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How To Say "No" With Ease & Stop People Pleasing

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

What's covered: How people-pleasing begins in childhood; Solutions to common people-pleasing problems; PLUS, 5 simple steps to stop pleasing others

Person holding letters NO in their hands

You know one of the worst things about people pleasing? You know you're doing it, but you just can't seem to stop.

It's almost like speaking aloud a pre-written script that you can't re-write. Think about the last time someone asked something of you, either in the workplace or at home. Did you find yourself smiling and saying an almost automatic, "Yes, sure, okay"? Even though inside you were stamping your feet and silently yelling, No, argh, not again! And your body - the ultimate truth barometer - is letting you know exactly how it feels: a tightening in the throat, a gurgling in the tummy, a heaviness in the heart, or shoulders that are slowly making their way up to your ears! So why-oh-why do we people please, i.e. change what we want to say or how we want to behave to suit the needs of others at the expense of ourselves, again and again? (Psst... Solutions to common people-pleasing problems included below.)

People Pleasing: The Surprising Childhood Core

This isn't about parent-blaming, it's more about becoming aware of the layers of social and familial conditioning that can contribute to people pleasing. For example, we instinctively know as a child that our very survival is dependent on our parents or primary caregivers. That is why a child can have the most neglectful or unconscious parents, and still they will seek love, approval, praise and acknowledgment from them. (Often more so.) Similarly, if a child has experienced a traumatic event - such as divorce, abuse, mistreatment, abandonment or death of a close family member - then they may react by wanting to desperately please, keep things together or "make things okay" even more. Adding to the people-pleasing pot is the fact that humans are geared towards belonging to a tribe - the animalistic sense of safety in numbers - so standing out, acting alone or putting yourself on the periphery through actions based on the individual as opposed to the group, can feel unreasonably scary and fear-inducing. It can seem so much easier to not rock the boat, to play nice, be a "good person", go along with what makes other people happy or be seen to be behaving like everyone else. Status quo maintained. Check. Speaking your truth, honouring your body, acting in your integrity. Uncheck.

Personal Boundaries: The Imaginary Line

Poor boundaries and people pleasing are like sisters, or at least co-dependent cousins. Personal boundaries being an imaginary line that separates your physical space, as well as your emotions, needs and responsibilities from others. Your boundaries also inform the people around you how you'd like to be treated, i.e. what’s acceptable and what isn’t. In other words, if you're people pleasing then your personal / emotional / energetic / physical boundaries are as flimsy and leaky as a badly built boat! ;-)

Stop Being A People-Pleaser: Start Saying YES to YOU!

So how can you start to break out of the people-pleasing mould and calmly assert your personal boundaries? Follow these 5 simple steps to stop being a people-pleaser, so you can honestly interact and confidently engage with the people around you. 1. HIT PAUSE Before you immediately say yes or automatically agree to what you're being asked, create some space for yourself. E.g. "I'll have a think about that (or check my diary) and get back to you later today with an answer." 2. TUNE INTO YOUR BODY Your body doesn't rationalize or justify; instead, your body intuitively knows what's good for it and instinctively responds, regardless of what's socially acceptable or polite. Listen closely to your body for its loud or subtle cues, and let your body's gut reaction to people or situations guide your words and responses. 3. LESS IS MORE Over-explaining and justifying your actions is another form of people pleasing. Instead, inwardly restrain yourself from going into lengthy explanations as to why you're not doing something or why you can't help someone out. 4. PRACTISE *EMPOWERING* DIALOGUE I'm serious, start practising when you're alone and by yourself BEFORE you're confronted with a potential people-pleasing situation. Initially, empowering vocab can feel as foreign as another language; you might stutter, flail or fail to remember the correct phrasing of words for maximum oomph. For this reason, pick one or two situations you'd like to be more assertive about, and practise your empowered response. Overcoming common people-pleasing problems:

  • Your boss asks you to work late.

Old response: "Sure, I can do that." Empowered approach: "No, I won't be able to tonight, I have other commitments."

  • Your work colleague is pushing their opinion onto you.

Old response: "Mhm, yeah." (Said while smiling and nodding.) Empowered approach: "I respect your opinion. I have my own opinion as well."

  • Your friend really wants you to go to her party on the weekend, but you're exhausted and you'd much prefer to catch up one-on-one later in the week.

Old response: "What do you need me to bring?" Empowered approach: "Right now I need some time to myself. Would you like to catch up next week?"

  • Your mum / sister / in-law is ringing, but you know you need a bath and bed.

Old response: Pressing 'Accept' and saying, "Hey, good to hear from you." Empowered approach: Call back at a time that suits you.

  • ANY personal or professional situation you feel encroaches on your boundaries.

Employ the *ACE Card All-Rounder* response*: "No." Simple and beautiful. 5. EMBRACE THE DISCOMFORT Remember, you are literally re-wiring your brain after years, if not decades, of conditioning. You're also challenging a deeply ingrained self-made identity of being Mr Nice Guy or Miss Easy-Going. Be gentle on yourself, and be aware that initially, not people pleasing and asserting boundaries can actually feel really uncomfortable. But that discomfort soon turns into an unshakable inner strength that you can tangibly feel and others instinctively respond to. Ready to challenge the people-pleaser in you? Follow the five steps above and use this coming week to really practise saying YES to YOU!

Keep listening to your body and trusting your wise self,

Lauren x

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