How to overcome guilt and people pleasing - Suzanne Heyn

How to overcome guilt and people pleasing

how to overcome guilt and people pleasing

As a recovering people pleasing perfectionist who is well-acquainted with the self-lacerations of guilt, I know well its sting and how it can leave us second guessing ourselves for hours or maybe even days.

Why is it that we so often feel guilty when standing up for ourselves?


Pin now, read later! How to overcome guilt and people pleasing. A guide for spiritual people who live with soul, finding peace and happiness through meditation, yoga and self-love.

What is guilt?

Guilt is the feeling that we’ve done something wrong. This may be something criminally or morally wrong, but sometimes we feel guilt from more innocent things, like telling someone no, eating chocolate when we’re trying to detox, or even enjoying luxuries that other people may not have access to.

Psychologists are divided on guilt. Some say it’s healthy and others say it’s a wasted emotion.

The difference between the two stances seems to boil down to guilt’s cause. Of course if we commit an immoral act and feel guilty, then guilt is actually a good thing. It means you have compassion for others and realize that you did something wrong.

But the other type of guilt is not useful.

It often indicates that you’re having trouble receiving something you desire, but don’t feel worthy of.

Today, we’ll focus on this second type of guilt, the kind that creeps up when you honor your boundaries and individual code of conduct. This type of guilt is intertwined with self-love, self-esteem and the need to please others.


People pleasing: Proceed at your own risk

When we feel the need to please others, we often sacrifice our own wellbeing in order to prioritize the wellbeing of others. That may involve us breaking our own ground rules or doing something that doesn’t feel authentic.

For many of us, it takes a lot of work to stay in our truth, to stay centered. Nobody is fully sure of themselves, and we’re all making life up as we go along. And so we create our own guidelines for living — maybe that’s ground rules, like not taking phone calls or answering  emails after 8 p.m., for example.

But then let’s say a co-worker or boss grows angry because you didn’t answer an email that went out at 9 p.m. So you feel guilty for not answering the email.

Here, we have two conflicting values. No. 1 is the value of caring for yourself, making sure you get enough sleep and time with your family, and No. 2 is the desire to succeed at your job and make your boss (or client) happy.

So we have our established value system, but then that value system gets called into question, and we’re not sure if we’re doing the right thing. Because none of us is sure; we all all make it up as we go along. You start to wonder whether your ground rules are flawed.

When we live our authentic selves, sometimes we do things that upset others. And it’s not that the things we do are immoral, it’s just that others get upset because we put ourselves first, and then we feel guilty because we feel responsible for making everyone else happy. Or, we believe we must always prioritize our job, in this scenario, in order to succeed.

We forget there’s a middle ground. Did the world end because we didn’t answer the email? Or did the world end because our spouse got upset with us because we put ourselves first on a particular issue? So in this way, guilt is very closely tied to people pleasing, and we need to learn to allow others to be upset.

Because when we create boundaries, we inevitably make some people unhappy. But they need to learn to deal with it, and we need to learn that if others value us, then they value our boundaries. And if someone isn’t willing to honor that, then it’s sometimes best to move on.

Ultimately, the more grounded we are in our truth, the less we look to others for validation. We know our boundaries are legitimate because they feel right in our hearts.

Here are a few ways to get firmer in your heart.


1. Harness anger

Notice how angry you feel at yourself when you lose out on sleep because you answered an email too late. Or when you say yes to another commitment that you didn’t have time for. Or when you feel sick because you violated your own personal system of ethics. Notice that anger or whatever emotion arises, really feeling it.

And then the next time you honor your boundaries and feel guilty, use the memory of that anger to dissolve any guilt. Realize that it’s better to honor yourself than violate yourself in the effort to make everybody happy.


2. Meditate or journal

Sit in silence and ask yourself, why do I feel guilty? Learn how to meditate here. You may also choose to journal. Ask the same question, and then begin to write whatever comes to mind.

Try to let go of conscious control and be open to whatever messages come through onto the paper. After a while, your pen may start to write things that surprise you.

This is called automatic writing, and many believe that this process, of writing until you release conscious control, allows us to connect to our higher truth or spiritual guides.

In meditation or while journaling, you may learn tidbits of information about the real reason you feel the need to people please or why you feel like someone else’s happiness is more important than honoring your own personal code of conduct.

When these messages come, they will likely give you goosebumps or you’ll just somehow feel a sense of “oh my God.  That’s why.” And these moments of revelation, looking inside to find the deeper truth, are critically important for continued soul growth.


3. Eye gazing

A big piece of guilt and people pleasing are feelings of unworthiness. You feel like you have to be subservient to the needs of those around you, maybe because you feel like you don’t deserve the good things in your life. So another practice is to look in the mirror and tell yourself, “I love you.” Repeat that over and over for about three minutes.

Do this every day or however often you need to. Return to the practice whenever you need it.


4. Learn to feel uncomfortable

The thing about people pleasing is that it’s difficult to combat intellectually. It’s an emotional need, and so it’s difficult to think your way out of.

Even when we rationalize to ourselves about why we said no, we may still feel guilt. And so it’s a process of feeling the guilt and doing what we want anyway.

Over time, it gets easier. We become more firm in our truth, and see the positive results that come from setting boundaries.

When we violate our boundaries to please another, we violate ourselves. It’s a message from the conscious mind to the Self, saying Self, you don’t matter. You just need to put up and shut up and make people happy no matter what. That’s sad. Don’t treat yourself like that.

You learn to live with uncomfortable feelings by prioritizing your continued soul evolution over the need to make people happy. Once aware of this pattern, you can choose to feel the discomfort of change, knowing in your heart it’s the right thing to do. Value truth and spiritual growth more than feeling comfortable.

Eventually the people pleasing need goes away or diminishes, and you Know, capital K, in your heart, what actions honor your soul. When you honor your soul, you feed it.  And the more you violate your soul, the more you lose touch with your inner truth. It doesn’t feel good.

It comes down to knowing that you are a beautifully deserving slice of the infinite. And the infinite that is streaming through you has needs. And your task is to honor those needs. It’s a form of self-care.


The other type of guilt

I’m not going into detail about when guilt informs you that you need to change behavior. That’s outside the scope of this article, and perhaps outside the scope of my soul work.

The task before us is to love ourselves. And even if we do something wrong, we still need to love ourselves because nobody is perfect. And if you build the love in your heart, then you will know how to treat people and how to treat yourself. It’s nearly impossible to hurt another person out of malice when your heart overflows with love.

So focus on building that love. Focus on building yourself up so you don’t feel bad if you honor your boundaries and self-code of conduct and someone else becomes upset. It’s not your job to make everybody happy. Your job is to be a good person. And to love. And to honor yourself. And sometimes when you honor yourself, other people grow upset. And that is their problem.

Love yourself enough to not take that problem on as your problem.


How do you handle guilt or people pleasing? Share your story below!


Download the world’s most powerful meditation for emotional healing.

Most meditation techniques focus on the breath. This brings you into your body

Spam is lame. I will protect your email like a mama bear would her cub. Powered by ConvertKit




Suzanne Heyn is a spiritual blogger and online course creator here to help soulful creatives live from the heart. If you're ready to discover your purpose, live in abundance and experience the freedom your heart longs for, you're in the right place. All the wisdom you need is right inside your soul, and I’m here to help you find it.

  • Marcie says:

    Fantastic article. Guilt as described in this writing is not easy, it takes work because it becomes a bad habit, and like any habit, it takes time to free the mind even when the boundaries have been set. It’s the above reminders that need to be read daily so that the mind can train itself out of the habit.

    I was raised by a mother who put the weight of the world on my shoulders and spoke in guilt trips. For years I suffered from terrible anxiety and still do from time to time but now have the tools of yoga and meditation to help it pass. As a child and young adult I didn’t know how to handle a parent pushing guilt trips. A parent/child relationship is often skewed by unconditional love, making boundaries hard. Finally in my 40’s I have set those boundaries but not without guilt. I stuck with it though and through yoga, meditation and reminding myself that it’s not normal, I was able to push through the guilt and moved onto peace. However, guilt is so powerful that it will often come back and find myself again working through it. This parental guilt has really made me easy for me to push guilt with others like friends or clients, onto myself. It’s not them, it’s me and I take full responsibility for my feelings of guilt. We can either accept it, or push it away when we know it’s not justified. It’s a constant struggle, reminding myself that I deserve peace of mind and saying no is ok. Being a completely honest person is my core and to do anything otherwise is not okay; not even for a parent.

    Thank you for writing this. I think we all struggle with this a bit but hopefully when we finally wrangle it in, we start to attract others who honor our decisions and boundaries. Some may walk away, but let them, we’re not made to dance with every soul.


    • Modern Yogi says:

      Hi Marcie,

      Thank you for sharing your story and the kind words about the blog post. I’m so happy it resonated with you. I completely empathize with how our childhoods often give us the complexes that we spend the rest of our lives working to undo. You are definitely not alone, and it sounds like you are making great progress in honoring yourself! Sending you so much love. xoxo

  • […] Another common source of anxiety is the feeling that no matter what we do, it will not be enough. […]

  • Sam says:

    I have an older sis and I try my hardest to help her but it seems that she gets an attitude and gets angery she said she was just annoyed but I tell her how to cope with certain problems and she had the nerve to say I needed to be serious. But I was being completely serious and I gave her help from the Bible….everytime I get angery and frustrated and I keep telling myself im not going to help her anymore I fall to guilty feelings that need to try harder to help im not really sure what to do?

  • anon says:

    I really enjoyed your post on people pleasing. I am a young adult and still feel like I need to make my parents happy. Unfortunately their beliefs and way of life do not align with mine. I feel guilty that I can’t be that person so I avoid my father in result. I feel guilty I cannot be what he wants me to be. I have a way I envision my life and it makes me happy. I don’t know why I put so much pressure and importance on being “perfect” for them.

  • M.M. says:

    Thank you Suzanne, for writing this and sharing it.

    It’s just what I needed to hear and is really helpful. I will look at it regularly, it feels like medicine for the soul, a reminder that I can give my self permission to change my “ default setting “ of people pleasing .

    I do struggle with the emotions and the guilt that arise when I try and set and stick to conscious healthy boundary.
    As a child / teen. I felt responsible but sometimes a bit helpless in trying to support a much loved parent who had health issues.
    I also felt guilty that I couldn’t do more to help them.
    Now I work in health care, it can be challenging not to feel selfish / guilty when trying to keep a work / life balance.

    Your writing made me realise that pain can an agent of change …. we have to choose our pain, there is the pain/ discomfort of staying where we are . When we keep on people pleasing at the expense of our wellbeing. This type of pain will be felt repetitively and is disheartening and disempowering and shrinks us.

    Then , there is pain / discomfort of facing the emotions and insecurities that arise we try and stick to healthy boundaries.

    This type of pain, when accepted and compassionately worked through, can actually lead to freedom, to take up the space to be and to honour ourselves.

    Long story short … Thank you so much

  • >