Perfectionism and People-Pleasing

Perfectionism and People-Pleasing

Are you finding it challenging to escape the grip of perfectionism or the need to please everyone around you? You’re not alone. Many of us grapple with the weight of these burdensome expectations we place on ourselves or the constant quest for external validation. In therapy, you’ll discover a safe haven where you can explore the roots of perfectionism and people-pleasing, unravel their impact on your life, and, most importantly, learn strategies to break free from these patterns. It’s a journey towards greater self-compassion, healthier boundaries, and the freedom to embrace your authentic self.

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Understanding Perfectionism and People-Pleasing

Understanding Perfectionism and People-Pleasing

Perfectionism and people-pleasing are two common psychological and behavioral patterns that individuals may explore in therapy due to the impact they can have on mental health and overall well-being. They are two distinct but interrelated challenges people face.


Perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by striving for flawlessness and setting unrealistically high standards for oneself. This might manifest as:

  • Fear of Failure: Perfectionists often fear failure or making mistakes, which can lead to anxiety, self-criticism, and procrastination.
  • All-or-Nothing Thinking: Perfectionists tend to think in black-and-white terms, viewing situations as either perfect or complete failures, with little room for gray areas.
  • Self-Criticism: Individuals with perfectionist tendencies are often highly self-critical and may experience low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy.
  • Procrastination: The fear of not meeting perfectionist standards can lead to procrastination or avoidance of tasks.
  • Relationship Strain: Perfectionism can also impact relationships, as individuals may have high expectations of others and themselves, leading to frustration and conflict.


People-pleasing, also known as the “nice person syndrome” or “approval-seeking behavior,” is a pattern of behavior where individuals prioritize meeting the needs and expectations of others over their own. This can manifest as:

  • Avoiding Conflict: People-pleasers often avoid conflict at all costs, even if it means suppressing their own needs and opinions.
  • Low Self-Esteem: Constantly seeking approval and validation from others can lead to low self-esteem and a lack of self-worth.
  • Difficulty Saying “No”: People-pleasers may have difficulty setting boundaries and saying “no” to requests, leading to overcommitment and stress.
  • Resentment: Over time, people-pleasers may build up resentment when their own needs and desires are consistently ignored.
  • Fear of Rejection: A fear of rejection or criticism often underlies people-pleasing behavior.

Understanding Perfectionism and People-Pleasing

Relationship Between Perfectionism and People-Pleasing

Individuals can have either perfectionism, people-pleasing tendencies, or both. The presence or absence of these patterns can vary based on a range of factors, including personality traits, life experiences, and coping mechanisms.

Many individuals exhibit both perfectionism and people-pleasing tendencies, and these patterns can interact and reinforce each other. In this case:

  • They may set high standards for themselves and simultaneously seek approval and validation from others to meet these standards.
  • They may fear not only personal failure but also disappointing or displeasing others by not meeting external expectations.
  • People with both challenges might engage in overcommitment to please others while striving for perfection in multiple areas of their lives.
  • They may experience chronic stress and internal conflict as they juggle these competing demands and expectations.
  • Their self-esteem may be fragile and dependent on both achieving personal perfection and maintaining a positive image in the eyes of others.

Why Are Perfectionism and People-Pleasing Problematic?

Why Are Perfectionism and People-Pleasing Problematic?

Perfectionism and people-pleasing, while they may have some positive aspects, can be problematic when taken to extremes or when they interfere with an individual’s well-being and overall quality of life. Here are reasons why these tendencies can be problematic and why therapy may be sought to address them:


  • High Stress and Anxiety: Striving for perfection can lead to chronic stress and anxiety as individuals constantly worry about making mistakes or falling short of their own unrealistic standards.
  • Procrastination: The fear of not achieving perfection can lead to procrastination and avoidance of tasks, which can hinder productivity and personal growth.
  • Low Self-Esteem: Perfectionists often tie their self-worth to their achievements. When they perceive themselves as failing to meet their standards, they may experience feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.
  • Perfectionism Paralysis: Perfectionism can lead to a state of “perfectionism paralysis,” where individuals become immobilized by the fear of not meeting their high standards, preventing them from taking action.
  • Impaired Relationships: High expectations of oneself can translate into high expectations of others, potentially straining personal and professional relationships.


  • Neglect of Self: People-pleasers often prioritize the needs and desires of others over their own, leading to a neglect of their own well-being and personal goals.
  • Loss of Identity: Constantly seeking external validation and approval can lead to a loss of one’s own identity and values, as individuals may compromise their authentic selves to please others.
  • Resentment: Over time, people-pleasers may build up resentment when they consistently suppress their own needs and desires to satisfy others.
  • Difficulty with Boundaries: People-pleasers may struggle with setting and maintaining healthy boundaries, which can lead to overcommitment and a sense of being taken advantage of.
  • Stress and Burnout: Trying to meet the demands and expectations of others, often at the expense of personal well-being, can result in chronic stress and burnout.
  • Inauthentic Relationships: People-pleasing behaviors can lead to inauthentic relationships, as individuals may not express their true thoughts and feelings for fear of upsetting others.

Perfectionism and People-Pleasing Related To Other Mental Health Challenges

Perfectionism and People-Pleasing Related To Other Mental Health Challenges

It’s important to recognize that perfectionism and people-pleasing are not disorders themselves but rather patterns of behavior and thinking that can contribute to or coexist with various mental health challenges. Here’s how they may be connected to other mental health conditions (such as depression) and other life challenges (such as burnout).

Anxiety Disorders:

Perfectionism is often associated with anxiety disorders. Individuals who set unattainable standards for themselves may experience heightened anxiety about making mistakes or falling short of those standards.

Both perfectionism and people-pleasing can contribute to generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder by fueling excessive worry, self-doubt, and rumination.


Perfectionism may lead to depression as individuals constantly berate themselves for perceived failures and experience a sense of hopelessness about ever meeting their high standards.

People-pleasing, particularly when it involves neglecting one’s own needs and boundaries, can also lead to depressive symptoms by eroding self-esteem and a sense of self-worth.

Eating Disorders:

Perfectionism, especially in the context of body image and weight, is a common feature of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

The relentless pursuit of the “perfect” body and the desire for external approval can drive disordered eating behaviors. People-pleasing can also play a role by making it difficult for individuals to assert their own dietary preferences or needs.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD):

Perfectionism can overlap with the obsessive and compulsive symptoms seen in OCD. The need to achieve perfection or prevent mistakes may lead to ritualistic behaviors.

Both perfectionism and people-pleasing can increase distress and reinforce the need for compulsive behaviors as individuals seek to alleviate their anxiety or prevent negative outcomes.

Perfectionism and People-Pleasing Related To Other Mental Health Challenges

Personality Disorders:

Dependent personality disorder is characterized by a pervasive need to be taken care of and a strong desire to gain approval and support from others.

Individuals with avoidant personality disorder may have perfectionistic tendencies, fearing criticism or rejection if they make mistakes. People with this personality disorder may also engage in people-pleasing behaviors to avoid social disapproval or conflict.

Some individuals with narcissistic personality disorder may exhibit perfectionistic tendencies, expecting themselves to be seen as superior.

Perfectionistic tendencies may be present in individuals with borderline personality disorder, leading to heightened self-criticism. People-pleasing behaviors may be employed to avoid abandonment or rejection.

Low Self-Esteem:

Perfectionism and people-pleasing can contribute to low self-esteem, a common feature of various mental health challenges.

When individuals base their self-worth on external validation or achieving perfection, they are more vulnerable to experiencing feelings of inadequacy, self-criticism, and worthlessness.

Stress and Burnout:

Perfectionism, especially when combined with people-pleasing, can increase stress levels and contribute to burnout.

The relentless pursuit of perfection and the inability to say “no” can lead to chronic stress, exhaustion, and a diminished ability to cope with life’s demands.

Relationship Issues:

People-pleasing can strain relationships as individuals prioritize others’ needs over their own, leading to resentment and frustration.

Perfectionism can also impact relationships by setting unrealistic expectations for partners and others, making it difficult to maintain healthy and balanced connections.

How Therapy Can Help with Perfectionism and People-Pleasing

How Therapy Can Help with Perfectionism and People-Pleasing

Therapy can be highly effective in helping individuals address and overcome perfectionism and people-pleasing tendencies. Here are ways in which therapy can assist in managing these patterns:

Identification and Awareness:

Therapy provides a safe and non-judgmental space for individuals to recognize and acknowledge their perfectionism and people-pleasing behaviors. Identifying these patterns is the first step toward change.

Exploration of Underlying Causes:

Therapists help individuals explore the underlying factors contributing to perfectionism and people-pleasing, such as early experiences, family dynamics, societal pressures, or past traumas. Understanding the roots of these patterns can be therapeutic in itself.

Challenging Negative Beliefs:

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other therapeutic modalities can assist in identifying and challenging negative beliefs associated with perfectionism and people-pleasing. Individuals learn to replace irrational or unhelpful thoughts with more balanced and self-compassionate ones.

How Therapy Can Help with Perfectionism and People-Pleasing

Setting Realistic Expectations:

Therapists work with clients to set more realistic and achievable goals and standards, reducing the pressure to be perfect in every aspect of life.

Building Self-Esteem:

Therapy helps individuals develop healthier self-esteem by promoting self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-worth that is not contingent on external validation.

Assertiveness Training:

People-pleasers can benefit from assertiveness training in therapy. This involves learning how to express one’s needs, set boundaries, and communicate assertively without feeling guilty.

Stress Reduction Techniques:

Therapy often includes stress reduction techniques, such as mindfulness, relaxation exercises, and stress management strategies. These tools can help individuals manage the anxiety and stress associated with perfectionism and people-pleasing.

Behavioral Interventions:

Behavioral therapy techniques may be used to modify specific perfectionist or people-pleasing behaviors. This could involve gradual exposure to situations that trigger anxiety or practicing new behaviors that challenge these patterns.

Conflict Resolution Skills:

For individuals who avoid conflict due to people-pleasing tendencies, therapy can help them develop conflict resolution skills that promote open and healthy communication.

Types of Therapy for Perfectionism and People-Pleasing

Types of Therapy for Perfectionism and People-Pleasing

Several types of therapy can be beneficial for addressing perfectionism and people-pleasing, and the choice of therapy may depend on individual preferences and needs. Here are some effective types of therapy for these tendencies:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

This is an evidence-based approach, helps individuals recognize and challenge distorted thought patterns associated with these tendencies. CBT provides practical tools to identify and modify negative beliefs and behaviors, reframing unrealistic expectations and developing more adaptive coping strategies.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT combines elements of CBT with mindfulness techniques, is effective for individuals struggling with emotional regulation, often related to perfectionism and people-pleasing. DBT helps individuals manage intense emotions, set boundaries, and improve interpersonal effectiveness. Mindfulness practices enhance self-awareness and emotional resilience.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

ACT focuses on accepting difficult thoughts and emotions while committing to values-based actions. It is beneficial for those distressed by perfectionism and people-pleasing. ACT promotes psychological flexibility, encourages self-compassion, and allows individuals to make choices aligned with their values.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy explores the underlying causes of perfectionism and people-pleasing, often rooted in past experiences and relationships. By understanding the origins of these tendencies, individuals can work to change them at a deeper level.

Types of Therapy for Perfectionism and People-Pleasing

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)

IPT is effective in improving interpersonal relationships and communication skills, particularly for those whose people-pleasing behaviors impact their relationships. IPT addresses the impact of social interactions on emotional well-being, teaching individuals to assertively express their needs and reduce conflict in relationships.

Mindfulness-Based Therapies

This includes Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which help individuals develop present-moment awareness and reduce reactivity. These therapies can be effective in reducing anxiety and stress associated with perfectionism and people-pleasing while promoting self-compassion and emotional regulation.

Group Therapy

Group therapy provides a supportive environment where individuals share experiences and strategies with others facing similar challenges. It can reduce feelings of isolation and offer valuable insights and feedback from peers. Group therapy encourages individuals to practice assertiveness and interpersonal skills.

Types of Therapy for Perfectionism and People-Pleasing

Next Steps

The choice of therapy should be made in consultation with a mental health professional, considering an individual’s specific needs and preferences. What works best may vary from person to person, and a tailored approach that integrates elements from different therapies can also be effective in addressing perfectionism and people-pleasing.

Are you ready to find a therapist who can assist you in navigating issues around perfectionism and people-pleasing? Search our therapist directory today to find the one who is right for you. Or call us for more information.

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