People Pleasing & Poly: Resentment and Broken Promises

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“I’m a people pleaser,” they say. “I can’t help myself. When I see someone wants something, I have to give it to them. I need to make people happy.” And it sounds like a good thing, at least on the surface. What could possibly be wrong with people pleasing?

Plenty, it turns out.

Focusing solely on pleasing others leaves your own needs unmet.

People pleasers are conflict averse and afraid of troubling others.  Because of these qualities, they often don’t ask for help when they need it.

And forget about self-care. They spend so much of their time and attention catering to other’s needs that their own go ignored.

All of this can contribute to a growing resentment. This resentment builds silently with no one — not even the people pleaser –realizing it’s even happening until it’s too late.

One day they suddenly snap, boiling without any advance warning that they were even the slightest bit upset.

People pleasing is the fast track to broken promises.

Because they have an incredibly difficult time saying “no” to people, people pleasers lack the ability to set healthy boundaries. They quickly become overextended. Committed to more than they can possibly fulfill, people pleasers are forced to break promises they never should have made in the first place.

They say that you can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

And it’s not only that you can’t. You shouldn’t try to please all of the people all of the time.

If a person’s expectations are unreasonable, disappointing them is not only okay, it’s the APPROPRIATE response.

The opposite is also true. Meeting those unreasonable expectations? Could very well be utterly inappropriate.


When I entered into polyamorous relationships and especially once I became a busy hinge, I found that my former way of relating in romantic relationships (people pleasing to the point of emotional martyrdom) no longer worked with multiple people in the picture.

When Partner A wanted something, and Partner B wanted something that directly opposed that, I was forced to consider what wanted. I had to learn to advocate for my preferences, even when they weren’t universally popular. To discuss, negotiate, and compromise. And occasionally to go against the grain and decide to do something that only wanted.

I became my own primary.


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  1. Yep. I am a serious people please and it is really causing problems with my relationship. Yes I know the pitfalls from therapy but (1) it seems like habit ingrained, how do I break out (2) Overtime people have gotten used to and come to expect my pleasing behavior breaking our of this is proving to be very horrible and hurtful.

  2. Hi Guido,

    You’re right – it takes a long time and a lot of effort to change habits.

    And point #2 is a killer. When people pleasers reach their breaking point, they are typically surrounded by people who are used to them saying yes to everything.

    The downside is that you are going to hurt some people and lose some friends as you start asserting yourself. The thing is though? You’re still saying yes to some people. Just saying no to people who don’t deserve it.

    The thing about yes and no is that they’re more linked than you would expect. Yes = no. No = yes. What I mean by that is that when we say yes to one thing, we’re saying no to something else (there’s simply not enough time or energy to say yes to everything and everyone – and still say yes to yourself).

    How do you sort out who to say yes to and who to say no to? What you’re going to have to do is set some boundaries with people and see how they respond. People who respect your boundaries? Are generally more worth your time than people who aren’t.

    I used to worry that if I said no to people that I’d be alone — but I find the opposite to be the case. And the people who surround me? Are better to me.

    The Boundary Setting 101 section of this post has some good info:

    I would also recommend the piece “Just Say No to Boundary Campaigns.” It addresses your exact situation — been a people pleaser for years, surrounded by people used to it. What to do? Here’s the link to that one:

    Read that post for more details, but briefly, you start by setting one boundary at a time with people as things come up, and you practice. Just like you didn’t become a people pleaser overnight, you won’t un-become one.

    Hope that helps.


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