How To Stop Being Overly Compliant

Dec 6, 2021

“Do not think you can be brave with your life and your work and never disappoint anyone. It doesn’t work that way.” — Brene Brown

In today’s article, I want to talk to you about over compliance in relation to the people-pleasing pattern of behaviour.

Now it’s natural to like to be liked and want our nearest and dearest to agree with us and support our decisions. But what would it feel like if they didn’t agree with something you said or did?

How easy do you find it to go against the current or to witness the disapproval of the people you care about or look up to?

What feelings does this type of situation elicit in you?

Does it make you want to fit in and be pleased to get rid of those uncomfortable feelings?

Does it make you feel defensive or want to rebel against their judgement and expectations?

Do you start to question or doubt yourself, and beat yourself up?

Or maybe you just accept their point of view so unquestioningly that it doesn’t occur to you that there could be another way or even a better way for you?

What is over compliance?

We are all typically more compliant in some areas and sometimes defiant in others; however, if you learned that being a ‘good girl’ or ‘good boy’ and complying with other peoples rules was the only way to be ok, you may have got stuck in a cycle of over compliance.

This can look like struggling to make choices for yourself as an adult that may be unpopular with your people (or the wider world).

Or silencing your viewpoint and contorting yourself to meet others’ expectations so as not to disappoint or displease.

It probably feels much better if everyone agrees and so this way of being may have become so ingrained that your actions have become automatic.

The problem is that when this ‘stuff’ is driving your choices and decisions, you aren’t being true to yourself. You are living out a version of their life because you are scared of upsetting or losing them.

And this is exactly how we sleepwalk into a life that might look good on paper but drains the joy from our soul. We ‘should’ be happy (according to what we have been taught about success). Yet we feel miserable and trapped in a monotonous cycle of drudge.

When we are being overly compliant this shows up as:

  • Seeking approval from others
  • Believing other people are more important than us
  • Thinking that our voice and opinion doesn’t matter
  • Being overly concerned about what other people might say or think about us
  • Feeling that we aren’t capable
  • Behaving like we need to get permission for just about everything

When we are in this state, the world seems unsafe and we can become easily consumed by guilt and shame and consequently second guess ourselves and feel insecurity around every move we make.

Putting ourselves last leaves us exhausted, overwhelmed, and too confused to make decisions, adding to our stuckness, frustration, and resentment.

When compliance turns to defiance…

Sometimes when the weight of being too compliant, too good, too self-sacrificing becomes too much to bear we may find that our rebellious heart starts to get shouty in an attempt to readdress the balance and fill the emptiness that comes from trying too hard to be pleasing, fit in, and sacrificing our needs for others.

When it starts to feel like no matter how hard we try, we simply can’t get it right or be good enough, it can cause us to explode in emotional outbursts, become demanding and controlling, silently resist and dig our heels in, become secretive or just give up.

This behaviour still comes from a place of feeling unsafe and insecure, it just shows up differently.

Defiance can rear its ugly head when we start to feel frustrated and resentful towards others, restricted by the weight of expectation and responsibility, or unappreciated and taken advantage of.

Sometimes defiance can become our new way of being, a kind of armour to protect ourselves from being hurt or exploited again. We become overly critical of others, the self-righteous knower, suspicious and untrusting, and very rigid in our views.

It can also create extreme independence and loneliness because it doesn’t feel safe to be vulnerable and ask for help.

We often feel that others aren’t capable and can’t be trusted or relied upon, so we might as well do it all ourselves.

So what’s the alternative?


When we are in alliance with ourselves and others we understand that solutions exist for all and that everyone matters (including us).

In the book The Audacity To Be A Queen by Gina DeVee, she shows us how compliance, defiance, and alliance show up in day-to-day life:


Shameful, easily embarrassed, inadequate, unworthy, needs approval, people-pleasing, codependent, indecisive, uncomfortable receiving, invisible, insecure, anxious, overwhelmed, exhausted.


Self-obsessed, harsh, superior, entitled, critical, domineering, demanding, inflexible, inconsiderate, aggressive, self-righteous, know it all, tough, presumptuous, rigid, competitive.


Assured, confident, peaceful, grateful, intact boundaries, intentional, intuitive, purpose-led, open-minded, curious, worthy, optimistic, supported, energetic, generous, capable, gracious.

When we are behaving in compliant or defiant ways we are coming from a place of fear, putting on an act, and are reacting to the things in our orbit that feel unsafe.

So how do we start to foster a state of alliance?

It all starts with you…

In my last article, I spoke about self-responsibility. In summary, I talk about the importance of turning our focus back on ourselves.

That doesn’t mean we have to stop caring for others and become selfish people. It’s about striking a balance between caring for others and honouring our own needs too by becoming ‘responsibly selfish’.

We’ve all heard the old adage, “You can’t drink from an empty cup”. What this means is that if we want to continue to support others from a place of love (rather than fear), we must learn to take care of our own needs first, otherwise, we will end up with nothing left to give, which just continues to feed the cycle of compliance and defiance.

This will require us to actively work on our self-worth.

Your worth doesn’t come from how likeable you are, how much you give, what you achieve, or how much you do. It’s a deep inner knowing that who you are (irrespective of what you do) is more than enough.

And part of building our self-worth is recognising the importance of self-care as a daily practice of acknowledging our needs and meeting them. It is not another thing to cross off our to-do list or some massive overwhelming journey we need to embark on.

Now I’m not a big fan of many of the self-care checklists you find on social media because in my opinion self-care is personal and it’s not always the nice and fluffy stuff that is going to make you feel better!

Sometimes the self-care you actually need is to do the thing you are putting off, have the hard conversation, make that decision, ask for help, tidy up your space, do the exercise, eat the vegetables and choose water instead of wine (sad times!).

So ask yourself what will really help you to feel better in the long run, and be honest!

Time for reflection

All change starts first from a place of awareness, so my hope for this article is that you find it thought-provoking and that it leads to greater self-awareness.

Start to gently see if you can notice (without judgement) where you find yourself being overly compliant, and where you may find yourself slipping into defiance.

Ask yourself:

  • What is it about this person or situation that triggers in me the feeling of needing to comply or defy?
  • What sensations do I get in my body when this feeling arises? Where do I feel it (so I can recognise it more easily next time)?
  • How does it feel to behave in this way (to comply or defy)?
  • How would I like to do it differently next time?
  • What do I need to bring myself back into alliance?
  • How can I articulate these needs to others in a loving way?

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