I define people-pleasing as when we wear a mask to prevent others from knowing what we truly think and feel so they won’t be angry at us, and we will remain safe and protected while in their good graces.  When talking about your ex-spouse, why should you even care to keep them happy since you are divorced?  Continue reading to find out just how complex relationships are and how this people-pleasing pattern may be showing up with your ex and others.

We Come By People-Pleasing Honestly

Most of us grew up instinctively learning to people-please our parents for our shear survival, to eat and have shelter and to gain the acceptance of our family. We are pack animals and need our family’s love and approval, and so we the desire to fit in is natural.

My people-pleasing habit was further engrained when I was in 8th grade, and my dad challenged me to make straight A’s, not one A-, for $500.  I straightaway set my mind to it and accomplished the goal.  I wanted the money for sure, but even more I wanted my dad’s attention and recognition that I was worthy of his love.

The  meaning I made out of this experience was, “My worth comes from outside of me–from people (my dad), from accomplishing tasks (the A’s). If I do good, you’ll love me. If I do bad, I need to be punished.” This makes the scorecard of life pretty tough, as life is guaranteed to throw us opportunites to challenge this belief system (BS).

What If We Adopted a New Scorecard for Life?

What would it feel like if I was to adopt a new scorecard, “If I do good, great–I give myself a pat on the back. If I “make a mistake,” I still give myself accolades because I showed up. I tried. I am not a mistake.”

This is the Loving Self-Advocate (LSA) way. A LSA always gives herself the benefit of the doubt even when life gives her lemons, and it surely will. Please remember that we move towards a practice of being a Loving  Self-Advocate more and more everyday. It doesn’t happen all at once.

How People-Pleasing Bleeds Over Into All Areas of Life

If I learned to people-please my dad to get positive attention, then chances are this pattern and its accompanying counterparts (taking over-responsibility for others, perfectionism, lack of direct communication about how we truly think and feel, lack of clear boundaries of what is acceptable for our well-being) shows up in other areas of my life too.
And it does. I took over-responsibility for my ex-husband and played the peace keeper in relationship situations so everyone could stay "happy and protected."  For instance, long, long ago, he accidentally backed his car into my Grandma's vehicle, denting the fender. Grandma didn't want to turn it into her insurance, and he didn't want to pay her. So I did.
People-pleasing has shown up with my clients, when I want to "hit the ball, drag Betty," wanting their transformation more than they want it.
People-pleasing rears its head when I want to "convince" my mom and Steve, my husband, to take care of themselves in a certain manner.  It's like I need them to stay healthy and alive so I can stay cocooned in their emotional support.
People-pleasing shows up when I want my step daughter to live close by in the same state to keep me happy or when I wanted my late daughter, Maddie, to acquiesce to my will to keep me pleased.

People-pleasing has at its roots fear, selfishness and the need to stay in control


When we practice people-pleasing, we are also wanting to be pleased simultaneously. It comes off as altruistic (we just care about others and want to help). I have had to get honest with myself, and it's painful when we are breaking codependent bonds like this. It feels unnerving, unsettling and scary, like the carpet is being pulled out from underneath us.
This quote from July 2 entitled "Living Life Fully," from the book, Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much, says this:
"We get so embroiled with possessions. We find ourselves feeling that we need to own places, persons, and things. We try to possess our lives, and we believe that we can. We need to learn from the butterfly that alights on our hand.  If we watch it and admire it, as it chooses to stay for a while, we are blessed with its beauty. If we try to hold onto it, we will kill it. It is in the not trying to possess that we have. Imagine what it really means that we can have all the treasures of the world--not to own, but appreciate, to enjoy...to live with. Am I capable of loving so much that I am able to appreciate that wich I do not possess? I hope so."

"You're Killing Me!" She Said

This reading really struck me and got my attention because ever since I lost my daughter, Maddie, I have had a tendency to hold on tighter to the people closest to me, namely Steve and my mom.
It also reminds me of a time, probably in the last year before Maddie died. I was in a particular helicoptor parent mode because I was scared of losing her. I had been getting visions of it being our "last times together," her last birthday, the last time I would get to play with her in the ocean, my last birthday.
During one of my "smother mother love moments," when I was clearly on her side of the street, up in her business, trying to gently or maybe not-so-gently get her to do my will, to drink more water, to drink a certain kind of water, avoid soda, eat foods to heal her gut, you name it, she said to me, "Mommy, you're going to kill me!"
Add these emotions to a weakened body and it felt to her like I was "killing" her. So I backed off...until the fear would strike me again. I can hear some of you defending me right now, "Yah but you WERE just trying to help her be healthier and to live. And sometimes we have to push our kids."

What is People-Charming?

While this may be true, have you ever witnessed someone healthily changing from an outside influencer being critical of them? I wasn't coming from love; I was coming from a fearful neediness for her to be different so I could feel safe.
Isn't this the root of people-pleasing? We don't say what we mean because we don't want others to be mad at us so that we can feel safe. People-pleasing is really all about US at the end of the day and never about the other person.

When we do nice things for people, if we really examine our motives, and we are doing it with no strings attached or expectations of how that person should treat us in exchange, in other words, if we are giving from a place of love, THAT is not people-pleasing. That is authentic giving. Someone once called it people-charming.

What would people-pleasing your ex look like prior to, during and post divorce?

Did you people-please them before the divorce? Do you people-please your kids, parents, friends, clients? How we do one thing we do many in our lives.
Please keep in mind as you read this list that I'm not blaming you for any of these behaviors.  In fact, I did almost all of these behaviors myself.  It is not a harsh judgment of you--at all. These examples are meant to raise awareness, to know theyself better.



  1. Not telling them that you resent them for ___________ (not doing their fair share of life responsibilities, being a big kid, not being there for you, etc.).
  2. Not telling them that you don't like to be intimate with them because you don't want to hurt their feelings (this goes deeper than sex).
  3. Not figuring out how they lost trust with you and discussing it with them.
  4. Taking over-responsibility for them, rescuing them because you didn't believe they could handle things (a/k/a being the martyr).
  5. Not setting boundaries and saying what you would and wouldn't tolerate (this passive-aggressive behavior shows up as expecting them to read your mind and usually ends in blindsiding them).


  1. Letting your ex pick an attorney for both of you and relinquishing custody.
  2. Not calling them out on manipulative, gaslighting behavior when you know in your gut the truth, but ignore it.
  3. Not taking a stand for you and your kids because you lack confidence and let yourself be pushed around/bullied.
  4. Picking an attorney who feels wrong for you (they don't return your calls, seem disengaged, etc.).
  5. Letting the divorce drag on because you're confused about whether you want it. The divorce process is already delayed enough by things outside of your control, but in this case, the indecision feels safer than going through the chaos of divorce.


  1. You don't hold them to their parenting plan because you don't want to be the bad guy so you don't confront them about their inconsistent visitation.
  2. You don't enforce child support/alimony by having it deducted from their pay.
  3. You get very angry at them for their selfish treatment of the kids (talking badly about you to them and putting them in the middle, missing visits, not following through on their word) but don't confront them about it.
  4. Continuing to appease them by stroking their EGO so they'll be nice to you versus being direct and honest with how you feel.
  5. Putting up with abusive language because you feel leveraged by them (for child support, alimony, or whatever reason).

Setting Healthy Boundaries is the Solution

To arrest people-pleasing habits, it requires us to set healthy boundaries by summoning the courage within to speak our truth, to let them know what does and doesn't work for us or our kids, to express what we want and don't want.
Setting healthy boundaries is much more than just our words though. It's really more about THE ENERGY WE EXUDE.  If we've become adept at people-pleasing, we may have "doormat" energy that unwittingly invites others to hurt us, "Come on in. Walk all over me. I won't fight back and yell because I'm not comfortable with anger."
This sounds really harsh, but narcissists love this invitation, and they will surely take advantage of it.  In order to correct the people-pleasing pattern, we must shift our energy and learn to love and forgive ourselves.  We must heal the heart so that we begin to see ourselves as worthy and deserving and take a stand for ourselves.
If you can relate to all I've said, I invite you to play another game, one that helps you to see that you are LOVABLE and ENOUGH.  Mark your calendar the next "3 Secrets to Survive the  Stress of Divorce" and let me support you while going through divorce.
Much Love,
Angie Monko,
Holistic Divorce/Loss Coach