The Difference Between People Pleasing and Genuine Kindness

by | Jan 23, 2023 | Adulting, Anxiety, Counseling, Highly Sensitive People (HSP), Self-Esteem, Teen therapy

The Difference Between People Pleasing and Genuine Kindness

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At first glance, “people-pleasing” doesn’t seem to be a negative attribute. Caring about other people and their well-being is an important aspect of maintaining healthy relationships.

However, key differences indicate if a gesture or situation is genuine kindness or if there is a deeper root related to people-pleasing motives. Both actions can show understanding and compassion but have different purposes and outcomes. 

Key Differences Between People-Pleasing and Kindness:

Kindness can be defined as a form of self-expression. People-pleasing is fundamentally dependent behavior that can be harmful rather than helpful. It usually starts with the motive of putting others’ needs before your own, which can lead to exhaustion and frustration over time.

Things like perfectionism, anxiety, and low-self esteem can start people-pleasing tendencies. The line between kindness and people-pleasing can get tricky, so here are some examples to differentiate the two.

Kindness may look like…

  • Giving a gift just because.
  • Being a listening ear for someone who needs to talk and needs comfort, and showing trust by keeping what they shared to yourself. 
  • Donating to a cause anonymously.
  • Performing small gestures in public just to make someone’s day.
  • Being there for someone when they need help and not expecting anything in return.
  • Volunteering in your community.
  • Showing genuine compassion to others. 

People-pleasing may sound like…

  • “I will be happy when everyone around me is happy.”
  • “I need validation to feel worthy.”
  • “If I do this, others will like me.”
  • “I don’t want to do this, but they do, so I am saying yes.”
  • Not expressing genuine opinions or emotions, and only expressing what other people want to see.
  • Avoiding conflict at all costs, even when it is needed.
  • Feeling like it is your responsibility to “fix” someone.
  • Only feeling motivated to show kindness when others are watching. 

Negative effects of a people-pleasing mindset:

  • Forming anxiety and stress over trying to please everyone all the time. The reality is you are not responsible for how other people feel and act. You are only responsible for your own actions. 
  • Pent-up frustration when people do not treat you the same or better than how you treated them. With authentic kindness, the motive is to do something nice and not expect anything in return.
  • People-pleasing starts with the desire to be liked, accepted, and validated by others. Your mood shouldn’t be determined by how the people around you act.
  • It can be a hard cycle to break and become exhausting, worrying about everyone first and yourself last. 
  • It can subconsciously start the intention only to do nice things for someone to get a positive reaction, reinforcement, or even validation from a relationship. Sometimes, nothing is done in return, which can lead to some complicated emotions. 
  • Feeling big emotions over little things or incidents. 
  • Becoming fixated on controlling people and situations. 

Some things to remember:

You are worthy the way you are. You are responsible for your own actions and happiness. It is ok to have boundaries with people and stick with them. It is ok to say no! Learning when and how to say no is a great first step in breaking the cycle of people-pleasing. You want to have control over your own feelings and the decisions you make. 

Ok, now what?

How to Break the Cycle of People-Pleasing:

Being honest with not only yourself but with other people about your needs is a great place to start. Instead of feeling like you should be saying yes or have to make a valid excuse, you will feel more in control of your own actions.

The great part of feeling in control of yourself, you will eventually feel more empowered, and it will become easier to say no. Leaving the guilt behind can also help the process, accept your decision and try to move on. The self-love that comes from breaking the people-pleasing cycle is beautiful and liberating.

Set your priorities straight and stick with boundaries, and learn that “no” is not a bad word! 

Tips to Steer Away from People-Pleasing:

  • Make time for yourself! Self-care is important for every individual, find something you enjoy and make time for it. 
  • Start small, it may seem overwhelming, so start by making small assertive changes. Ask for help, express your opinion, and say no to small favors or tasks if unavailable. 
  • Setting goals and priorities are always a good thing! Prioritize tasks or plans for yourself first and then offer to help. 
  • Stick to a plan, if you have a planner or calendar, stick to the plans already established.
  • Keep in mind relationships give AND take to be successful. Assess your relationships, you should also be receiving and not only giving. 
  • You can’t please everyone! People all have different standards and needs, it would be impossible to put the responsibility for everyone’s happiness just to feel accepted. 

To discuss how therapy could help you during this season of your life, please contact me or schedule your free 15 minute consultation.


Cherry, K. (2022, October 12). 8 ways to stop being a people-pleaser. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-stop-being-a-people-pleaser-5184412 

Kate. (2022, December 12). Kindness vs people pleasing – kate strong: Intuitive healing. Kate Strong | Intuitive Healing. https://www.katestrong.com/kindness-vs-people-pleasing/ 

Smith, S. (2021, April 14). People pleasing & the negative side-effects – adventuring with Poseidon Wellness: Spiritual Mentor. Adventuring with Poseidon. https://www.adventuringwithposeidon.com/blog/people-pleasing-negative-side-effects 

Sussex Publishers. (n.d.). The difference between people-pleasing and being kind. Psychology Today.https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/my-side-the-couch/202104/the-difference-between-people-pleasing-and-being-kind

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