Oh, No! I Did It Again!

Do you say yes to things and then immediately think, “Why did I do that?!!!!”

Do you say yes to projects when you’re already running on empty so you know you can’t do your best? Are you overworked, overstressed, and anxious because you constantly agree to things you don’t actually agree with? Do you commit to things, then flake at the last minute because you never really wanted to go in the first place?

Well, you’re not alone.

You probably are afraid of disappointing people. You probably worry constantly about what people are thinking of you. No matter how hard you work, or how well you do, you probably worry that it’s not enough. You probably feel responsible for how other people feel. If someone is in a bad mood, you probably wonder if it’s something you said.

So you over commit yourself to things. You take on so much, you end up taking care of everyone else and not taking care of yourself.

This leaves you emotionally exhausted and anxious.

The thing is, every time you say “yes” when you mean “no” you’re letting people disrespect your boundaries. These people mostly mean no harm. How are they to know you aren’t willing to do something if you don’t communicate it to them?

When this happens though, when you have poor boundaries because you haven’t put in the work to set them, you feel “resentment, anger, and burnout”1. Because you end up doing things you’re actually unwilling to do.

Or others end up doing things that make you uncomfortable. They keep doing these things because they’ve never had any reason to believe it’s not ok. They usually don’t realize they’re overstepping a boundary. Either way, it’s up to you to change this.

The Roots Of People Pleasing

So where do these people pleasing tendencies come from?

Well, psychotherapist and clinical social worker Amy Morin says that “For many, the eagerness to please stems from self-worth issues. They hope that saying yes to everything asked of them will help them feel accepted and liked.”

The implications of this statement are striking — if you say yes to things too often this could stem from you not feeling like you’re inherently “enough,” that your worth as a person is tied to arbitrary measures, like whether or not people like you.

Definitely not an easy pill to swallow, but it makes sense. Why else would you say yes to things you don’t want to? Why else would you say yes to things that go against your own wellbeing?

How to Start Saying NO

Build self-awareness

The first step to changing any behavior is to identify it.

As such you need to cultivate self-awareness. You can do this by journaling, seeing a therapist, or meditating. Reflection is a necessary component to building self-awareness. Building a habit of reflection will help you become more and more cognizant of your actions as you’re doing them.

So step 1 is to start building a practice of self-awareness, of knowing what you’re doing and why.

For example, when you say “yes,” is it because you’re feeling pressured? Do you feel obligated even though you know there isn’t actually any concrete obligation in place?

Examine how you feel during these exchanges. You can also ask yourself how you would feel if you said “no.” This can be enlightening and help you identify your feelings.

Identify Where These Tendencies And Feelings Stem From

If you’re a people pleaser, it’s probably because you were conditioned to be one from a young age. Examining your past and discovering where these tendencies and feelings come from can be very helpful in breaking the habit. Because we can only see the world through our own perspective, it’s easy to confuse what is objective reality with our perception of events.

For example, this is essentially the basis of the well documented phenomenon of culture shock. You come to the realization that many of your assumptions, habits, and boundaries are not universal givens, but the product of the culture you were raised in. And this is quite jarring.

The point is, when you realize when and how you inherited or picked up certain tendencies it gives you the power to make an objective analysis.

You can see that, “Oh, things don’t have to be this way. These feelings are just a result of my experiences. Just because I feel like I’m letting everyone down doesn’t mean I actually am in reality.” It pulls back the curtain a bit on your tendencies and demystifies the emotions behind them. This gives you a more objective lens to tackle your people pleasing habit.

Remember it’s not selfish to take care of yourself first.

You’re in a better place to do genuinely nice things for people when you aren’t taken for granted, when you have the energy to do nice things because you want to, not because you feel like you have to in order to earn approval.

Not only does this make your actions more sincere, but it means you’ll feel better about it. You won’t harbor any resentment.

Self Acceptance

And finally, you need to start accepting yourself. You need to remind yourself that you are enough. Your value as a person doesn’t depend on what other people think (or don’t think) of you.

Once you start accepting yourself, you’ll find you take better care of yourself, and of others. You’ll do things because you want to, because it lines up with your values as a person. You’ll stop running yourself into the ground trying to make everyone like you.

Not everyone will like you. That’s just how it is. And you can’t control who likes you anyway, even if you do everything “right.”

Start accepting yourself and being unabashedly authentic. You’ll find yourself in a much better, happier mental state. Because you’ll be a better, stronger, version of yourself.