Confessions Of A People Pleaser: How I Learned To Say “Yes” To Myself By Saying “No” To Others.

Isaac Orr

If you are like me, you are a people pleaser upside down, right side up, inside out, and in every way. After going through all the personality tests like the Enneagram, Briggs Meyers, and The Love Languages, one thing rings true through it all. I live to make other people happy. In the grand scheme of things, this is a great quality, but I had to learn how sometimes this can put me in situations where I have focused more on pleasing others than being honest about what I want and need.

If you are like me, you probably also know that you can never seem to say one simple word, even if it is at your own personal expense. That simple little word brings so many other emotions with it.

The word "No."

Saying "No" Feels Impossible

When I am asked a question I feel like I cannot say "no" to, the thoughts that usually flood my mind are:

  • I don't want to disappoint someone;

  • I'm afraid of failing someone ;

  • I don't want to say "yes," but that doesn't matter; 

  • Here comes another exhausting day;

  • If I say "no," I'll show others they can't count on me;

  • Just thinking about saying "no" means I am selfish;

  • I will be depriving someone of happiness;

  • Saying "no" makes me look bad.

When you hate saying "no," you usually end up saying "yes" and regretting not making yourself more of a priority.

Here are some of the reasons I would always say "yes":

  • My desire to be a part of a group;

  • Craving social approval;

  • Wanting to avoid any ostracism, criticism, and exclusion by saying yes;

  • Hoping it would build my self-esteem;

  • My sense of worth was wrapped up in the approval of others.

What Always Saying "Yes" Did For Me...

Never saying "no" created a personal dilemma in my life. On one side, saying "yes" got me the approval of others I so greatly craved. On the other side, I found that always saying "yes,"

  • Exhausted me at some point;

  • Created the opportunity to resent the people I say yes to;

  • It didn't allow needed time for me;

  • Allowed others to take advantage of me;

  • It made me eventually want to avoid others.

When I started avoiding others because they drained me, all while craving others' social approval, I began mentally fighting with what to do. It didn't matter what I choose to do; I almost always heavily blamed myself for my unhappiness in the long run.

However, I realized that I did not deserve the unhappiness either choice brings. I did not have to beat myself up, and I could learn to say "no" when that was the choice I sincerely wanted to make.

Learning to say "no" and "yes" sincerely freed me from undervaluing myself.

Learning to say "no" was unbelievably difficult for me. But when I began to say "no," the things I wanted to say no to and "yes" to the things I sincerely wanted to say "yes to, I felt empowered. Being honest about my no's and my yes's,

  • Freed me from the burden of other people's happiness,

  • Created safer and healthier boundaries in my life,

  • Benefited my relationship with others because I wasn't resentful anymore,

  • It gave me time to recharge and check-in with myself,

  • It equipped me to give more of myself when I did say yes,

  • It gave me more emotional and physical energy,

  • Built a greater sense of control and balance over time.

Sounds too good to be true? Let me tell you what, it isn't. It is not always easy either. However, because I am a natural people pleaser (and self denier), I have to continue to exercise my decisive muscles, check-in with how I truly feel about what is presented to me, and work through being okay with saying, "not this time."

Strategies to Say "No" When That's What You Truly Want To Say

  • Start with saying "no" to something little - This allowed me to test these waters without a huge reaction or situation.

  • Choose your words carefully - With newfound excitement and empowerment of possible balance and freedom, I remember almost screaming "no" at someone. Trust me. This did not go over well. After all, you can say 'no' gracefully. Here are a couple of examples: 

  1. "I have a lot going on. Can we maybe find a different time?"
  2. "I would love to, but I scheduled something else at that time.""I am not sure I am comfortable with saying yes right now."
  3. "This time is not super good for me. Can we reschedule?"
  4. "Will you give me some time to think about this?"
  5. "I want to, but I may have to come next time."

Choosing my words carefully helped me to say "no" without offending others. I often felt relieved when practicing this because most people respond respectfully to others' boundaries. A true friend will respect your choice to say "no."

Be kind to yourself - Understand that you are not responsible for other people's feelings. Yes, emotions can be uncomfortable at times, but it is okay to feel them because they ultimately do not define who we are. And others will work through their own emotions. Be okay with feeling somewhat bad when you start empowering yourself, to be honest about what you want. It does eventually get easier with practice.

Remember, you show up best for those you care about when you've loved yourself well first. 

Set yourself up for success by: 

  • Checking in with yourself regularly to make sure you agree to things you will be proud of.

  • Not resenting others when you say 'yes' when you should have said 'no.'

  • Having a conversation with your friends, family, and those you say "yes" to the most to let them know you will be making some changes in your life, and you may be less available or not able to help as much.

  • Having an accountability partner to help you when you feel anxious about the possibility of disappointing others and someone who will encourage you when you know that you've made the right decision for yourself.

  • Rewarding yourself by pouring your energy into things that fill you up, i.e., helping others, volunteering, spending time with those you care most about.

To all my fellow people pleasers: you are not alone in this. Saying "yes" when you really don't want to can be exhausting, but being okay with saying "no" when you truly want to can be empowering. Here are a few articles that I found helpful when learning how to say yes only when I sincerely want to:

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