Are you a People Pleaser? Mastering the Art of Saying No.

Are you a People Pleaser? Mastering the Art of Saying No.

Ever find yourself saying ‘yes’ when you really mean ‘no’? Or telling yourself others’ needs are more important than your own? If so, you might be a people pleaser!

But it’s good to put others first I hear you say!

Ok, ok, I agree – but only to some extent. Whilst it can be an intrinsic part of our value system to be kind, helpful and altruistic, at what point does channeling these values tip into self-sacrificing? When does saying yes to everything actually take you away from those values because you are so busy it is impossible to do everything well?

If you notice that there is a big fear attached to saying no to someone – a fear of being disliked, a fear of being rejected, a fear of conflict to name a few, then this might be an indicator that there is more than just your value system driving the urge to put others first. And an even clearer indicator might be feeling exhausted, burnt out, or resentful because you are giving too much to others and have very little time for self-care. Not saying no breeds uncomfortable emotions such as resentment, frustration – we try to avoid guilt but end up replacing it with something else that still doesn’t feel great! You may start to lose your authenticity, finding yourself putting on a mask in order to please others or gain their approval, rather than being true to your own values and beliefs.

Why do we do it?

There are so many possible reasons and everyone is different. 

For some, it is linked to a desire for approval or validation, and the importance of receiving this externally rather than being internally driven. Perhaps you learned at a young age that receiving praise from others is linked to self-worth, or that speaking your mind led to disapproval from caregivers (or your adult relationships) and so you learned prioritizing harmony over getting your needs met is the safer option.  

For others, culture and social norms may play a role in shaping people-pleasing behaviours. For instance, eastern cultures tend to prioritize collectivism over individualism and so there may be greater pressure to conform as a means of protecting social harmony. 

Role modelling may also be an influencing factor – if you witnessed people pleasing behaviours in key caregivers, then it is understandable to adopt similar traits and behaviours as it is what you know. 

Mastering the art of saying no 

Learning to say no can be a powerful act of self-care, and believe it or not, saying ‘no’ is not always selfish. It helps us regain control of our time and energy whilst looking after our mental health. 

Step 1 – Know Yourself & Your Priorities

Pay attention to your emotions, values, beliefs and limits. Do you have certain beliefs about saying no? E.g., saying no is selfish? Where do they come from? What feelings commonly show up when you want to say no – is it guilt? With anyone/any situation in particular? Do you tend to guide people or are you rescuing them?

Are there specific domains in your life where you are more likely to give more than you have capacity to? Such as overcommitting at work, or fearing missing out socially? Take time to reflect on what is important to you in terms of what you give your time to, but also who. Which relationships are reciprocally enriching? These might be the ones where you prioritize, whereas there may be other relationships in your life where someone takes your assistance but doesn’t really give much back when you need it. 

Step 2 – Practicing

Start experimenting with saying no and setting boundaries in situations that are small or low key and build up from there to the more challenging situations where the stakes are higher. Think in advance about what you would want to say – for example how to say no in a way that is rejecting the request, rather than the person

Step 3 – Communicating 

Let people know what you are comfortable with when a particular situation arises. Be firm but polite in your communication – remember you are saying no to the request not the person. Avoid over-justifying why you are saying no or being over-apologetic. And if possible, offer an alternative that might still be helpful or accommodating. This allows us to show we are willing, and that we care but we also have boundaries. 

Step 4 – Consistency 

Be consistent in your approach. Once you have set a boundary and started saying no when necessary, stick to your decision. Over time, people will learn to respect these boundaries.

Remember, saying no is not about being selfish or uncaring. It is about self-respect, having healthy balanced relationships as well as activities, and good mental health. All of these allow us to focus on what matters and care in a way that is meaningful, as we will have greater capacity and focus to do so. 

So…what are you saying no to this week?

Written by: Dr Gurveen Ranger

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