The problem with people pleasing: the subjugation schema

Before anyone goes into a shame attack, people-pleasing is very common.

As children, we can be subtlely or overtly taught that keeping others happy is important and it is risky to upset an adult caregiver whether that be a parent, family member or teacher.

Our families might even have had a “don’t upset the parent rule”. The vulnerable part of us learns that expressing our healthy needs and preferences is not safe.

As an adult people-pleasing can look like being easy-going or super helpful or saying things like “I’m not fussy/ I don’t really care”.

However, this way of coping comes at a cost, which is not getting your needs meet and not prioritizing your own health.

You may not even have a good sense of your authentic self because you’ve hidden your preferences for so long you struggle to identify what you need and want.

The good news is that you can change this pattern. In schema therapy, the pattern of people-pleasing is called subjugation schema.

In doing so you will learn how to assert yourself and reclaim your needs and preferences as valid. As you build your Healthy Adult part, you will get a stronger sense of what you need emotionally and what is good for you. A good place to start is to understand what healthy rights and boundaries are reasonable to expect in your relationships.

A good starting place is a book called Reinventing Your Life, which helps people develop strategies to address this pattern using schema therapy principles. A skilled therapist can also help you change these patterns.


  • Nadene van der Linden

    Nadene van der Linden is a Clinical Psychologist, Accredited EMDR Consultant and Therapist and Advanced Certified Schema Therapist. Nadene has a special interest in trauma and uses active therapy approaches including schema therapy, EMDR, and chairwork therapy techniques. Nadene is a Board Approved Supervisor and supervises and mentors psychologists and other mental health therapists. Nadene offers online training for therapists at van der Linden Nadene