“Yeah, sure. I would be happy to come round to yours on Thursday night.” (Internal chatter: “Oh great! /*$^*! Thursday was the only night I have this week for myself. Why is she ALWAYS so demanding?!”) Sound familiar? ‘People-pleasing’ is endemic in society, particularly amongst women. But do not give up hope: there is an antidote to this often-crippling condition. You can free yourself by learning to say “NO!”
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY PEOPLE-PLEASING?
People-pleasing is when you say YES to doing things for others despite (consciously or sub-consciously) knowing that you don’t want to. You may well have adopted this pattern of behaviour from an early age when you experienced how behaving in a certain way could win you praise. You learnt to seek affirmation, acceptance and approval externally.
WHAT FUELS PEOPLE-PLEASING?
The underlying motivation for people-pleasing is often driven by an underlying fear: fear of rejection; fear of disapproval; fear of not being loved; fear of not being ‘good enough’ or accepted. It may even be driven by fear of being alone – so the diary is chock-a-block with lots of ‘doing’ for others. It may be so engrained in you that part of your identity is to be that person that everyone can rely on; the “really nice person” who is so charitable and never complains.
CONSEQUENCES OF SAYING “YES” WHEN YOU REALLY MEAN “NO”
People-pleasing is effectively saying “yes“ at the expense of yourself. It has the potential to result in:
- a drain on your energy as you put others before yourself
- you not being true to your values, needs, integrity and what you want out of life
- self-doubt and low self-esteem
- you setting a precedent leading others to assume you are available 24/7 and therefore reinforcing your people-pleasing identity
- fuelling resentment
- imbalanced relationships (as you adopt the ‘giver’ role, and the other as the ‘taker’)
HOW TO BREAK OUT OF THE PEOPLE-PLEASING CYCLE
- When you feel the urge to bend over backwards for someone, PAUSE and take a breath. Ask yourself what it is you really want to do. Dig deep and see if you can detect whether your gut or your heart may be resisting you taking such action. And ask yourself, why do I want to do this? Try and identify your underlying motivation.
- Buy yourself some time before agreeing to meet someone else’s needs. And don’t apologise – tell the other person you’ll get back to them to let them know. This gives you space to do some internal digging.
- Identify your own personal values and needs. And then set boundaries to protect them. This will give you confidence in saying “NO”.
- Try saying “NO”! This may feel utterly uncomfortable to you. Guilt, fear, anxiety, self-criticism…these are all normal! Remind yourself why you’re doing this.
- Commit to not apologising when you say “no”. Be honest – don’t make up false reasons why you’re saying “no”.
- Commit to only saying “yes” when you really mean it.
- Don’t beat yourself. If you find yourself still saying “yes” when you mean “no”, don’t be too hard on yourself. Perhaps you can call that person up and tell them that on reflection you cannot do what you promised to do. Alternatively, simply set a new intention to prioritise your own needs and values next time.
- Treat the underlying “I’m not enough” or need for love from others that is propelling your people-pleasing with self-care and love. Learn to unlearn the need for approval for others. Appreciate yourself as you are right now.
- And remember – it really is OKAY to put yourself first!
THE POWER OF SAYING “NO!”
Okay, saying “NO” may not be digested well by certain people. It can cause friction in relationships, and may even lead to rejection by some. Accept that this may happen. And if you can ride out the discomfort, learning to say “NO” can ultimately lead to a sense of freedom, liberation, and give you more time and energy to say “yes” to things that are meaningful to you.