I am a therapist, freelance writer, community and clinical educator and a Mom who is passionate about good parenting. I will share my thoughts and ideas both personal and professional especially concerning relationships, sex and intimacy, parenting, being a single Mom as well as social concerns.
Saying YES: How “people pleasing” can RUIN your Relationships
and Sabotage Your Health
Clients and friends tell me all the time, I can’t say “NO”.
Or similar statements, like:
"I want people to like me.”
" I feel bad when I don't
agree to a request."
" I take on too much.”
" I over-schedule myself.”
“ I worry about making people mad.”
“Saying No feels mean.”
“ I would rather make an excuse or
avoid someone if I can’t do what they want.”
" I feel guilty if I disappoint
and on...can you relate to any of
As a therapist I am trained to look beyond the
surface situation and find the deeper meaning. I usually discover that with
folks who struggle with setting limits, thereis a deep desire to
be liked, to be considered “nice”,
and to avoid what is often labeled as “confrontation”.
But when I dig a little deeper, here's what I find:
Oftentimes people (women especially) who
regularly agree to things they don't want to do or have time to do (to the
extreme where it becomes a problem; because we all have to do this occasionally)...do
it because of FEAR. The fear of
rejection, the fear of abandonment, the fear of loss or even physical harm
rests underneath a lot of this people pleasing.
I believe that one big reason we fear upsetting or
disappointing, or having someone become angry with us is because - Deep down
we fear being alone. And fear is
never a good place from which to build a relationship – or a life.
Now let me say that to an extent, this is normal. We
are social creatures and we have evolved to be in relationship with others. In
fact in some ways being alone once meant (for women especially) serious
physical and financial vulnerability.
But there is more than an anthropological root to
this when it becomes a problem. Poor boundaries, or the inability to set limits
and say No in many cases is linked to a childlike fear of abandonment.
For many of us, this grew from unmet childhood emotional needs. Or if you are like
the vast majority of us, you were taught that pleasing others was the key to
social success, and sometimes even the key to love.
But is this true for you now as an adult? No. (See, I just said it and I am still here typing away
I argue that in fact poor boundaries, the inability
to communicate limits in a respectful, kind but assertive manner is a threat to
both your relationship health and your physical and emotional health. Boundaries
are one vital key to healthy sustainable and close relationships.In fact, when we avoid saying No, setting limits, communicating our
objections as well as our needs and positive feelings, we sabotage our relationships;
be it close ones or casual ones.
Studies have repeatedly linked many health issues to
stress. In fact it is one type of
stress that effects our health in the most negative ways; that is the stress
that is born from a feeling of powerlessness. And what feels more
powerless than believing you haven’t the right to say no; or lack the skills to
set limits; or fear yourself worth rests on what others think of you?
Yet, it seems counterintuitive right? If you
agree, and say Yes more than No wont people like you more?
NO. They will likely use you more.
And also, they won’t respect you as much. Hence, you end up not feeling
so good about yourself, your life, or THEM. And then guess what? You may
actually end up resenting them and even blow up at them or be passive
aggressive because you are feeling powerless and tired and used. Then you
actually lose the very thing you did all that people-pleasing to get:
closeness. That warm fuzzy feeling you were hoping for cannot come to you when
you feel used or abused. Healthy attachment and connection cannot be built
from a place of powerlessness.
People may even become more upset with you than if you said NO or set a
boundary FIRST. Because once we become tired and overdrawn emotionally,
financially or physically by not caring for yourself, you are the one who
gets mad. Or you become frightened or resentful. You certainly do not
feel honored because you did not first honor yourself. Even if all this spongyness doesn’t go very wrong and
attract an abuser or self centered person into your life, you will likely see
others as willing to overlook your needs. That will create distance as you unconsciously
search for ways to feel safer.
So how do you start creating the health in your life that appropriate
boundaries and the ability to say No and set limits can provide?
1.First: Identify your boundaries. Begin thinking about what feels
right for yu in different situations. Think emotional, physical, sexual,
spiritual, verbal, social and professional boundaries.
2.Notice how you feel when you say yes or agree to something. Does
it feel good and respectful or does it sit poorly with you? Look for physical
signs too: headaches, stomach aches, sweating, and other bodily sensations. Jot
3.Notice when you feel scared or uneasy. Is there a “gut feeling” you are avoiding?
limits starting small if you are new to this. Or start in areas where it feels you already
have some skill and try to really own the assertive communication and pay
attention to how THAT feels. Then start trying your limits setting in
increasingly more difficult situations.
5.Give yourself lots of time and lots of room for error.
6.Get a coach or a therapist to help. Read books on boundaries and assertiveness.
Find role models.
7.Become aware of the language of assertive communication. For
starting small maybe the next time your meal is served improperly – say
something. If the chicken is undercooked, send it back. Say “Excuse me. My chicken
is undercooked. Please take it back and bring me a new entrée. Thank you. ” No
apologies. You did not undercook the chicken!Or, if someone has just asked you to give them your number and you don’t
want to, say “Thanks for asking but I don’t give my number out.”
apologize for being assertive. Apologies are for if you have
injured, harmed or otherwise caused a problem for someone that you genuinely
think requires a polite “I am sorry”. Get out of the habit for apologizing for
your boundaries. Someone who is pushing your limits is the one being rude. You
don’t say, “I’m sorry” before saying
you aren’t interested in that drink he has badgered you to take for the fourth
close relationships, think about ways you are feeling overlooked, taken advantage
of, treated in an uncaring way. Identify times where you can say something
like, “Honey, I know you like it when I pick up your clothes for you but I
don’t like doing it. I’d like you to put them in the bin yourself. I would feel
much more cared for if you did.” Or for a more serious example, “You know, I’ve
noticed that you don’t seem warm after sex and that feels bad to me. I’d like
to talk about it with you.”
10.Oftentimes there is
a family member that just has no regard for your limits or personal
space. Read books about family dynamics and communication. Think about why it’s so hard with certain people
to feel you are being respected. Ask yourself what you are afraid will happen
if you set a limit. Try, “Mom, I know you like to call late at night because that’s
a good time for you, but I won’t be able to answer after 9pm because I’m
settling into bed at that time. If you want to talk, we’ll have to do it before
Learning to care for
yourself and value your own boundaries is often quite a journey. Often you need
a guide. Sometimes you experiences loss. You may move forward and then drift
back. It is a process and a lifelong learning process. And it can be hard. But
it can also be exhilarating. It will definitely be worth it. Good luck.