People Pleasing: Why It’s Important To Learn To Say No

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Do You Have The Need To Please?

BY DR SARAH HUGHES

Being a kind, caring, and compassionate person is admirable. Being someone who sacrifices their own time to help others, even more so, but not all acts of kindness are the same.

Do you try to be everything to everyone?

Do you try to be everything to everyone?

Help someone because you want to and because you can without it putting you out too much and you’ll feel good about helping. Help someone at whatever the cost because you’re afraid that if you don’t, that person won’t care about you as much or will be disappointed in you and overtime you’ll start to feel bitter, resentful, and taken advantage of (not to mention exhausted).

In her book, The Disease to Please, Dr. Harriet Braiker listed The Ten Commandments of People Pleasing:

I should take care of everyone around me whether they ask for help or not
I should always listen to everyone’s problems and try my best to solve them
I should always be nice and never hurt anyone’s feelings
I should always put other people first
I should never say no to anyone who needs or requests something of me
I should never disappoint anyone or let others down in any way
I should always be happy and upbeat and never show any negative feelings to others
I should always try to please other people and make them happy
I should try never to burden others with my own needs or problems

Sound familiar?

At first glance it might look like these are 10 Commandments to aspire to, but there’s one huge problem. They’re unrealistic. You’re human, not a robot, and rules like this, while nice in theory, are absolutely impossible to stick to. It’s why trying to live by them is so exhausting.

We all need to say no sometimes and put our own needs first. If you’re used to putting everyone else first this will feel foreign, uncomfortable, and wrong. You will feel guilty, anxious, and stressed, but not (as many people mistakenly think) because putting yourself first is wrong, but because it goes against your usual default setting. If you want to be happy and feel good about helping others again then it’s time to change your settings. How?

Set aside time each week to do something just for you. Take time for a bubble bath, do a yoga class, get a massage or a facial, go shopping. Know that taking time for yourself won’t turn you into a selfish person. If you’re inherently a people pleaser – selfish isn’t in your DNA. Yes change is possible, but degrees of change. You’ll initially feel guilty and anxious taking time for yourself but stick with it. As you recalibrate your settings the guilt and anxiety will pass.

If the help someone is asking you for will come at a cost to you, practice saying no. If you find it hard to say no, start by saying no to “safe” people first (e.g. family, close friends) before practicing on work colleagues and bosses. Try to keep your no’s brief – remember you have a right to say no so there’s no need to preface your no with an apology or to give an elaborate explanation. If you genuinely want to help the other person try offering to help at an alternative time or offer another solution.

Dr. Sarah Hughes is a clinical psychologist and the founder of Think Clinical Psychologists. She enjoys working with children, adolescents, and adults, and specialises in anxiety, depression, postnatal depression, eating disorders, self-harm, and challenging behaviour.