A lot us are afraid of disappointing others — so we’re prone to saying “yes” when we really mean “no.” But being a people pleaser can detract from your own identity and may only end up hurting you in the long-run. You can’t make everyone happy! Here, our experts share some easy ways to honor your needs while still being kind, so you can stop chronically people pleasing once and for all.
Meet our expert panel
- Cynthia Eddings, LMFT, author of The Narcissism Recovery Journal, is a psychotherapist specializing in helping women recover from people-pleasing behaviors.
- Marcia Sirota, MD, author of Be Kind, Not Nice and Emotional Overeating, is a Toronto-based psychiatrist. Visit her at MarciaSirotaMD.com.
- Trina Stutzman, author of 12 Steps to Overcome People Pleasing, is a holistic life coach. Learn more at TrinaStutzman.com.
Ask these questions.
If you’re accommodating everyone at the expense of yourself, ask, What am I seeking? and What am I afraid will happen? advises expert Marcia Sirota, MD. “You may be seeking approval but feel taken for granted.” As for the second question, you might fear being rejected if you stop people pleasing. “But those who love you won’t abandon you — and knowing this gives you freedom to prioritize your needs.”
Showing yourself compassion is central to letting go of the fear and perfectionism at the heart of people pleasing, says expert Cynthia Eddings, LMFT, who credits psychologist Tara Brach, PhD, with her favorite way to show herself kindness: RAIN. “It means Recognize, Allow, Investigate and Nurture. To do it, you slow down, allow your feelings, investigate where they come from, and nurture yourself.” That could be as simple as putting your hand over your heart and saying, “I’m enough.”
Flip the old script.
Gently push back on any guilt you feel over saying no, urges Eddings. “If you’re visiting family and you want to stay in a hotel, you may feel guilty, but remind yourself it’s okay if you need distance from relatives,” she says. “If the message you heard your whole life is that it’s ‘not nice to say no,’ ask yourself, Is this still true for me now?” That word “now” helps you let go of past narratives.
Release unimportant chores.
When lifelong people pleaser and life coach Trina Stutzman decided to break her habit of putting herself last, she jotted down all her usual holiday to-do’s on the back of a piece of wrapping paper. “I wrote everything from ‘putting up lights’ to ‘baking five different Christmas cookies,’” she says. “Anything I felt was unimportant or I didn’t feel like doing, I scratched off and let go of. This not-to-do list is an easy way to break the cycle of taking on too much.”
Let yourself ask for help.
“We’re conditioned as women to ‘behave well’ and ‘suffer well,’ especially around events like the holidays, when we have such high expectations,” says Stutzman. “Plus, people pleasers are also natural ‘fixers’ — we think no one can do it quite like us — and that makes it hard to ask for help.” But doing just that brings you closer to loved ones. “Just be specific by saying something like, ‘I need your support — can you help me with X task?’” You’ll find loved ones want to help.
Press pause on ‘yes.’
In the end, breaking the habit of automatically saying “yes” takes practice, says Eddings. “When someone asks you to do something, pause and say, ‘Let me think about that.’ This gives you time to explore if you really want to do something.” Indeed, getting in touch with your feelings is central to putting yourself on your priority list.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.