The Link Between People Pleasing and Perfectionism

By Stacy Brookman, Resilience and Performance Coach

Introduction: Are people pleasing and perfectionism common?

If you find yourself people-pleasing or being a perfectionist, you’re not alone. It’s common to feel the need for approval from others and to strive for perfection. However, these tendencies can hold you back in life and prevent you from reaching your full potential.

Luckily, there are ways to overcome both people pleasing and perfectionism, because they are actually tied together. By understanding why you need approval and the consequences of these tendencies, you can start to make changes in your life.

Although it’s normal to want approval from others, constantly seeking it can be detrimental. As we strive to be perfect in order to gain approval, we are building up feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. And those feelings aren’t serving us well.

What are people-pleasing and perfectionism?

According to psychologist Harriet Lerner, people-pleasing and perfectionism are two sides of the same coin. 

We need approval from others to feel good about ourselves, and we go to great lengths to get it. This can lead to a lot of stress and anxiety, not to mention missed opportunities. But there is hope! By understanding why we need approval and learning to accept ourselves, we can overcome people-pleasing and perfectionism.

People-pleasers are individuals who derive their self-worth from making others happy. They are constantly seeking approval and validation from those around them and feel uneasy when they think they may have upset someone. 

On the other hand, perfectionists are individuals who strive for flawlessness in everything they do. They set extremely high standards for themselves and can be highly self-critical when these standards are not met.

The costs of people-pleasing and perfectionism:

While these two concepts can both be positive traits in moderation, they can also lead to negative consequences when taken to extremes. The costs of these behaviors are quite high. They actually infiltrate so many areas of our lives. 

For example, people-pleasers may have difficulty asserting themselves or setting boundaries, as they don’t want to upset others. This can cause them to miss out on what they want in life, as well as lead to low self-esteem and relationship problems. 

Unfortunately, it also opens the door to us being taken advantage of by others.

Perfectionism can lead to anxiety and depression. It also leads to missed opportunities, lost productivity, and even health problems. 

Why we do it – the need for approval:

People are social animals. We have an innate need to belong, to be accepted and approved of by others. This need is so strong that it can often override our own sense of self. We become people-pleasers, putting others’ needs before our own, bending over backwards to try and gain their approval.

This need for approval can often lead to perfectionism. We strive for perfection in everything we do, in the hopes that it will make others see us in a positive light. But of course, perfection is impossible to achieve. And so we are left feeling anxious and stressed, never good enough in our own eyes or anyone else’s.

Our need to belong and be accepted by others is deeply rooted in our DNA. For our ancestors, being part of a group meant increased safety from predators and access to resources. This need to belong has carried on through the generations and is now showing up in different ways in our modern world. We worry about what others think of us and whether or not we fit in. We strive for approval in order to feel secure and safe. 

Although this need is built into our DNA, we can use our evolved brain power to override it. 

We can choose how much importance we place on fitting in and winning approval. Understanding where this need comes from can help us to better manage it and reduce the amount of stress and anxiety we experience.

Solution: Leverage Your Brain.

If you’re someone who is always putting others first and finding yourself in a rut, it’s time to start making some changes. It’s important to realize that by pleasing others and being a perfectionist, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment.

The first thing to do is look at your thoughts. When you get the urge to say yes when you really want to say no, or to re-do a document because it’s “not good enough”, what exactly is your brain trying to solve for? 

Is it trying to…

  • Make sure this person likes you?
  • Ensure you’re perceived as the most helpful/thorough/best person around?
  • Prevent yourself from getting fired (or other catastrophic thinking)?
  • Avoid another negative emotion such as shame?
  • Bypass disappointing yourself?

All of these are typical people-pleasing and perfectionist thoughts. But they’re usually not true! 

Your brain’s job is to keep you safe “in the cave”. As such, any dissonance with others is perceived as a threat. If you say “no” to this request, you may disappoint someone and they may “kick you out of the cave”. 

That primitive part of your brain is trying to keep you safe. Unfortunately, it doesn’t realize that turning something in with B- work, or saying no to a request, is no longer a life-threatening event.

Here’s the best way to leverage your brain: set boundaries for yourself.

Boundaries are FOR you, not AGAINST other people. It’s a simple 2-step process.

This seems awkward at first, but it’s necessary in order to begin putting yourself first. Let the people in your life know what you need and what you’re comfortable with. Don’t be afraid to say no when someone asks you to do something that makes you uncomfortable.

Here are some tips:

  • First, recognize that you need to make a change. This is the first and most important step. Once you’ve recognized that people-pleasing and perfectionism are holding you back, you can start to take steps to change your behavior.
  • Recognize that you don’t have to please everyone all the time. No one in the entire world is capable of pleasing everyone!
  • Don’t strive for perfection – it’s impossible to achieve and it’s not worth stressing over. Shoot for B- work!
  • Work on building your self-esteem and accepting yourself for who you are. You are enough, and worthy, just as you are. 
  • Practice assertiveness by speaking up for yourself and expressing your needs clearly in small things to begin with, then graduate to larger items.


If you find yourself struggling with either of these behaviors, it may be time to seek help from a therapist or counselor. There is no shame in admitting that you need help to make changes in your life. With the right support, you can learn how to break free from the perfectionism or people-pleasing that is holding you back.

By Stacy Brookman, Resilience and Performance Coach

If you’re interested in leveraging your brain to stop people-pleasing and perfectionism, as well as create resilient boundaries, grab Stacy’s Remarkable Resilience Routine and in just 10 minutes start to unravel those thoughts that hold you captive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *