Emma* would describe herself as having a strong maternal instinct and she has always seen her role as the one that is there for others and she just wants others to be happy. When a family member or a friend is in need, she is there to support them. She feels deep down that if she didn’t help a person in need, no-one else would. Emma has even taken this role at work and she is known as the one in the office who is always there to help others and organise something if needed. She is finding it difficult to set boundaries with people and she is often caught in people-pleasing without noticing it herself. 

Recently Emma has been experiencing a lot of anxiety in her life and she feels exhausted. She struggles to say no to people when they ask for her help and feels guilty. Most of the time she enjoys helping others at times she feels recently when in that rare occasion she asks for something from certain people they are too busy and Emma has started to feel disappointed in her relationships. 

James is a family man. He is reliable and people can always rely on him to do his best to save the day when things go wrong. James likes to see himself as the good guy who helps others to the point of feeling frustrated when people don’t show their appreciation and he feels exhausted by trying to do it all.

Sometimes James gets angry and he feels deeply ashamed of his feelings and withdraws into his shell. In fact, he is withdrawing more and more from social interactions as he feels that others are always wanting something from him. James feels that people set many expectations on him, but rather than checking this he is trying to guess what others think and acts based on his assumptions. This cycle is making him feel low too.

Even in his relationship with his wife, James rather says “yes” than rocks the boat and says “no”, when deep down he would like to say “no”. He hates confrontation as he worries that his wife rejects him if he was ever to say “no” to her. What James doesn’t know is that his wife is getting increasingly irritated by his inability assert himself even if this suits her for the time being and she is testing how far he will go with saying “yes”.

Are you the person in your circle of friends and family whom everyone else turns to but perhaps you don’t get as much support or you may feel that you can handle things on your own? Perhaps you look after children, unwell family members or offer support to anyone in need. Do you at times feel used and resentful as people are not responding to you as you hoped?

I see people pleasing and always agreeing to help other people a lot in my clinical work. Often it leaves the person feeling unappreciated, anxious and even depressed because they are struggling to get their own needs met whilst everyone else is always the priority. Hence, I wanted to write this post to help you to start thinking about your needs and setting boundaries in your everyday life. I’m aware even reading this “getting your needs met” may bring up feelings for you.

How to stop people pleasing and set boundaries?

“We are all equal. Your time & needs are as important as someone else’s. You have the right to say “no”

  • Stop and pause for a moment – Next time when someone asks you for help or you have a strong urge to do something for another person take even a 5-second pause until you agree to something or offer to help another person. Then reflect on how will this impact on you – how will you feel if you do this or don’t do this? As Brene Brown says just think to yourself “is this ok with me or is this not ok with me”. Do I have the resources to do this and feel good afterward?
  • Practice saying “no” in front of a mirror – Practice saying out loud “No” in different ways, using different tones of voice or volume. If your mother tongue is not English, practice saying “no” in your mother tongue and pay attention to how it feels in your body.
  • Don’t give too lengthy explanations – Be straight to the point. If you go into explaining yourself in detail, you may talk yourself out of saying “no”.
  • When you want to raise an issue with someone, use “I-language” – ”I feel X, when Y happens”. People are likely to listen to you when you speak honestly about your experience.
  • Test yourself with people. Start with people who you feel easiest to say “no” to. You will notice that with practice and experience, this will become easier.
  • Be aware that some people may react to you responding differently, but remember you are modelling taking care of your needs.


I hope you found it useful to start thinking about how you relate to other people and whether you engage in people pleasing. If you want to continue working on this setting boundaries and stopping people pleasing, I have included further reflection points on a worksheet which can found in the Resource Library. You can also find a worksheet on understanding your needs in the Resource Library.

If you are looking to have support with setting boundaries in your relationships with other people. Please take a look at my Services page.

* Case examples are not any actual past or present clients but a combination of stories I have heard over the years.