“When you say YES to others, make sure you are not saying NO to yourself.” — Paulo Coelho
The art of saying no comes easier to some, perhaps they are super humans or aliens, right?; -) Most of us like doing things for others. How can it be bad for us? You like doing things for other people, it makes you happy! You can’t just NOT do things for the people you love, you’re their mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend! Is there such a thing as too much giving? I bet you can guess my answer. But, let’s tap into YOUR intuition about yourself. How do you assess if pleasing is a problem in your life?
Here are some questions to consider:
- Do you avoid conflict?
- Do you address your concerns directly with people?
- Do you go out of your way to please people even when it ends up doing damage to your own situation and negatively affecting you
- Do you take time for yourself?
- Do you put yourself financially out of pocket for others?
- Do you have a lot of one-sided relationships in which the other party seems to gain more than you?
- Do you rarely say no to requests?
- Do you feel people take advantage of your good nature?
Do you find the word “no” an unbearable utterance for which the very thought in your mindsets off a chain reaction of uncomfortable feelings spiraling toward shame? So many women tend toward the excessive urge to be agreeable, but why? Why is our desire to please everyone so strong?
Let’s take a closer look:
1. What do proficient “Yessers” or “Pleasers” look like and how they feel:
Pleasers are master accommodators, intuiting what is wanted of them and--in both word and deed--bestowing on others the attentiveness and care they’ll typically deny themselves. So frequently do they defer to others’ preferences that at some point they’ll actually lose sight of their own.
Regarding their value in life as based on their value to others, people-pleasers—so adept at nurturing those around them—literally don’t know how to nurture themselves. And because safeguarding relationships is the way they’ve learned to bolster their fragile egos, they’re unable to recognize that the ultimate cost of devoting themselves to the welfare of others is nothing less than sacrificing their own selfhood. Viewing their worth and personal security as totally hinging on pleasing or placating others, they end up forgetting who they are and what they themselves need to feel fulfilled.
Chameleons, they endeavor to blend in, to be as much as possible like whomever they’re with. And being deferential and subordinate to others, particularly to those they’re closest to, they can easily attract people with a strong need to control, consequently further magnifying a demeanor that is too obsequious, to begin with. Typically having unresolved issues with controlling parents they can themselves be attracted to dominating, manipulative people—people, ironically, who are perfectly suited to perpetuate old patterns of parental abuse.
2. How did they get that way?
As children, people-pleasers generally felt loved only when they were conforming to the needs and desires of their parents. Submitting themselves to parental preferences was rewarded; deviating from these preferences--maybe even dictates--was regularly met with some form of displeasure. That is, when such children asserted their will contrary to parental wishes, these parents typically reacted critically and withheld from them caring and support, positive time and attention, recognition, understanding or encouragement. In consequence, such children felt not simply disapproved of but rejected and abandoned as well.
Dependent upon their parents' acceptance--and therefore fearful about its being withdrawn from them whenever their behavior didn't match parental expectations--their choice (if it can really be viewed as a "choice" at all) was obvious. Either they had to submit to the "rules and regulations" implicitly or explicitly demanded of them-and in doing so get as much love and caring as their parents were capable of giving them. Or they could act counter to parental conditions for approval and suffer the consequences. And these consequences involved nothing less than a rupture in their attachment bond to their caretakers--a bond already experienced, anxiously, as tenuous.
Inasmuch as a break in parental attachment, however short-lived it might be, was yet a fearsome prospect, only one viable option existed. Feeling obliged to forfeit a vital chunk of themselves to garner a more secure place in the family, they determined to subordinate--or squash--essential needs of the self. Renouncing the expression of many of their thoughts and feelings, needs, and desires, they resolved to tow the family line. Experiencing this abdication of self as a necessary sacrifice, they made it willingly . . . and rarely looked back. After all, giving up part of who they were was still far better than feeling forsaken by--or bereft of--their own caretakers.
Moreover, to not do everything possible to combat the danger of parental alienation was to chance being beset by horrible feelings of guilt, humiliation, and shame. In short, it felt far less hazardous to abandon the self than to run the risk of feeling abandoned by their parents. And over time this choice between self-abandonment and parental abandonment came to seem increasingly imperative. Without the resources to fend for themselves--and even needing to define themselves in terms of their dependency--they felt compelled to subjugate their budding individualism. The longing to feel secure, prompting behaviors of compliance and conformity, necessarily had to prevail over the not-quite-so powerful yearning to hold onto their true selves. (And, in fact, it can hardly be overemphasized that foundational security needs--call them "lower-level needs"--universally take precedence over higher-level needs, which people feel free to pursue only after basic safety requirements have been adequately addressed.)
I should add here that when children can't figure out how to please their parents, or when their efforts at compliance never seem capable of altering this essential but nurturance-starved relationship, they may eventually renounce their efforts at people-pleasing--or more accurately, parent-pleasing. In such situations, based on the particular child's temperament, the likelihood is that they'll end up either seriously depressed or angry-defiant . . . and quite possibly both.**
3 Ways to offset the habit of “yes” with the contentment of “no”.
A primary focus of my counseling practice is to assist women in learning to prioritize taking care of themselves within a life built around, and a culture which rewards, taking care of others. We do this through learning to establish and preserve better boundaries…what I affectionately call the new B-Word.
1. Practice tuning into your inner sense of yes and no.
The first step in learning to set boundaries is to try to uncover what your personal limits and guidelines are. In her TEDx talk, Sarri Gilman, MA, MFT, a psychotherapist and author of Transform Your Boundaries, explains that we can think of our boundaries through the metaphor of an inner compass with two words written on it: Yes and No. Brene Brown discusses this as what is ok and what is not ok.
We all have an inner sense of wisdom, which intuitively tells us when something is a yes or a no. The problem arises when we ignore or argue with that inner voice. If you are not used to tuning into your intuition, it is important to practice paying attention to how you are feeling at the moment. One skill-building tool I use with clients is to begin taking note of how many times a day you think a negative thought about yourself, especially when doing something you do not want to do. It may be helpful to make a “tick mark” or jot down the actual thought. It is not unusual for clients to report back numbers of 50-100 negative thoughts per day.
2. Learn how to tolerate the reactions of others.
"Boundary setting will unleash emotions," Gilman says, “When you listen to your own yes and no," other people may (likely will) get angry or disappointed. Truthfully, nobody likes boundaries, because it means they must change. The reality is that whenever you set boundaries with people, they may not have a pleasant reaction. There will be a learning curve, this takes commitment, patience, and persistence.
The reason this works so well is that learning tolerance will lighten the load of resentments you have acquired over time. If you do not respect your personal boundaries (perhaps in fear of someone else’s reaction), it is likely to lead to bitterness and resentment over time. Imagine for every time you have said yes or agreed when feeling the opposite, you toss a one pound rock into a backpack. That backpack is strapped to you 24 hours per day. It affects every interaction you have with others as you move through life. For a time, sometimes a long time, it may motivate you, drive you to build “strength” to endure, you see yourself as resilient. This allows you the external energy to compensate for the weight of it, but eventually, it will become too heavy. The internal emotional cost of those resentments will become too much and you will stumble and then likely fall.
Setting boundaries with people can actually help to improve your relationships in the long run. The people you want to surround yourself with are those who will respect your boundaries, even if they initially feel upset or disappointed.
3. Engage in acts of compassionate self-care.
“You can’t pour from an empty cup.” If you want to be giving and compassionate toward others, it is critical that you apply the same compassion toward yourself. This idea gets a lot of “air time” on social media, but if the goal is to post your self-care, it may not be true self-care.
You deserve to treat yourself with the same kindness and compassion that you give to others. Set aside some weekly time for acts of self-care, which can help you relax, recharge, and connect with yourself. I often encourage that these times be alone. In some cases, clients responded to this encouragement by creating a sanctuary within their home environments where they can go to be alone and do absolutely nothing. We all have different things that feel relaxing and pleasurable for us; pick what works best for you, whether it's cooking yourself a good meal, taking a bubble bath, lighting candles, reading a book just for fun, taking a walk, doing a yoga class, or spending time with your pets. Accountability helps, so write it down or tell a friend your plans, then share the joy of doing this for you! No Instagram needed, just a smile on your face and peace in your heart.
**Taken from Psychology Today, Parent-Pleasing to People-Pleasing, July 2008, Leon F Seltzer Ph.D.