I know, I’ve spent a large part of my life trying for those things. And honestly, most of the time, I could barely help myself! It was so ingrained into every fiber of my being. Saying “yes” with a smile, embodying whatever it was that another person needed in that moment — it all came pretty easily to me.
And, yeah, people pleasing felt good. In the short-term.
In the long-term, I felt scattered and frantic.
People pleasing was such a habit that it took someone else (my husband) to point out what I had been doing. (May you be so lucky to have a trusted someone tell you if you’re denying yourself in this way.)
The truth is, I was often in a state of confusion. When faced with a decision, how could I disentangle the desire to please others from my own intrinsic desire? While I’ve always considered myself pretty darn self-aware, this style of unconsciousness is no way to live!
So as a Recovering People Pleaser, I offer up the following five suggestions for overcoming this habit.
Five Tips to Overcome People Pleasing
1. Ask for thinking time.
When someone invites you to do something (anything from attendance at a friend’s party to a big favor for the family), ask for some time to process and think about it. People who please tend to lead with a “yes” and need to take a step back, check in with themselves and see if they really mean yes. Your thinking time will vary, but it could range from a minute to a month, depending on the situation. The important thing is that you feel free to ask for this time. And be clear on when you’ll get back to the requestor.
2. Check in to see how you feel.
Now that you have some space to consider the request, this is your time to take a little meditative minute. Close your eyes. When you think about the invitation, how do you feel? Do you feel a sense of excitement and expansion? Or do you feel nervous and contracted? What’s behind those feelings? Do you immediately start to get anxious about what the other person will think or say if you deny them their request? If so, take another minute to check in on what you feel.
3. Remember that you have a choice, and choose.
If it’s a simple “yes” or “no” request and you’ve gotten clear on which is true for you, practice saying it a few times to yourself. “No, I will not attend the family function.” “No, I will not help you move this weekend.” Or maybe it’s actually, “Yes, I really would love to come to your wedding!” Get solid with the answer in your bones.
4. Respond empathically.
When delivering the news (especially if it’s a “no”), respond with empathy. You can even provide alternatives, if you truly want. For example, “I understand how much you want to go out tonight. It’s been awhile since we went out together, and I know you want to talk about stuff! I need to stay clear with my health goals though, so I’m going to stay in. Perhaps you’d like to come over for dinner instead?” If the requestor is disappointed in your response, you can continue to respond with empathy without backing down. This takes practice, but it’s really good for your soul.
5. Bask in your boundaries and say yes to something else.
When you set a boundary, you are opening yourself up to more possibilities for your own happiness. Every “no” includes a “yes” somewhere. Stay firm in your decision, and find out what you’ve said “yes” to. Perhaps now you’ll have more time to go to yoga, you’ll be able to stay on your health regimen, or maybe it means you get to drink a couple of glasses of wine while you take a hot bath on a Friday night.
Or maybe that’s just me.
So, tell us: Can you think of some things to say “no” to, even if it means disappointing someone? This practice has been so helpful for me! —Sara