Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset: Properly People-Pleasing

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By Johnathan Lim (23S03M) and Wang Yujie (23S06H, Peer Helper)

Cover image by Johnathan Lim (23S03M)

Your resident Aunties and Uncles are back with our Ask Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset column, this time as a collaboration between Raffles Press and Peer Helpers’ Programme (PHP)! Ever wanted to rant about that someone you just can’t stand? Overwhelmed with too many feelings? Submit your confessions to and we’ll give them our best shot. This column will be published at the end of every month.

How do I stop people-pleasing?

People-Pleasing Penny

Dear People-Pleasing Penny,

Maybe you want people to like you. Maybe you’re trying not to make others upset. Or maybe, you’re just a really nice person. 

But either way, being a people-pleaser is not fun. You may feel like you are overdoing it with others. You may feel that the relationship is very one-sided (or you-sided). In fact, you may even begin to feel inferior to others as you always try to put the needs of others above your own.

We don’t think people-pleasing is necessarily a bad thing, but there are some common pitfalls that you should look out for. Here are the 3 Ps to properly people-please.

1. (Em)Power

Recognise that you are a baddie (or at least make yourself feel like one). 

Apart from listening to the entire album of Reputation by Taylor Swift, you could set aside some me-time to sort out your thoughts and emotions. Try techniques such as Positive Reframing, for example, to adopt a more optimistic outlook on your life. 

An example of Positive Reframing: Looking at a situation in a more positive light while maintaining its truth. Source: NAMI Chicago

Internalise the fact that you are beyond others’ opinions of you, and only your opinion of yourself truly matters. While you are worried that people are judging you, and trying to present yourself in the most favourable way, others are too. And sometimes we lose sight of the depressing but equally liberating truth that not many people, if at all, are looking at us at any given moment. So why get caught up over the underdeveloped opinions of others?

“Each person’s effort to be liked, preoccupying their own heads sufficiently enough to be able to really know, or like anyone else.”

Pursuit of Wonder

And at the end of the day, you are the only person that will certainly be by your side no matter what. So why not spare a thought or two for your most loyal friend (yourself)?

2. Prioritise

You can’t please everyone, and it isn’t worth trying. Evaluate your relationships and identify the people who energise you. Prioritise the people who are worthy of the privilege of your “people-pleasing”,  and spread your happiness primarily to those you know will do the same for you. 

On the flip side, it is okay to de-prioritise toxic people or even people who may not necessarily be mean or toxic but just drain you emotionally. Be it not initiating conversations with them, turning down invitations to hang out or preoccupying yourself with other people, it can feel very liberating to create distance between you and the person in question.

You deserve to be surrounded by people who you genuinely enjoy being around, so don’t be afraid to invest more of your time and energy in them over others. 

3. Please Please Yourself

At the core of people-pleasing is helping people important to you. Not only because you should be the most important person to yourself, but also because you can only properly please people if you extend that kindness to yourself as well. That is why you should, first and foremost, please yourself. 

Don’t be afraid to advocate for things you want. Everyone has the right to a little self-indulgence. Try to find the middle-ground between what you want and what others want, or maybe even voice out that you don’t want to do something. Chances are your friends won’t (and shouldn’t) take any issue with that.

“Hey, I think I prefer XXX, is it okay if we do that instead of YYY?” 

Example of advocating for things you want

People-pleasing is tiring, even if you only try to please a small group of people. It helps if you establish boundaries of how far you will go to please others. If you don’t really have very well-defined boundaries for yourself, you can start by setting arbitrary ones for yourself first: 

Set quotas for yourself. For example, you could hang out with at least 1 person a day, or get lunch with others at least 3 times a week. This helps ensure that you only socialise beyond the quota if  you want to and you do not feel obligated to socially overwork yourself.

Say no. To please yourself, you have to prioritise yourself — and that means sometimes saying no to others. You could start by drafting rejections in your head and expressing your preferences. Maybe try using the ‘sandwich’ method to soften the blow of your rejection:

“Hey, thank you for inviting me! Unfortunately I don’t think I can come because [reason]. Let’s hang out [at another time]!”

Example of how to turn down an invitation

Whether it is going down for lunch or hanging out after school, you are not obligated to accept others’ invitations. And people will almost always respect your decision.

People are scary. It sometimes feels as though the whole world is out to get you. But once you actually stand up for yourself, you will likely realise that the world is a lot kinder than you think. 


Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset

If you need anyone to talk to about any issues you might be facing, do drop by My Rest Space near Marymount gate and talk to one of our peer helpers! We’re open on Tuesday from 2.30 – 4.30 p.m, Wednesday 11.00 a.m. – 3.00 p.m., Thursday 2.30 – 4.30 p.m. and Friday 1.30 – 4.30 p.m. If you would like to meet a peer helper on a regular basis, do email us a request at or fill in our request form at our website

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