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Pitfalls of People-Pleasing: How It Can Harm Your Relationships

In many social interactions, the desire to be liked and accepted by others is a natural inclination. However, when this desire evolves into people-pleasing behavior or codependency, it can have detrimental effects on everyone involved.

As a life coach for entrepreneurs, I want to ensure that you have healthy boundaries for yourself and your articles. In this article, we will explore the five pitfalls of people-pleasing and explain how it can harm your relationships.

Three people sitting on a floor with one holding up a sign.

Five pitfalls of people-pleasing 

Unrealistic expectations

When one person is always willing to overcompensate and overly accommodate the whims of others, slowly, the other person begins to expect that level of behavior as “normal”.

The other partner may begin to assume people-pleasing is normal and should be expected. 

And when that person fails to people-please, the other person grows resentful, leading to a misbalance of power, love and lack of respect.

At the beginning of their dating relationship, my client – Ben (not his real name) – always sent text messages in the morning, noon and night. However, due to an emergency project, he forgot to send a nighttime message to his new girlfriend, Jenna. He turned off his phone to stay focused on meeting the deadline. 

The next day, Ben woke up to not just one text message, but multiple missed calls from Jenna, who was worried that something bad had happened to him. Neither Jen nor Ben had explained their expectations for their communication frequency with each other.

Poor or non-existent boundaries

When there is codependency or people-pleasing, there is no clarity as to where one person ends and the other person begins emotionally. Consequently, there are no or limited emotional boundaries. That means that when one person is sad, the other person feels responsible to “fix” or “control” the situation or the other person. This totally removes any form of personal responsibility from the other person.

Amy (not her real name) grew up in a matriarchal home. Despite her mother instructing her that visitors (including family members) are not welcome on Thursday nights unless it’s an emergency, her mother would still ring the doorbell unexpectedly every four to six weeks with food or some request.

People with poor boundaries don’t care about your rules or preferences unless you enforce them with action. With my guidance, Amy has learned not to answer the door when her mother arrives unexpectedly.

People pleasers have done so a great job of trying to make everyone feel comfortable, they forgot to recognize when they feel uncomfortable.

Lack of respect or concern

A codependent inadvertently teaches family members or friends to not consider the needs of themself. By hyper-focusing on the mood of their other person there is no thought or consideration on the impact the other person’s actions or inaction has on the other person.

If you grew up in a household where there was an emotionally disabled parent or family member, most of the energy was focused on fixing them and nothing else. This is what happened to my client, Glen (not real name).

Glen’s mother is a functioning alcoholic. He has many memories of his hung-over and belligerent mother cursing at him and his siblings when she was upset or irritated. Instead of taking responsibility for managing her own painful feelings, Glen’s mother externalized her pain onto others.

As a result of this dysfunctional dynamic, Glen grew up believing that his mother’s and ex-wife’s mental wellbeing was his responsibility.

Decreased relationship integrity

There is deception or dishonesty from a codependent or people-pleaser. Because the people-pleaser is so hyper focused on making sure the situation “ copacetic,” there is no time for honesty about themselves or how they feel about the relationship. 

Codependents say ‘NO’ when they want to say ‘YES’, or say ‘YES’ when they want to say ‘NO’. They fear telling the truth because they fear losing any form of attention.

Consequently, there is a loss in healthy communication between partners which over time, erodes trust.

Unclear Sexual Preferences

I will never forget how my relationship with Jason, my former fiancé, ended. We came back from a trip to upstate New York, where we had just gotten engaged. However, I felt extremely worried about his past sexual experiences. 

My concern was that he had not resolved his feelings regarding his sexuality. In a tear-filled outburst, I yelled, “Are you gay? Do you still want to have sex with men?” He looked away and simply replied, “No.”

Jason could not look me in the eye and answer my question, and I knew in my heart that despite his denial, he still had an attraction to men, and our relationship would end terribly.

Increased chance for abuse

Abuse (sexual, emotion, financial) runs rampant in codependent relationships. Because the codependent is afraid to “rock the boat,” a person with poor boundaries continues to test the limits of the other person. And because there are no limits, abuse is inevitable.

If you were raised in a performance-oriented family, there is an unspoken rule that you must attain certain things. If these ideas are not challenged, they become part of a destructive life script

In respect of relationships, if you were raised to never complain and be a good boy or girl, the effects are devastating. My client, Maria, dated many verbally and physically abusive men who could not be pacified despite the fact that she paid for luxurious vacations and multiple gifts. 

I recommend the books “A Taste for Pain” by Maria Marcus and “Living with a Passive-Aggressive Man” by Scott Wetzler.

Are you in a codependent or people-pleasing relationships now? If so, we will explore how you can heal and find the peace you need. 

A woman with three different expressions on her face.

How to heal from codependency or people-pleasing? 

Codependents want to fix other people. However, you need to focus on fixing yourself. The best way you can do that is to reclaim the power and heal. 

Here some questions to help you explore the origin of your people-pleasing behavior:

  • Who in my family modeled co-dependent behavior?
  • Why am I afraid to be honest with others?
  • How do I feel if someone seems disappointed with my actions or words?
  • Which relationships have little or inappropriate behavior?

Asking these questions will help you to understand how your codependency tendencies impact your present or past relationships.

What can/should people pleasers do to avoid ruining a relationship? 

Codependents typically were raised in traumatic and abusive homes. As such, it is likely years before a people-pleaser recognize their behavior as problematic. Take the time to understand the root of your trauma or past abuse. It will help to reduce codependent tendencies with others.

The best way to avoid a terrible relationship is to start with you. Investing in personal development courses or working with a coach like myself is a good start. Also, I highly recommend joining the support group Al-Anon or another codependent support group.

Also, allow people the freedom to enjoy the consequences of their behavior. That means if they mess up or fail, let them figure out a way to solve their problems. You don’t have to be their hero for all of their emergencies.

No real intimacy exists when one person shields their discomfort via people-pleasing.

Final Thoughts about People-Pleasing

While seeking to please others is natural to some extent, it is crucial to strike a balance that preserves your own well-being and fosters authentic connections.

Constant people-pleasing can harm relationships by undermining authenticity, creating imbalanced power dynamics, hindering communication, and impeding personal growth.

By prioritizing self-care, assertiveness, and genuine connection, you can establish healthier, more fulfilling relationships built on mutual respect and understanding. Also, consider working with me if you need more support.

Dig deeper: Click here to listen to episode from my podcast about how to build inner confidence and gain clarity or press the play button below.


The information in this article is for informational purposes only. No material in this article or website is to be a substitute for professional medical and/or mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you read from me or anyone else online.

Also, this article is not designed to diagnose or treat you or anyone with a suspected mental health illness. Please, if you need help, seek appropriate help from a lawyer, health care provider or law enforcement officer.