Your friend asks you to help with her daughter’s birthday party in 2 weeks. You love designing parties and you love your friend so it’s a win-win for you and without hesitation you say “yes!”
Two days later your neighbor asks if you want to host a double yard sale next weekend and give all the money y’all collect to the local DV shelter. This hits home for you and you really want to help so you jump on board without even having to think about it.
That weekend the women’s leader at church asks you to host the annual women’s tea coming up in the next few weeks. You start wondering if you can handle it – you realize you probably should turn it down, but you don’t want to disappoint anyone so you reluctantly agree to take it on.
You soon learn the yard sale your neighbor wanted to do is the same day as the women’s tea. Then you find out your daughter’s dance recital is coming up the same weekend as your friend’s birthday party… oops… You’ve now double-booked twice in a week and you’ve got to tell some people “no” but you’re sick to your stomach just thinking about it. You mull over the options of how to do everything, but then you think about all of the preparation involved in them. There’s no way… You’re legit over-booked.
To some, this may sound like a simple solution – “Just tell the friend with the birthday party and the church you can’t do it.” But to others, the thought of having to turn some one down makes your heart pound, your palms sweat, and your head spin. You don’t even know HOW to turn someone down – because you never do it. You’re so afraid to disappoint someone because you are genuine gold-hearted people-pleaser. You don’t know how to say “no.”
A people-pleaser is afraid to say no, turn anyone down, or do anything to upset or disappoint another person. They say yes to everything because they cannot bare the thought of having anyone be mad at them, disappointed in them, or think ill thoughts about them. They feel like it’s their responsibility to make everyone happy and never do anything that would disrupt someone else’s feelings or positive experiences.
On the outside at first glance, that seems like a noble position to hold – but when you get down to it, that’s literally impossible to achieve. It is *impossible* to please everyone and never disappoint anyone. Why? Because we are human, and every one else is human. We all have different opinions, view points, beliefs, needs, and roles.
People-pleasers fall into two categories. One group are very empathetic people. Their driving force behind trying to please everyone is that they feel the other person’s pleasure when they are able to please them, and that lifts them up inside. But they also feel the other person’s disappointment as they do, so they do whatever they can to avoid that feeling for the other person and themselves.
The other group tries to please everyone because they are concerned about their image and how people see them. They may be border-line or totally perfectionists. They are self-conscious and are afraid to have anyone thinking negatively about them, so they do whatever they can to keep that positive “can-do-all” image. But the truth is, they CAN’T-do-all.
So if you’re not used to saying no – how do you learn to say no without totally wrecking your emotional well-being, security, and stress levels?
You have to realize it’s all in your head!
First, you have to get your head in the game… meaning you’ve got to identify which category you fall into. Are you saying yes to keep them and you from feeling negative feelings? Or are you saying yes because you want to keep that image of reliability and being “always available?”
In other words, like with most of our changes that we make, we must learn “what’s your why?” This will help you with getting to the root of your change and yank up the weeds that are choking you out.
Then understand some truths.
- You don’t have to explain your life away with every “no.” This one gets a lot of people. Jesus said “Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Any thing else is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37) In other words, you do not have to give everyone a long detailed explanation of why you are saying no. If you do, then you open the door for possible judgement, or being manipulated, entangled, or compromised. Most people do not intend harm in this way, but some do. Regardless, saying a simple “I’m sorry, I won’t be able to this time,” or “Thank you for thinking of me but I’m afraid I won’t be able to,” should be sufficient. If you go into details about why you are saying no, then it may sound like you’re making excuses, or the other person may try to come up with a solution for you and you’ll have to say no *twice.* There is a whole host of things that come from giving explanations. Remember the old acronym “KISS” (Keep It Simple, Sister). There is serious freedom in saying “no” and letting that be it! No one can pressure you or use your words against you.
- You are not the center of their universe. Think of all of the people in your life and all of the dynamics of their lives. I’ll give you an example. Your pastor, your mom, your brother, your best friend, your child’s teacher, your neighbor. When you think of each of their lives, things that are important to them, and all of the other people in their lives – how much does your “yes” or “no” really affect the course of their life? Is it possible that there is someone else in their life that could step in if you can’t? Will your “no” have an honest negative impact on your relationship with them? When you really get out of your own head and realize that you are not the center of that person’s universe, you can free yourself from the bondage of people-pleasing.
- If saying yes is going run you to the ground and make you less available to your other obligations, it’s not worth it. What is the benefit to you say saying “yes” to this person’s request? Will saying “yes” create a positive experience for both you and the other person or will it cause undue stress and anxiety and keep you from putting in your best attention and effort? If you say “yes”, what are you sacrificing? If you’re sacrificing energy and time from something else that you’re obligated to, then you’re doing both favors a disservice. It’s better to say “yes” to one and “no” to another so that you can give your all to the “yes” instead of splitting hairs and being spread too thin. Most people appreciate an honest “I’m sorry, I can’t this time,” versus a “Yes” and then not being able to commit fully.
- It’s virtually impossible to please everyone. Story time: Your sister asked to use your decorative lanterns for a bridal shower she’s hosting next weekend and she has no one else to ask for some. She has a vision in her head of exactly what she wants it to look like and is really counting on those lanterns to make it all come together. You’ve already promised those same lanterns to your best friend for her garden party that same weekend before your sister asked. Your sister feels like she’s more entitled because she’s your sister. Your best friend would feel betrayed and shafted if you broke your promise. If you keep your promise to your best friend you upset your sister. If you break the promise you make the sister happy and upset the best friend also breaking trust. What do you do? You literally can not do both. There will be times when you are *going to make someone unhappy*. This is where you have to bring in your values, priorities, and boundaries. Recognize that you are in charge of yourself, your time, and your assets. It is your responsibility to make others aware of what those values, priorities, and boundaries are. It’s not pleasant to have someone upset with us but you know what? They will get over it. Ultimately your integrity will meant a lot more to someone in the long run than your thin reliability and promises. Respect yourself and others by having firm boundaries, values, and priorities. It pays off in the end.
- What someone else thinks about you is not your problem. Ouch. This one stings for many people, but it is SO incredibly true. You cannot control, and have no right to, what other people think and feel. Is it nice when someone is happy with us and thinks great things about us? Sure! But is it the end of the world if they don’t? Nope. Your life will continue and toxic people will be removed when you stop trying to keep everyone happy. When you are no longer concerned about what others think and feel about you and you just live your life the way you know it should be lived, there is incredible power and freedom! Once again, they will get over it. And if you turning someone down for a favor causes them to have ill feelings about you, then you might need to rethink that relationship in the first place. Be good to and love others, keep your boundaries, and uphold your integrity – that’s all you can do!
Learning how to say “no” can be a real challenge for a lot of people. But once you put it into practice and get over the fear of upsetting others, you realize a freedom you may have never known before. There is power and freedom in owning yourself and knowing your value and worth. Being a people-pleaser taxes us in ways that are extremely unhealthy. Learn to say “no” and set yourself free!