re managing your career, nurturing your family, maintaining friendships, and attempting to squeeze in some self-care along the way. Amidst this chaotic juggling act, we often fall into the trap of people-pleasing. 

It’s that constant urge to say “yes” when we really want to say “no,” the pressure to meet everyone’s expectations, the need to become a chameleon so that we’ll be well thought of, and the relentless quest to be the superhero in every aspect of our lives.

But I want you to take a minute and ask yourself – what’s the true cost of all this people-pleasing? That’s what we’re going to uncover today.

People pleasing isn’t just a simple behavior; it’s a complex and deeply ingrained habit that can impact every facet of our lives. This behavior often stems from our upbringing, societal pressures, and a sincere desire to be liked and accepted. 

It’s a behavior that can affect our careers, our relationships, and most importantly, our well-being.

I know you’re probably nodding your head because you’ve felt it, too. The desire to keep everyone happy often leaves you feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and like you’re constantly running on an empty tank. 

It’s as if we’re stuck in a never-ending loop of trying to meet everyone’s expectations, leaving little time and energy for ourselves.  Unfortunately, we’re so busy trying to make everyone else happy that we’re making ourselves miserable in the process.

I’ve seen this a lot with my coaching clients lately, so I thought it would be an important topic to revisit.  I had done an episode on people-pleasing a number of years ago, but I think this is a topic worth diving into again.

I like readdressing topics on this podcast because I have different perspectives from my experience coaching accountant moms and from my own life as well.  So whether you’ve been a people-pleaser you’re entire life or you’re noticing situations now that you’re showing signs of people-pleasing, stay tuned.

I have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share that can empower you to make positive changes in your life.

This week I’m going to discuss the roots of people-pleasing and how to break free. 


The roots of people-pleasing


First, let’s start by understanding exactly what people-pleasing is and how it takes root in our lives. The truth is that people-pleasing isn’t just a simple behavior; it’s a complex and deeply ingrained habit that can impact every facet of our lives. 

It’s that tendency to prioritize the needs and desires of others over our own, often to the detriment of our well-being. It manifests as a strong desire to make everyone happy, even if it means sacrificing our own happiness and sanity in the process.

But where does it come from? 

From a young age, we’re often taught that being a good daughter, sister, friend, and later, a good wife and mother, means putting others first. These expectations become deeply ingrained in our psyche, leading us to believe that our self-worth is tied to our ability to meet these expectations.

As a result, we find ourselves saying “yes” when we should say “no” because we fear disappointing others or being perceived as selfish. The need for external validation becomes a driving force, and this is where people-pleasing starts to take hold.

The issue is the impact it has on us as working moms.  Balancing our careers, family life, personal goals, and self-care can be overwhelming on its own. But when you add people-pleasing into the mix, it’s like pouring gasoline on a fire.

This relentless quest to please everyone often leaves us feeling stretched too thin. We find ourselves overcommitted, overwhelmed, and exhausted, all in the name of meeting the expectations of others. 

It can hinder our career progression, disrupt our work-life balance, and significantly impact our mental health.  The pressure to be the perfect employee, the perfect partner, and the perfect parent is a heavy burden to bear. 

And in the process, we often lose sight of the most important person in this equation – ourselves.

If you are prone to people-pleasing in some form or another, I want you to know that it’s normal, and your brain plays a pivotal role in perpetuating the people-pleasing cycle. Neurologically, the act of pleasing others can trigger the release of feel-good hormones, such as dopamine and serotonin, creating a kind of “approval high.” 

It’s like a reward system that reinforces the behavior, making it even more challenging to break free from.  Each time you give in to people-pleasing, your brain rewards you, so you then unknowingly look for ways to get rewarded again and again.

It’s also important to understand that our brains have evolved to be highly attuned to social dynamics.  In other words, we are wired to seek social approval and acceptance because, historically, being part of a group or tribe was essential for survival. 

The primitive part of our brain makes us especially susceptible to people pleasing in our modern, interconnected world.  it’s no wonder it’s so easy to get caught in the people-pleasing trap.

Here are some examples to illustrate how it can manifest in daily life:

Overcommitting at Work: You’re a working mom with a demanding job, but you find it incredibly challenging to say “no” when your boss asks you to take on yet another project, even if your plate is already overflowing. You fear disappointing your superiors or being seen as less dedicated, so you accept the extra workload, often at the expense of your own well-being and family time.

Neglecting Self-Care: You prioritize everyone else’s needs above your own. Your weekends are filled with soccer games, playdates, and family obligations, leaving you with little time for self-care. You feel guilty even considering taking time for yourself because you don’t want to appear selfish.

Overloading Your Schedule: Your social calendar is constantly packed with events and commitments. You say “yes” to every invitation, even when you’re exhausted, because you want to maintain good relationships and not disappoint your friends. This leaves you feeling drained and lacking time for rest and relaxation.

Micromanaging Household Tasks: You feel that no one can take care of the household tasks as well as you can, so you take on the bulk of the responsibilities. You’re hesitant to delegate or ask for help, fearing that it will inconvenience others or result in things not being done to your standards.

Agreeing to Unreasonable Requests: You agree to help out friends or family members with tasks or favors, even when it’s inconvenient for you. For instance, you might agree to babysit at the last minute, rearranging your plans and disrupting your routine because you don’t want to disappoint or let anyone down.

Difficulty Setting Boundaries: You struggle to set clear boundaries with family members, such as extended family, in-laws, or even your own children. For instance, you might allow your in-laws to visit frequently, even if it’s overwhelming, because you don’t want to seem ungrateful or create conflict.

Overextending Financially: You have a hard time saying “no” to financial requests from family or friends, even if it puts a strain on your budget. You might lend money you can’t afford to lose or co-sign loans out of fear that saying “no” will damage your relationships.

Seeking External Validation: You constantly seek validation and approval from others for your choices, whether it’s parenting decisions, career choices, or personal goals. You base your self-worth on the opinions of others, leaving you vulnerable to feeling inadequate or anxious when you perceive disapproval.

Feeling Guilty for Prioritizing Yourself: When you do manage to carve out some time for self-care or pursue your own interests, you feel guilty about it. The guilt stems from the belief that taking time for yourself is selfish and that you should always be focused on others’ needs.

These examples demonstrate how the people-pleasing trap can infiltrate various aspects of our lives, leading to feelings of overwhelm, exhaustion, and a sense of never being able to meet everyone’s expectations. Thankfully, there is a way to break free. 


How to break free


Now that we’ve explored the complexities of people pleasing, let’s shift our focus towards breaking free from this all-too-common trap. The good news is that it’s entirely possible to regain control over your life and start prioritizing your own well-being without compromising your relationships or your role as a working mom.

The first step is setting healthy boundaries.  This is one of the most effective ways to break free from the people-pleasing cycle.

Here’s the thing – boundaries are not walls; they’re guidelines that help you define what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not. Here are some real-life examples:

Work Boundaries: Let’s say you’re constantly staying late at the office because your colleagues expect it, even though it’s impacting your family time. To set a boundary, you could express your willingness to contribute but with limitations. For instance, “I can help with this project, but I need to leave by [specific time] to spend time with my family.”

Social Boundaries: Perhaps you’re often invited to events or parties that you’re not excited about attending, but you feel obligated to say “yes.” You can set a boundary by politely declining and offering an alternative, such as, “I appreciate the invitation, but I won’t be able to make it this time. Let’s plan a lunch date instead when I can give you my full attention.”

Family Boundaries: If your family often expects you to drop everything to accommodate their requests, you can establish boundaries by discussing your needs openly. For example, “I love helping out, but I also need some time for myself. Can we create a schedule that works for everyone?”

The next step is saying “No” with confidence.  Saying “no” is a skill that often requires practice and self-assurance. 

Remember that saying “no” isn’t a rejection of others; it’s a form of self-care. Consider these strategies:

The Grateful No: Express your gratitude for the request and explain why you can’t fulfill it at the moment. For instance, your friend asks you to organize an event, and you can say, “I really appreciate you thinking of me for this, but I have a lot on my plate right now, and I want to ensure I can give it my best.”

The Delayed No: If you’re unsure about an immediate response, give yourself time to evaluate whether the request aligns with your priorities. You can say, “Let me check my schedule and get back to you.”

The third step is prioritizing self-care.  Whether you believe it or not, self-care is not selfish; it’s essential for your physical and mental well-being. 

Allocate time for activities that rejuvenate you, whether it’s reading, taking long walks, or pursuing a hobby. Examples of self-care can include:

Dedicating Quiet Time: Schedule moments of solitude to recharge. It could be as simple as enjoying a cup of tea in silence or taking a bubble bath after the kids are in bed.

Exercise and Movement: Prioritize physical activity that you enjoy, whether it’s yoga, dancing, or going for a jog. Regular exercise can boost your mood and energy levels.

Remember to treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you extend to others. Recognize that it’s okay to make mistakes or prioritize your needs sometimes. 

Self-compassion helps reduce the guilt that often accompanies self-care. For instance, if you choose to rest instead of cleaning the house, remind yourself that it’s a valid choice, and you deserve the break.

It’s also important to surround yourself with a support network of friends, family, or support groups. Share your struggles with trusted individuals who can provide encouragement and guidance. These are people who respect your boundaries and understand the importance of your well-being.

And if you find it particularly challenging to break free from people pleasing, consider seeking the guidance of a therapist, counselor, or coach like me. We can provide you with valuable tools and insights to address the underlying causes of people pleasing and help you develop healthier behaviors.

So let me end this episode by sharing some examples of overcoming people-pleasing:

At Work: You’ve learned to advocate for yourself at work. When your boss asked you to take on yet another project, you calmly explain your current workload and suggest prioritizing tasks to ensure your effectiveness. Your boss appreciates your honesty and helped redistribute the workload more evenly.

In Your Social Life: You’ve taken control of your social calendar. Instead of accepting every invitation, you now choose events that truly matter to you. You discover that by attending fewer gatherings, you can invest more quality time in the friendships that genuinely nourish you.

Within Your Family: You’ve established a weekly “self-care hour.” During this time, you retreat to your favorite reading nook, and your partner takes over the parenting duties. At first, you felt guilty, but now you understand that this break benefits your overall well-being and allows your partner to bond more deeply with the kids.

Financially: You’ve started to prioritize your family’s financial stability. You politely decline lending money to a friend who had a history of not repaying loans. Instead, you offer emotional support and recommend resources that could help them manage their finances more effectively.

Emotionally: You’ve become more open with your feelings and needs. Instead of bottling up frustration when things get overwhelming, you communicate your emotions with your partner and children. This has leads to more open and honest conversations within your family.

Hopefully, you now see that breaking free from the people-pleasing trap is a transformative journey towards self-empowerment and well-being. By setting boundaries, prioritizing self-care, practicing self-compassion, building a support system, and seeking professional help when needed, you can regain control over your life, reduce stress, and nurture healthier relationships. 

Remember, you deserve to live a life that aligns with your values and brings you joy, all while being the incredible working mom that you are.




People pleasing isn’t just a simple behavior; it’s a complex and deeply ingrained habit that can impact every facet of our lives. 

Unfortunately, we’re so busy trying to make everyone else happy that we’re making ourselves miserable in the process.