Are you a people pleaser? The art of No…

The art and freedom of learning to say no…

Most of us are taught from an early age that being ‘selfless’ is a good thing and there are many proven benefits of altruism to both our mental and physical well-being. But to push ourselves to the limit and please others all of the time may mean giving up your own needs. Maintaining this constant way of being will have a detrimental effect on your wellbeing and here’s why:

  • Prioritising others needs over your own will deplete you and you will have have nothing to give. Yes there are things that we have to do as they are part of our responsibilities but it’s the difference between ‘wanting’ to do it and feeling you ‘should’ do it. It is the change in mind set.
  • We can loose who we actually are in the ‘must’s’, ‘should’s’, ‘do – don’t do’ mindset. This then affects our confidence and self-worth.
  • If our needs aren’t met then we can become a drain on other people. If we are feeling low and exhausted we have less energy, possibly complain more and become critical of ourselves and others. We can loose perspective.

I have worked along side many clients who find it difficult to say no and have discovered that ‘people pleasing’ wasn’t really the problem. I believe that the desire to please stems from self-worth issues as the intense need to please and care for others is probably deeply rooted in either a fear of rejection and/or fear of failure. The desire to make others happy, for what ever reason is usually the symptom of a deeper issue. Is it possible that the hope of pleasing others will make them feel accepted and liked? Some people may form the habit in childhood, perhaps from being mistreated or from early experiences of repercussions for even small mistakes. The aim to please in the hope that being seen doing their best will lead to better treatment, and this has now become a way of life.

Fear of Rejection can come from early relationships in which love was conditional or in which you were rejected/abandoned by an important person in your life (parent left or was emotionally unavailable or inconsistently available)


People pleasing and not being able to say no if often confused with kindness, this isn’t the same thing. Maybe the reluctance to say no stems from the worry about being seen as selfish or wanting to be a good person, or even the need to feel needed. Often a response from this is that the other person can take advantage of them.

Validation is important to all of us but it often comes at a cost. Our inner critic takes hold and the constant need for approval in doing things for others can be exhausting and detrimental to our mental health. This can be a hard habit to break, but you can take steps to break the cycle and learn to say no.

Signs that you may be a ‘people pleaser’

  • You can’t say no.
  • You feel responsible for how other people feel.
  • You often say sorry.
  • You pretend to agree with everyone.
  • You feel overwhelmed by the things you haven’t done.
  • You need praise and reassurance to feel good
  • You look for validation through social media
  • You avoid conflict at all costs

So how can you help yourself and make a change?

  • Prioritise. The first thing you can do is to establish what is important to you, at home and at work. Think about the people that you want in your life too. Keep the ‘Gainers’ – the ones that are there for you too and ditch the ‘drainers’- those who give you nothing in return.
  • Remember be kind. When saying no, be polite and have a reason or an alternative to reply with. It is important that the other person understands why, but be firm too.
  • Sometimes you will have to say yes even when you don’t want to and that is ok, we live with and care for other people and sometimes we have to do things because it’s the right thing to do. Its all about compromise.
  • Create boundaries, these are important in all areas of our lives but make sure that you know what you can manage and what will push you over the edge. Explain these ahead if people need an explanation as to why you are not available to them.
  • Finally self care, make time for you to reflect and renew your energy.

You will never reach your full potential if you are trying to be all things to all people. Taking care of yourself is not selfish it is a priority. As I have said in many of my other blogs, if you are broken you can’t look after those you love. For many of us there are lessens to be learnt about being kind to ourselves, I know from my own experience that learning to say no is hard, and like anything new it can take time to adjust as it may go against what you have done your whole life. Learning to make time for your own wants and needs helps you become a better person and if you are strong then you can give others the strength they need too.

We are our least selfish when we are honouring our sense of self.

Counselling can help you find the strength to break these habits, help you to work out why you are the way you are and give you the mental resilience to change and take control. If you feel that this is something that you want help with, please get in contact.

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