It’s ok to say “no”- and still be a good person.

“When you say “yes” to others, make sure you’re not saying no to yourself.”- Paulo Coelho

Here I am sitting around a table with a group of friends discussing the personality traits of others. It was inevitable the conversation turned to how we see each other, a dreaded fear of a people pleaser.

What are they going to think of me? How do they view me?

We move around the table, each labelled with a different trait and an explanation as to why. Then it was my turn. All eyes are on me now. The table was quiet for a minute before someone spoke, “people pleaser.” Naturally, I jumped into defence mode! “So you are calling me a pushover?”

My friends know me well and know I can be sensitive, so they tried to compensate with:

“We know you are a kind person.”

“You have a big heart.”

“You will do anything for anyone, but it’s not a bad thing.”

They were right, but is it a bad thing? My friend tried to explain how there is a fine line between caring and showing compassion and people-pleasing. This conversation hit a nerve for me because I have always prided myself on how I care for others and my willingness to help but was he correct? Do I compromise my happiness by trying to cater to others needs and wants?

What is people-pleasing?

People-pleasing goes beyond just being a kind person. It becomes a problem or concerning factor when you compromise yourself (behaviour, emotions, thoughts, actions) to satisfy/please others. Many psychologists have explored the effects of people-pleasing and how it can prevent us from creating healthy boundaries. You may be willing to go out of your way to do things for people based on what you think they want or need, even if it does not align with your needs. Ultimately, this can negatively impact our emotional and mental wellbeing.

The old flight safety phrase, “Please place the mask over your nose and mouth before assisting others”, is such a fitting example here. If we consistently try to help others without being supportive of ourselves first, it will not be long before we all run out of oxygen. Ensure you are taking care of yourself and your needs before trying to support others.

Signs to look out for

1. Having low self-esteem or self-worth

How do you view yourself? Do you feel good about yourself? Or do you seek validation from others based on what you can give to them? Having low self-esteem can mean we often seek validation from others in order to feel good about ourselves.

Do you often go above and beyond to help others because it makes you feel needed or appreciated? Do you try to fix or heal other peoples problems in need of recognition? Then you need to ask yourself why is it I want to help so bad? Why do I want others to think of me in a certain way? Developing your self-confidence will not only allow you to feel secure in yourself but in your relationships too.

People can see you for you without you trying to save the world.

2. You have a hard time saying no.

You find it difficult to say no to others requests even when you do not have the time or will to do something. You struggle to set boundaries with others because you are worried that this will create a negative image of how others view you. Does saying no feel like you are acting selfishly? Being selfish is something you are not used to or may even agree with. However, it is ok to be selfish sometimes and not feel guilty about it. We are only responsible for ourselves, not others.

3. Apologising or taking the blame when you are not at fault 

You find it difficult to see others faults. Even if you do, you will not call them out on them because you do not like conflict and worry about upsetting them. Usually, this happens more so in personal relationships (platonic or romantic). If somebody has offended or upset you, instead of communicating your feelings about it, you brush them off and act as if everything is ok. You may try to find fault in yourself and question if it is you who is the problem. You question your judgement of situations and begin asking yourself if it was something you said which leads you to blame yourself rather than the other person.

4. Over giving

Do you like to give to others? Naturally, most of us do. It is ok to want to help others by offering advice, support, care and attention. However, do you do this with the result of being liked? People pleasers struggle to identify their own boundaries as well as the boundaries of others. Often you think you are trying to help, but others may see this as an invasion of their privacy and overstepping their boundaries. Resulting in them feeling resentful and you feeling rejected.

Are you willing to keep giving yourself until you feel depleted? Have you designated so much of your time and energy to others that you have nothing left for yourself? Are you giving so much of yourself in the hope that they will reciprocate the same time, attention, love and care? Creating these expectations of others will ultimately lead to unfulfillment because no one can live up to your expectations.

How to overcome people-pleasing tendencies

Do not stop being the person you are, but please stop paying the price for something too expensive to pay when you are good enough to have it for free.

In other words, you can still be a kind, caring and compassionate person but not at the cost of selling yourself in the process for validation. People will love you for who you are regardless of what you can do or give. Something I had to learn for myself the hard way. The only way you will overcome this is by being honest with yourself. Look in the mirror, recognise your actions and behaviours, knowing that the only person you can change is yourself.

Learn how to say no.

Learning to say no seems so simple, but it can have the most impact. Start by saying no to the smallest of things first, then gradually build up from there.


Ask yourself the following questions:
-Do I have time for this?
-Is it in my best interest?
-Does it align with my values?

Your automatic response will be to say yes, but you need to think about why you are doing this? Is it because you want to? Or do you feel bad if you do not do what others ask? Prioritise your time and needs first. If it aligns with your needs, then and only then can you commit to it. Give yourself time to decide by delaying the response. Respond with the following, “Can I get back to you later?” By stalling the response, you have time to answer the above questions. Most importantly, do not feel bad. If the person cares for you, they will understand and respect your boundaries.

Create healthy boundaries 

Having healthy boundaries in any relationship is crucial. It not only defines where you end, but where another begins. It gives us a sense of identity. Before others can be respectful of your boundaries, you need to be aware of them yourself. 

So ask yourself: 

  • What are my values and beliefs?
  • Do I feel safe enough to be able to express my feelings and emotions?
  • What do I want/expect from this person or situation?

Once you are clear on this, then you can effectively communicate your boundaries to others in your circle. 

Stop apologising 

When you have done something wrong, it is perfectly normal and responsible to say sorry. If you bump into somebody when you are not paying attention, naturally, you apologise for your fault. However, this becomes an issue when you are forever apologising for things that are not your fault. The reason being you are afraid to upset others, avoiding drama/conflict, worried people will think ill of you. You have to stop! If you always take the blame for others actions, how will they ever learn? People need to recognise their faults and mistakes to learn from them and respond differently in the future. 

Do not be afraid of losing people. Be afraid of losing yourself by trying to please everyone around you.

xx

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