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Unveiling the Connection: Why Highly Sensitive Women (HSP) Tend to Be People-Pleasers

This blog post delves into the tricky relationship between being a highly sensitive person (HSP) and the tendency to be a people-pleaser.

Chocolate cupcake - Caption: you can't please everyone, you're not chocolate

Are you an HSP who goes above and beyond to ensure everyone around you is happy and content? It's one of the most common issues I hear from my clients.

The HSP People-Pleaser Connection

People-pleasing and being highly sensitive can feel like they go hand-in-hand. Whether it is because we are empathic and don't want to feel the unhappy vibes of others or just can't handle having someone upset with us, it can be debilitating.

For starters, why do we even do it?


One big reason we tend to people-please is because we want to be accepted and liked.

I mean, who doesn't want to fit in, right? But for HSPs, the idea of being rejected or left out really, really hurts. Especially if we also have ADHD and experience rejection sensitivity.

Sometimes the rejection can hurt physically, not just emotionally. So it makes sense that we're always looking for approval to avoid the pain.


Another part of that connection is that HSPs are uncomfortable with confrontation. Our sensitivity can make us scared of conflict because we know how much we are going to replay the interaction and overthink the whole experience.

To avoid that, we'll go to great lengths to avoid disagreements, even if it means going along with something we don't want to do.


We also feel emotions intensely. That is the "E" in Dr. Elaine Aron's "D.O.E.S." Model:

  • Depth of processing

  • Overstimulation

  • Emotional responsivity/empathy

  • Sensitive to subtleties

When someone gives us positive feedback or thanks us for helping, it gives us a major emotional boost. That boost reinforces our people-pleasing tendencies even more, it can be a hard cycle to break.


When it comes to setting boundaries and saying no, the struggle is real for HSPs. We're scared that if we stand up for ourselves, people will get mad at us, be disappointed in us, or our biggest fear, leave us.

To prevent this we typically ignore our own personal boundaries but that can lead to burn out and resentment down the road.

Monica from the show Friends getting a bad haircut.

Breaking the People-Pleasing Cycle

While people-pleasing may come from a place of genuine kindness, it's important for highly sensitive women to take care of themselves and find a healthy balance. Here are some ways to achieve that:


Being aware of how much you tend to please others is the first step in making a change.

Noticing that twinge in your gut when you are not sure if you genuinely want to say yes to a request or are just doing so to make the other person happy is step two.

Listening to that twinge and acting on it (on your behalf, not theirs) is step three - see Healthy Boundaries below.


It can make it easier to instill boundaries if you look at it as beneficial for both parties.

SCENARIO: Imagine you booked a 30-minute free consult call with me but for some reason you misread the information and thought it was for an hour. If I didn't have good boundaries then I would go past the 30-minute mark for fear of upsetting you by cutting you off.

Imagine I let us go the full hour and after we hang up you realize that it was only supposed to be for 30-minutes. My guess is you would feel bad for "taking advantage" of me because you are the type of person who respects other people's boundaries.

Now you feel uncomfortable and worry that I think you knew our call was only for 30 minutes but didn't care because you were being sneaky and trying to get something for free.

This could all be prevented if I had firm boundaries and wrapped the call up at 30 minutes. By not wanting to offend you and end the call after a half hour, I would have caused us both stress.

Moral of the story: healthy boundaries are not just for you but for everyone involved.

Clearly and confidently communicating your limits can stop you from feeling overwhelmed and resentful. It also prevents the other person from feeling bad if they crossed the line because they never knew the line was there.

Meme about assertiveness


Developing assertiveness skills can empower highly sensitive women to express their needs without feeling icky.

I think we often get assertive and aggressive confused or fear that if we are assertive we will come across as aggressive. BUT, that really shouldn't be our problem.

If we know we were only being assertive (asking for what we need, not demanding it, in a respectful way) but the other person thinks we are aggressive, that is their stuff to work on, not yours.


Taking care of yourself isn't selfish; it's self-preservation. This goes for everyone, but it's especially important for highly sensitive people. Doing things that replenish you is a great way to resist the temptation of constantly trying to make everyone happy.

It is easier to say no to spending four hours at the outlet mall with a Negative Nancy when you have a massage scheduled for that same day!

Don't think of it as taking time away from others, look at it as recharging yourself so you can show up as your best self which benefits everyone. Seeing a theme here?

It's clear that many of us conscientious, overachieving folks have a knack for putting others first.


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