A People-Pleaser’s Guide to Saying “No”

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Kindness is a good thing, especially in today’s fast-paced world that seems to be filling up with disturbing headlines by the minute. All the more reason for people-pleasers to spread the love, right? Not so fast. Constantly saying “yes” isn’t doing you—or those around you—any good, whether you’re trying to preserve relationships, make the world a kinder place, or avoid confrontation. In fact, experts say that people-pleasers face extraordinary amounts of stress because of their inability to turn others down. The pressure you put on yourself to please others is not only taxing, but it takes away from tending to your own life issues. Furthermore, people-pleasing can rob your of your personal and professional time, sabotaging productivity.

Here’s a guide to help you say “no” with more ease, and feel better about sticking to it.

Focus on your needs first

Many people-pleasers are so tuned in to the needs of others that they put aside their own desires. If you’re constantly putting your own plans or problems on the back burner for fear of saying “no” or because you think you’ll make someone else feel left out, chances are you feel drained and perhaps a bit sad. No wonder—you’re not doing much to boost your own happiness and well-being when you barely give yourself any attention!

Instead, tell yourself that it’s perfectly fine to take care of your wants first and foremost. This doesn’t mean you have to completely ignore others or ditch their needs during critical moments, but by taking the time to tune into what you want instead of what other’s want, you’ll find more balance in your life.

Enjoy the present moment

As a people-pleaser, you’re probably often thinking about how you can help during future events involving friends, family and colleagues. But when you’re always planning a birthday party two months out or thinking of how you can assist a coworker, your mind never gets a chance to enjoy the here-and-now.

Self and relationship coach Jennifer Twardowski explains that focusing on the “here” allows you to learn more about yourself and hone in on your needs. Learning to appreciate the moment frees you of people-pleasing thoughts so you’re not constantly thinking of how you can be there for others (whether it’s 10 minutes or one week from now).

Say “no” without saying “no”

You can say “no” without using the word—an ideal option for people-pleasers who feel that the one-word response is too curt and unkind. By informing others of your plans, you’re not only engaging in friendly conversation but you’re also conveying that you have a lot on your plate and therefore won’t be able to tend to their request(s). In some cases, a rundown of your weekend agenda isn’t even necessary; simply saying, “I can’t; I have a lot on my plate this week” will suffice.

Of course, there are moments when a firm “no” is well-deserved. Offensive requests or ones you feel can be emotionally or physically harmful should prompt your people-pleasing tendencies to be left by the wayside without a second thought.

Don’t be overly apologetic

Saying “no” (either directly or indirectly) may make you feel rude or unkind, leaving you with the need to apologize excessively. Some degree of expressing understanding over the other person’s need for help is a thoughtful reaction. However, being overly apologetic about turning down someone’s request signals that you might change your mind. At the very least, it could make others more likely to continue asking for your help in the future, banking on you saying yes to make up for your bad feelings about not being able to help previously.

Surround yourself with people who truly consider your feelings

Let’s face it, some people can’t get enough of themselves. They’re the ones who really tell you how their life is when you ask, right down to the fuzz they plucked off their left sock while getting dressed in the morning. Their life is one drama-infused event after another. What they ate, why they’re ticked off and what their plans are for tomorrow seem to matter most. And of course, asking you to step in and help in any (or all) aspects of their ever-important life is a given. Such me-myself-and-I people thrive on your people-pleasing tendencies.

Take the time to ask yourself if you’re truly enjoying this person’s company, or if you’re only there because of an inability to easily say “no.” If the latter is true, consider easing out of the relationship and finding new friends who actually care enough to ask you how you are doing. Surround yourself with others who genuinely care about your needs and who ask about life events (good or bad) that have happened to you, without being prompted to ask. You’ll soon forget about relationships in which you never seemed to matter until the other individual needed something.

By giving yourself as much attention as you tend to give others, you’ll notice your stress levels drop and your well-being improve. It’s wonderful to help others, but when people-pleasing becomes the only behavior you feel comfortable with, it can define you, drain you, and even encourage others turn to you only when it best suits their needs. Put yourself first for a change; you deserve it!