Do you ever catch yourself saying “yes” when you actually want to say “no”? Or you nod your head in agreement when you really don’t agree at all?
You’ve possibly even reached the point where you feel annoyed with yourself, yet it still feels easier to do it.
I know how you feel because this was once me until I realized it was holding me back.
Personally, I dislike labeling, especially people. But if you find it difficult to air your own viewpoint, you could be what is often called a people pleaser.
Clinical social worker and psychotherapist Amy Morin wrote that people-pleasing is a sign of something deeper and is linked to a person’s self-worth. They hope that saying yes to everything asked of them will help them feel accepted and liked.
People pleasers may have encountered bullying or some form of mistreatment in the past. Those past experiences triggered a survival pattern. They have learned along the way that agreeing to everything can help them stay safe.
We all want to be liked because it gives us a sense of belonging. And that need of belongingness is one of the most primal of human emotional needs. It’s a tribal need.
In past years, we all lived in tribes. We would fish and hunt together, cook and protect each other. It has been said that there’s safety in numbers and that has certainly been the case in tribal communities. Living in a tribe meant we would survive and we did our utmost to remain there.
Even in today’s modern world, we are hard-wired to survive. Though we may not live in tribes now, we still have that same need to belong. And, during our lives, we develop a variety of behavioral patterns, to ensure that we do.
A people pleaser fears not being liked and thinks if they disagree, they will be on the outer. It’s one of those survival-based behavior patterns and it works really well to a point.
The problem here is this:
If you continually put other’s needs before your own, there is a good chance you will eventually burn out. And, if you regularly push aside your own opinions in an effort to agree, you can lose sight of your identity.
When you lose sight of your own identity, your thinking becomes clouded. You start to live your life through “shoulds” instead of “wants”. You become unsure of what you do believe and find it difficult to know what you want.
In the long-term, this can cause unhappiness and lack of fulfillment. It stops you from living to your full potential has been known to lead to depression.
The good news is that behavior can be changed; it’s just a process and takes time.
Survival patterns are not easy to break. But making gradual small changes will soon bring the desired result.
1. Develop Awareness of Your People-Pleasing Behavior
It’s fantastic if you already have full awareness of these tendencies, but often people don’t.
This habit can become so ingrained that it’s automatic. Before you know it, you have agreed when you really disagree. Or said “yes” when you really want to say “no”.
Even offering to do something when your to-do list is already over full, could be a desire to please or be approved of.
Because of this, it takes full commitment to stay aware with an intention to change.
Make a decision to become fully aware of your people-pleasing impulses.
Write a list of all the things you would normally do in an effort to please. Then, notice each time you do them and decide how you will change it next time.
2. Drop the People Pleaser Label
There is a reason I don’t like labeling and it’s because this has the potential to become our identity.
It’s wonderful to become aware of our tendencies to please. But it can get in the way if we fully identify with it.
Whenever we use the words “I am”, we are stating who we believe we are. Each time we repeat it, we feel more certain about it.
For example; I am a man or woman. I am a people pleaser, I am not liked.
And when we believe something about ourselves, it affects the way we feel. Then we behave that way even more.
Labeling yourself negatively could impact your self-worth. And it could cause you to lose sight of the amazing person you really are.
Never describe yourself as a “people pleaser”. Instead describe your “people pleasing behavior” as you make a decision to change it.
3. Develop a Strong Sense of Who You Are
When we get ultra clear on who we genuinely are and what we stand for, it gives us a strong sense of self. As we gain clarity on this, we find it increasingly difficult to push our viewpoints to one side.
If you have been pleasing others for a long period of time, you may have lost sight of what is important to you. And without this insight, you may not have an opinion of your own. Or you may not be sure of what it is.
Having a deep understanding of your core values is essential to knowing what you stand for. This strengthens your identity, increases your self-worth and your ability to speak your mind.
Core values are the fundamental beliefs of a person. Every decision and choice we make is driven by our values and this influences our behaviors.
Knowing your values will assist you to call your own boundaries and say “no” when you mean “no”.
The inner strength and confidence I have seen people build by getting clear on their values always excites me.
You can start to gain clarity on your own values by looking at the aspects of your life that are most important to you. Those aspects that are the most essential are the ones you put most of your time and energy into.
Then dig down deeper into what specifically has the greatest importance in those aspects of your life.
4. Adjust Your Belief to Support Your New Choices
All values are more than just words. They have a set of beliefs sitting behind each one of them.
Mahatma Gandhi said,
“Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits and your habits become your values.”
And this is a never-ending cycle. Your values and their associated beliefs affect your thoughts, habits, actions, and words.
If the beliefs around your values are too general and unsustainable, they can stop you from changing your people-pleasing habits.
Values like, helpfulness, kindness, and support often have those unsustainable beliefs connected to them.
For example, a belief like “I am always there for people who need me” is very general and could include every person you know. And a word like “always” is a generalization that gives no exception to that rule. Remember, your words become your actions.
When you adjust those beliefs, your new habits will feel easier to put into action. For instance, “I do my best to be there for my loved ones and friends”. This belief is much more specific and allows space for exceptions. This will support your new choices.
So allow space to explore what you truly believe and make those adjustments if needed.
5. Feel Happy about the Word “No”
If we are totally honest with ourselves, most people prefer to say yes to requests. We don’t like to disappoint people and we like to feel helpful.
The thing is if we always put others’ needs first, what is important to us is often neglected. And before long we lose sight of own priorities to live our life by other people’s standards.
There is a well-known saying,
“If you want something done then give it to a busy person.”
If you are one of those “busy people,” there is a good chance you are always saying “yes”.
It’s not an easy adjustment moving from the word “yes” to the word “no”. In my experience, the change can be a little clunky to begin with. It’s almost like the pendulum swings from people pleaser to people blitzer. And the word “no” is almost spat out.
This is possibly because you have said “yes” for so long you have some feelings of resentment. Or the word no brings you feelings of guilt.
“No” is only a word, just like the word “yes”. It’s the meaning we associate with it that causes us to feel a certain way. And that feeling affects how we say the word.
Practice Feeling Comfortable with Saying “No”
With NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), we use a technique called Collapsed Anchor to help you let go of any negative emotion associated with a word. It is a powerful process when we have re-written any beliefs that were unsustainable.
This is something that is more effortlessly addressed if performed by a qualified practitioner. But there are ways you can work on this yourself.
Getting accustomed to saying the word will eventually collapse the anchor anyway. But there are ways you can do this by practicing at home first.
Try putting on your favorite happy music, then stand in front of the mirror. Smile as you say the word “no” repeatedly until any negative emotions have disappeared.
Rephrase Your Words of Saying “No”
You could perhaps find it difficult to say no because you don’t know how to say it. And you may fear disappointing the other person. Because of this, you might tell lengthy stories of why you can’t help with their request. You really don’t owe anyone an explanation, but it can feel easier to give one.
The thing is, a lengthy story can sometimes sound like an excuse. This could also cause you to feel anxious. So it helps to know how to give a good reason without over-explaining yourself.
Over the years, I have learned a few ways of saying “no” without actually using the word:
“I can see how important this is to you, I have something pressing of my own I need to do though”
“I would love to come along, I just have something else on”.
Or you can say “no” with an alternative, helping them in the long term:
“I’m not able to do this for you now, but another time I could quickly show you how or give you the instructions”
Spend some time deciding which scenarios you will use these responses. You can even write them down or practice in front of the mirror.
Use the Power of the Pause
Our regular responses are unconscious and that’s because we have been doing them for a long time. This means we could respond in our usual way without thinking.
Perhaps you also feel that you need to give an immediate response, which you don’t.
Giving an immediate response also means it could all come out the way you don’t want it to.
Deciding to pause before you respond will help you with this.
Set an intention at the beginning of each day to pause before you reply. As you set the intent, it will remind you in the moment.
If you are not sure of how you would like to respond, let the person know you will get back to them.
Or, a great favourite of mine is this: tell them you will need to check your calendar first.
You can also take a look at Leo Babauta’s tips about this: The Gentle Art of Saying No
Moving from people pleaser to speaking your own truth and putting yourself first is a process. This means it doesn’t change overnight.
It’s easy to beat yourself up for the times you slip up. This itself will lower your self-worth, which is the opposite of what you are intending to do.
Be kind to yourself.
Notice where you make small changes and give yourself a pat on the back. As you do, your confidence will increase. You will feel more encouraged to make bigger changes next time. And you will start to fully embrace and love the new genuine you.