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Why being a people pleaser isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and how to stop being sucked into always saying yes

Do you ever find yourself saying ‘yes’ to a request when you really wish you’d said no?

I get it. When someone you know, whether it’s a friend, a colleague, your boss, or partner asks you to do something to help them out, it feels inevitable we’ll say ‘of course.’

But being a people pleaser isn’t always a good thing to be.

So, why do we?

It could,

  • Earn you extra brownie points so you can ask them for something in return later.
  • Make you seem a lovely and caring person – of course you are!
  • Demonstrate your commitment to the relationship.
  • Ensure you’re being included in the process or activity – so you’re seen as part of the team/tribe/family.
  • Ensure you avoid an argument or potential conflict – it’s important to you that you keep the peace.
  • Relieve some of the pressure of high expectations from others.
  • Be a learned behaviour from childhood, or a coping mechanism

The thing about people-pleasing when overdone, is that it can be detrimental to your mental wellbeing.

While it feels great to be able to give your time and energy to someone who needs your help, this is different from simply wanting to please, placate or mollify the other person, especially when it results in the detriment of not being able to do what’s important to you (or to someone close to you).

One thing I’ve noticed is that when you’re identified as a ‘people pleaser’ your protagonist will often strike without warning, because their expectation is you’ll say yes without quibble, so they feel no need to give you a heads up to what they are about to ask. This means you have no wiggle room to consider what is right for you because they’ve just attacked you like a stealth bomber.

“Ah, Jenny!” “Just the person I was hoping to see. Look, I’ve just got advised of an important meeting I must attend this afternoon; can I leave you to finish off the presentation for tomorrow morning’s team meeting? Oh, and send it to me via Dropbox this evening.” “Thanks” “You’re a star!”

Hmmm.

Have you ever had a similar experience and realised too, the person making the request hasn’t hung around for the answer? It wasn’t a request at all, rather a command.

How does that make you feel?
Taken for granted?
Unimportant as an individual?
Resentful? Angry?
Stressed?
Exhausted?

If you’re finding it difficult to say no, because you never do, help is at hand, because you can. It might just take a bit of practice.

 

1. Bite your tongue (metaphorically!)

If that yes has a bad habit of slipping out of your mouth too fast, zip the lip, stifle the urge, and buy yourself a couple of seconds to consider.

Is this something I can do, and want to do?
Is it something I can do, but not right now?
Is it not something I can do and trying to do it is going to totally freak me out, and worry about letting my friend/colleague down?

By inserting some space between the question and your response it helps you to remember that you have a choice.

 

2. Assess the cost of saying yes.

If saying yes to your friend means you will no longer be able to get an important family dinner, which is more important?

If saying yes is going to make you horribly late for picking up your kids from school, which scenario is going to worry you more?

If saying yes means you are agreeing to participate in something that doesn’t align with your values, like allowing your children to attend a party where you’re pretty sure there won’t be any parents in attendance, does that sit well with you?

 

3. Share your boundaries with others.

Having boundaries matters for your safety and wellbeing. This is not being selfish but acknowledging what is right for you.

For example. If you have decided you need to cut down on the amount of overwork you’re doing, share your decision with all stakeholders including family and tell them what your boundaries are, to help you and them to honour them.

Though this can lead to pushback.

If the boundary is to stop work by 7.30 pm, your boss or manager may test this by attempting to contact you, to see if you really mean it.

If the boundary is to be in bed by 10.30 pm, then your young adult children may whine and carry on about the lack of fairness that they now have to find an alternative driver to get them home from their social event.

 

4. Stop the manipulation

It’s lovely when we are paid a compliment. It’s flattering to be appreciated, but not if it’s a thinly disguised way to persuade you to the other person’s job, that they don’t want to do themselves because they are lazy or can’t be bothered.

You are a person, not a doormat.

 

5. Be comfortable with the discomfort of saying no

Yes, when sitting in that discomfort of saying no, the stunned look of disbelief on the other person’s face can make you want to overturn your decision, to alleviate their pain.

They might be taken aback because they were fully confident you would say yes, but sitting in your power of no, will quickly lead to their re-assessment of the situation. It’s amazing how quickly their response becomes “Oh, don’t worry then, I can ask Charlie, Geoff or Leslie instead.” And how good and relieved that response can make you feel.

Who knew getting yourself off the hook could be so easily achieved, and once you have said no a couple of times, you’ll find it gets easier and the person doing the asking may think twice or at least consider your needs a bit more first. Well, that’s the theory!

 

6. You don’t have to explain yourself

It’s nobody’s business but yours as to why you said no. There is no requirement for a dissertation on the reasons for your decision and you don’t have to apologise.

 

A better way

Rather than spending your time seeking to meet the expectations of others, try living with integrity. Show up as your true authentic self.

As Brene Brown reminds us “authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”

It’s natural to want to be liked and to want others to be happy but the difference is choosing to help, rather than to please.

Empathetic, thoughtful, and caring people can easily be taken advantage of, so remind yourself that you matter just as much as everyone else, your goals are just as worthy, and you deserve to have the time and energy to pursue your own goals. You don’t have to sacrifice it all to do stuff you really don’t want to do.

Be OK with the fact that you’re not going to be everyone’s friend and that not everyone will automatically like you. We’re all different and it’s natural to gel with some people more than others. There’s nothing wrong with you – it’s the same for us all. 

Self-acceptance is what counts. While we care deeply what others may think, detaching from that frees you to do and be your best every day.

Asserting your own needs is not being rude of aggressive. Saying no with grace is about responding with love and kindness.

  • “I’m sorry, I can’t do Sunday, would Tuesday work for you instead?”
  • “I’d really love to help, but I’m tied up with this project at present, is there someone else who can assist you here?”
  • “Thank you for asking, but this really isn’t my cup of tea.”

Mental wellbeing is about those small daily activities we engage in that feed our soul, help to lighten your cognitive load and experience greater joy and happiness. How do you stay true to yourself and show kindness and self-compassion for your own needs as well as others?

If you’ve ever been a people pleaser, what have you found helpful to crack the code and stop?

Have you been guilty of often asking others to help you fully expecting a positive response?

What could you do differently to reduce the guilt and stress on both sides?

 

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase

If thriving in life and work is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.

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