Learning to Say No! – Lessons from a Recovering People-Pleaser

As a recovering People-Pleaser, this article published on the Psych Central website in 2021 resonated hugely with me.

For many years, I used to think that saying Yes to everyone and everything that appeared on my radar was the way forward. I ended up drained, disillusioned and burned out. Thanks to the help of a Mindset Coach, and a lot of internal work, I’ve managed to reframe my thinking on lots of the behaviours that manifested from trying to please other people all of the time.

Subconsciously I wanted to attain some form of acceptance from them that wasn’t based on truth or fact but more centered around the story I had been telling myself. “If you do this, then they’ll like and respect you more which means it’s better for your job and career.” The truth was something different as it turned out.

The reality is that most of the people whose respect I craved simply weren’t thinking that deeply about me or my own needs and frankly it was a shock to the system to realise how little time other people spend thinking about you. They’ve got their own lives, worries, and agendas to fixate upon, so what made me special? My inner child was screaming when this new realisation dawned on me.

It was a real struggle the first time I said No to an opportunity offered, not because I wanted to try being mean for a change, but because I hadn’t built up the necessary courage to simply say No! A legacy of people-pleasing over many years had left my courage reserves depleted and I lacked the commitment to see it through. I was scared the first time I said No to someone that I hadn’t historically said No to, but I knew by the end of that conversation that in their eyes at least, I was perceived differently. Respect could wait.

What changed you might ask? Well, I started by observing the behaviours and patterns that had emerged from saying Yes to things I didn’t want to do or participate in. I figured out that at this stage in my life, I was old enough (and bold enough) to start standing up for myself a bit more and to pass on the “opportunities” that I felt weren’t in my best interests or serving me in any way. I stopped dwelling on what others might think of me if I dared to say No or what the backlash might be.

What surprised me was that the “backlash” I had been expecting and had subconsciously built up in my head never materialised. Not alone did I not receive any flak for my decision, but I began to see that saying Yes to everyone was a habit I had to break out of. My need to be liked and respected had created a blind spot that I had refused to acknowledge.

I no longer feel the need to impress or to say Yes to anything frankly that doesn’t align with my own goals or needs. That’s not to say that I don’t participate or volunteer where I can but I limit my “availability” to other activities that I know won’t serve me. That’s just the way it has to be for my sanity and sense of self-worth.

Let me know what you think.


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