Can’t Say No? How To Shake Your People-Pleasing Personality

Pretty early on in life, we learned about all the things we should say no to; violence, name calling, peer pressure, letting your classmate copy your homework, the questionably cooked carrots that seemed to be on high rotation in the lunch line.

The should’s are easy. But what about all of the things that fall into the gray area? What about saying no to things just because you want to?

I’m not so good at that.

Hi, I’m Megan and I’m a people pleaser. *cue a “Hi Megan”*

Whether it’s at work, in relationships, or just making plans for Friday night, I find myself making decisions based on what I think other people want me to do. I’m a sensitive gal. I worry about hurting other people’s feelings and being well liked. And by focusing so much of my energy on trying to make other people happy, I often end up making myself pretty unhappy.

Growing up, we are taught to be polite, considerate and generous. However, as we grow into young women, it can be difficult to strike a balance between being kind to others and being kind to ourselves. Sometimes the desire to be “nice” can cause you to make unnecessary sacrifices, which can lead to some serious stress and put a strain on your mental health. Ugh to the max.

But guess what my fellow people pleasers? There are ways to shake your people pleasin’ past and make decisions that are ultimately what you want to do. Newsflash: you get to put yourself first in life. And that’s especially important in your twenties when you’re figuring out how to be an independent adult and all that good stuff. So listen up, ya’ll.

Speak Up

I’m not always the best about speaking my mind. In fact, I’m pretty sucky at it. I’ll never forget one time in high school when one of my classmates said, “Megan’s too nice to be assertive.” And I proved her point by not saying anything to stick up for myself. But those days are long gone, sister. I know now that you’ll never get what you want by keeping quiet. Speaking up about what you need is essential even though it’s hard when you know it’s not what someone wants to hear. Guess what dude? You don’t have to feel bad for wanting what you want or for feeling how you feel. Once you make it a habit to vocalize your thoughts, you’ll find that people will show you more respect. Whether it’s something as simple as saying no to a night out just because you need some time to yourself, or something as complex as telling your significant other that you need some space, being honest with people will make your life so so so much easier. That’s right. Three so’s worth of easier.

Get comfortable with no

No. It’s only a two-letter sentence, but it’s grammatically correct and packs some punch. If I’m going to turn someone or something down, I always feel like I have to have a really sturdy rationale. You know, like I should be able to write a five-paragraph essay about why I’m not going to make it to the party or join the organization. We tend to forget that we don’t have to justify every single thing we do. It can be uncomfortable to just say no without giving a reason, but ya know something? You’re totally allowed to do that. You’re not Jim Carrey. This isn’t Yes Man. No can set you free. No is not a bad word. No is your new jam. Ready for some irony? You can use this negative word to give you a more positive life. Be polite in your delivery, but say no when you need to.

Watch for the silver lining

There’s a difference between being a people pleaser and being a good person. If it’s your Grandma Myrtle’s eightieth birthday but you want to go to a party, that’s a little different. Ya gotta show g-ma some love. If you’ve got a crazy busy week but your bestie is going through a breakup, you better find some time to visit her accompanied by two men who will never break her heart; Ben & Jerry. Knowing when to do something (even when you don’t feel like it) is crucially important to maintaining good relationships. There is one exception to this rule: if you’re feeling emotionally drained, put your mental health first, girlfriend.

Know yourself

I often find myself agreeing to do something and immediately thinking, “Wait why did I do that? That wasn’t what I wanted.” Suddenly I’ll find that I over-promised, consequentially jam packing my calendar with obligations and leaving myself with no time to re-charge. And I get pretty grumpy when I don’t get time to re-charge, let me tell ya. Take some extra time to think through what you really want and what will help you grow, whether it’ll have a mini or mega impact on the long term. Hit yourself with an ‘am I making this decision based on what I want for myself or what other people want for me?’ You’re the boss of you. Adjust accordingly.

Let go of wanting to be liked

Admittedly, this continues to be my biggest challenge. I don’t like it when people don’t like me. I have to really concentrate to keep the desire of being liked from influencing the decisions I make. From what I wear to who I date, the phrase “what will people think?” haunts me like a bad school picture. When I find myself worrying about whether people will like me better if I do X or if I do Y, I have to give myself a little mini-lecture. The thing about trying to please everyone, about trying to make everyone like you, is that you just freakin’ can’t. You don’t owe other people anything besides respect. Other than that you’ve got free reign over your life. So dye your hair purple. Sign up for swing dancing. Date the guy who makes you laugh even if other people don’t get it. Travel for a year after graduation. The haters will find a reason to hate anyway. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if other people don’t like you as long as you like yourself.

Long story short: you call the shots in your own life. Let’s take the “people pleasing” phrase down from plural to singular. Think of yourself as a person pleaser. And make sure that person is you.

people pleasing

Megan Peterson

Editorial Contributor, Indiana University Major: Journalism and Apparel Merchandising Her heart belongs to: fashion, old Hollywood, the color pink, big cities, disco balls, airports and dance parties Her guilty pleasures: Diet Coke, Friends reruns, shopping sprees, and following Kate Middleton’s life a little too closely

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