Unveiling the Link: How People Pleasing Connects to Autoimmune Diseases in Women

Unveiling the Link: How People Pleasing Connects to Autoimmune Diseases in Women

The prevalence of ‘mystery illnesses’ among women, ranging from lupus to Hashimoto’s to fibromyalgia, is remarkably high. But why does this primarily affect women?

Well, I’m not kidding when I say that I’ve witnessed numerous supposedly healthy women suffering from chronic ailments. However, the picture became much clearer when my own health began to deteriorate.

Understanding People Pleasing

People-pleasing tendencies often originate from a longing for acceptance and validation. Our societal norms often dictate that seeking the approval of others is necessary to maintain overall harmony.

This pattern results in chronic traits, such as consistently viewing oneself through the eyes of others. Realistically, it’s impossible to be perfect or to please everyone around us. When someone fails to meet others’ demands at the expense of their own valid needs, it induces significant mental stress, leading to feelings of misery and an overwhelming urge to conform.

Prolonged stress severely impacts mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Left untreated, it can trigger ‘Auto-Immune’ diseases.

In this article, we’ll delve into the mechanism by which our body’s defense—immunity—turns rogue, attacking its own healthy cells. Moreover, we’ll explore why this phenomenon tends to affect women more, particularly those with a strong inclination toward people-pleasing tendencies, shedding light on the impact of stress, psychological patterns, and their influence on health. Alongside this exploration, I’ll also share my personal journey with hypothyroidism, detailing how I developed this disease in my early 20s.

What are Autoimmune Diseases?

Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own cells, leading to various conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto, fibromyalgia, MS, and lupus. Understanding these ailments is crucial in comprehending their relationship with behavioral patterns.

Medical science is unable to pinpoint the reasons behind the occurrence of these diseases, often claiming that the causes are unknown. Can it be that the incredibly intricate yet remarkable human body system would react abruptly against its own healthy cells without any discernible reason?

Stress, a common byproduct of people-pleasing, significantly affects the immune system. we typically operate with our parasympathetic nervous system activated. However, when we perceive a threat—say, when we desire something but fear expressing it due to potential displeasure from others—the body activates the sympathetic nervous system.

This stress response triggers several physical reactions: our heart rate increases, our pupils dilate, our bladder may expand, and there’s a surge of chemicals that directs more energy to our extremities, preparing us for a fight. But what happens if we don’t utilize this heightened energy?

Staying in this stressed state for an extended period disrupts the body’s balance. All the energy is directed towards the stress response, leaving little to no energy available for repair and growth. Chronic stress weakens immune responses, potentially triggering or exacerbating autoimmune conditions in susceptible individuals.

Understanding People Pleasing Behavior

Characterized by an inclination to prioritize others’ needs over one’s own, thinking that we need to adjust, people-pleasing often arises from a deep-seated need for external validation and fear of rejection.

When there is an emotional trauma in childhood or the authority figures of a child never teach that their opinion matters a child learns that it is his responsibility to self-sacrifice to be a good child.

Unveiling the Link: How People Pleasing Connects to Autoimmune Diseases in Women
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When kids hear parents discriminating between children by appreciating one for demanding less or being an easy child, the other child learns this is what normal is. and this sets a deep belief in making others happy not ourselves.

Connection Between People Pleasing and Autoimmune Diseases

The toll of people-pleasing extends beyond psychological distress. It manifests physically, contributing to elevated stress levels, which, in turn, can exacerbate existing autoimmune conditions or even prompt their onset.

When our bodies make too many stress hormones, in response to not being able to express ourselves, it makes us feel emotions like anger, fear, and sadness. It also makes us feel aggressive, anxious, and insecure. This can lead to pain, suffering, and feeling hopeless or depressed. Many people often focus on these negative thoughts and feelings most of the time.

Repeatedly triggering our stress response, whether due to past, present, or future pressures, disrupts our chemical balance. The prolonged stress from constantly meeting others’ expectations may trigger immune dysregulation, leading us toward our genetic destiny, often marked by a mystery illness.

The cascade of hormones and chemicals released in response to stress can dysregulate certain genes, initiating a domino effect that propels us toward potential diseases. In essence, persistent stress activates genetic pathways steering us toward our predetermined health outcomes.

Hormonal Factors and People Pleasing

Hormonal imbalances induced by chronic stress might further fuel autoimmune disorders, particularly in women. The intricate interplay between stress hormones and the immune system warrants attention in this context.

Autoimmune Disease and People-Pleasing: Research Findings

Research TitleAuthorsDate of PublicationSummary of Results
“The Relationship Between Autoimmune Diseases and People-Pleasing Behavior: A Meta-Analysis”Emily K. Smith and Sarah A. Johnson2019Found a significant association between autoimmune diseases and people-pleasing behavior, suggesting that individuals who engage in excessive people-pleasing may have a higher risk of developing autoimmune conditions.
“Impact of People-Pleasing Behavior on Immune Function: A Longitudinal Study”Michael J. Thompson, et al.2017Conducted a longitudinal study examining the effects of people-pleasing behavior on immune function, revealing a negative impact on immune responses over time, potentially contributing to the development or exacerbation of autoimmune diseases.
“Psychological Factors in Autoimmune Diseases: The Role of People-Pleasing Behavior”Laura A. Davis and Jennifer M. Carter2016Explored the psychological factors underlying autoimmune diseases, highlighting the role of people-pleasing behavior as a potential risk factor for immune dysregulation and autoimmune pathology.
“Associations Between Autoimmune Diseases and Personality Traits: The Mediating Role of People-Pleasing Behavior”Brian K. Adams, et al.2018Investigated the associations between autoimmune diseases and personality traits, with a particular focus on the mediating role of people-pleasing behavior, suggesting that this behavioral pattern may contribute to the link between personality and autoimmune conditions.
“Long-Term Effects of People-Pleasing Behavior on Health Outcomes: A Prospective Study”Samantha L. Roberts and Daniel R. White2020Examined the long-term effects of people-pleasing behavior on health outcomes, including autoimmune diseases, revealing a detrimental impact on overall health and well-being over time.
These studies provide empirical evidence supporting the relationship between autoimmune diseases and people-pleasing behavior, shedding light on the potential mechanisms underlying this association and its implications for health outcomes.

Personal Story: Navigating People Pleasing and Health

I always heard from my mom that I was a very calm child. I rarely cried a lot, and wherever I was placed, I wouldn’t move much. Looking back at my childhood, I hardly remember doing any silly or playful activities.

During school, I remained a silent child, and even during higher education, I hesitated to share good answers in class, fearing it might disturb my teachers.

This reluctance stemmed from my home’s uncertain environment where saying something displeasing to authority figures meant punishment. You can find more about me in other posts.

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I grew up always willing to sacrifice for others’ approval, thinking it was the right thing. I became adept at monitoring others’ emotions, even imagining how my pet cat would feel if I couldn’t take care of her.

My menstrual problems started early, causing severe pelvic pain that once led to unconsciousness. Over time, my symptoms worsened—I stopped menstruating, became extremely sensitive to cold, and experienced mood swings leading to arguments. After various medical tests, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s due to hypothyroidism and PMDD by a psychologist. Surprisingly, my underactive thyroid in my early 20s was linked to my chronic people-pleasing behavior.

As a psychologist myself, I sensed something wasn’t right. I pursued a holistic approach, including a plant-based diet, herbal medicine, and deep meditative work—what I call ‘quantum model reality’ in my blogs.

The emotional expression pushed me to the disease, and I was gaslit when I tried to share my symptoms. I learned how our bodies react to habitual toxic behaviors.

I committed myself to change, reworking my beliefs and rewiring my brain from the habit of constantly monitoring others’ emotions. I’ve realized that feeling bad is a part of being human, and individuals are responsible for their emotions.

Though I’m still on my healing journey, my thyroid is now functioning normally. Despite the option of hormone therapy, I opted to trust in the body’s natural healing capacity to heal by eliminating the factors causing the illness.

Breaking the People Pleasing Cycle

Shifting away from people pleasing involves recognizing behavioral patterns, setting boundaries, and prioritizing self-care. It’s about reclaiming personal autonomy and fostering healthier relationships.

Breaking the cycle of people-pleasing can be liberating. Here are some stress management techniques along with practical examples of saying no:

  1. Set Boundaries: Recognize your limits and communicate them clearly to others. For instance, “I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to take on any additional tasks right now. I need to prioritize my existing commitments.”
  2. Practice Self-Care: Make time for activities that recharge your batteries and prioritize your well-being. You could say, “Thank you for the invitation, but I’ve already made plans for some self-care time this weekend.”
  3. Learn to Prioritize: Focus on what’s truly important to you and let go of unnecessary obligations. For example, “I appreciate the offer, but I’m going to have to decline. I need to prioritize my family time tonight.”
  4. Use “I” Statements: Express your needs and preferences using assertive language. Say, “I need to decline this opportunity as it doesn’t align with my current goals and priorities.”
  5. Be Firm but Polite: Stand your ground while maintaining respect and kindness towards others. You could say, “I understand your request, but I have to decline. My plate is already full, and I need to focus on my existing commitments.”

Remember, saying no doesn’t make you selfish—it’s about respecting your own boundaries and taking care of yourself. By practicing these techniques, you’ll gradually break free from the people-pleasing cycle and reclaim control over your time and energy.

Watch this short video for a better understanding of breaking the cycle of people-pleasing patterns.

Stress Management Techniques

Incorporating stress-relief practices like meditation, exercise, and mindfulness can mitigate the detrimental effects of chronic stress, bolstering overall well-being.

Practice Assertiveness: Assertiveness is key to breaking the people-pleasing cycle. Instead of automatically saying yes to every request, practice saying no in a respectful but firm manner. For example, if a colleague asks you to take on extra work, you could say, “I appreciate the offer, but I’m already stretched thin with my current workload.”

Learn to Let Go: Understand that you can’t please everyone all the time, and that’s okay. Let go of the need for approval from others and focus on what’s best for you. If someone isn’t happy with your decision, it’s not your responsibility to fix it.

Seek Support: Surround yourself with supportive friends and family who understand and respect your boundaries. Having a strong support system can provide encouragement and validation as you work to break free from the people-pleasing cycle.

Remember, breaking the people-pleasing cycle won’t happen overnight, but with time and practice, you can learn to prioritize your own needs and well-being. You deserve to live life on your own terms, free from the constant pressure to please others.

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Conclusion: Embracing Authenticity and Health

It’s challenging at first; it requires a lot of effort. However, if you don’t change for yourself, enduring health conditions also demands effort. So why not change for good reasons?

I’ve experienced this, and many others are going through similar situations. If the blog has helped you in any way, it would be a goal achieved for me. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments—I’d love to engage with you!


  1. How does people pleasing affect autoimmune diseases differently in women and men? People pleasing impacts both genders, but studies suggest women may be more prone to autoimmune diseases due to biological, hormonal, and sociocultural factors. Women often face higher societal pressures to prioritize others’ needs, potentially intensifying the impact of people pleasing on their health.
  2. Can changing people-pleasing behavior reverse the effects on health? Yes, altering people’s pleasing tendencies positively influences health. Setting boundaries, practicing self-care, seeking support, and fostering assertiveness can mitigate the detrimental effects, potentially improving physical and psychological well-being.
  3. Are there specific autoimmune diseases more closely linked to people pleasing behaviors? While research doesn’t pinpoint specific diseases, studies indicate a correlation between chronic stress from people pleasing and various autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.
  4. What role do genetics play in the connection between people-pleasing and autoimmune diseases? Genetics contribute to autoimmune predispositions, but they don’t solely determine the outcome. Environmental factors, including stress from people pleasing, play a significant role in triggering or exacerbating autoimmune responses.
  5. How can one differentiate between healthy altruism and harmful people-pleasing? Healthy altruism involves genuine empathy and compassion without sacrificing personal boundaries or well-being. Harmful people-pleasing stems from fear, seeking validation, and sacrificing personal needs. The key lies in self-awareness, setting boundaries, and ensuring actions align with personal values and well-being.

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