I was born with a debilitating disease. I am a people pleaser. Many are afflicted with this poisonous disorder, but finding an antidote can prove to be a difficult task. Several years ago, I found myself feeling burned out, resentful, and down right angry at times. I was a hard-worker. I was an generator. I was an achiever. And I was addicted to the praise and accolades I received when I was that productive and competent ball of fire. I wore my work habits like a badge of honor. Here is the problem with that line of thinking. One would think that this type of work ethic would yield respect, approval, maybe even glory, but what I found was that it just meant more responsibility, more pressure and more expectations. Which in turn made me feel unappreciated, used, and unimportant. I knew that something had to change, so began using a tiny but might word that was unfamiliar to me – no. You see, because I did not want to disappoint people, I said yes to far too many requests. Yes, I’ll head up that new project for my co-workers. Yes, I’ll be on that committee. Yes, I’ll go shopping with you. Yes, I’ll meet you for coffee. Don’t get me wrong, many of those commitments were worthy of my time, but all of the yeses often left me feeling overextended, depleted, and drained. There are only so many hours in a day, so in effect I was unintentionally saying no to many of the things that brought peace, energy, and joy to my life. All of the yeses were reducing my ability to enjoy the people that were the most important to me, so I had to learn to say no.
I have come to realize that we teach people how to treat us by the behavior we accept or reject from them. And for years, I taught people to love me because I could make things happen. I taught people to love me because I was reliable. I taught people to love me because I was productive. I taught people to love me because I was loyal. The problem with living your life trying to please others is that when you start to say no, often times their love for you fades. And when the acknowledgement of your efforts begins to go unnoticed, it leaves you feeling used, disheartened, and bitter. As these feelings began to seep into my soul, I knew I had to retrain people how to treat me. This wasn’t an easy process, but I began to say no more often. People were resistant to my new teachings. Some took it as a personal attack to their value system because I was re-evaluating my own priorities. And, let’s face it, it was easier for them if I continued to say yes to their requests. My productivity helped them pursue their purposes, advance their agendas, and rationalize their own choices. I found I needed to set new boundaries in order to teach people to honor my no. This was a painful, but necessary process. I had to speak up to put people on notice when they crossed the new line. I’m not going to lie, it was uncomfortable. I lost friends during this time in my life because I found myself not wanting to engage with people that didn’t value or accept my need for change, my need for a priority adjustment, my need for peace. And quite honestly, they did not want to spend time with me either because we no longer shared the same ambitions. But what I gained was freedom, empowerment, and sometimes even moments of peace. Full disclosure: the peace part is a continual work in progress. My life felt more harmonious when I realized I had the power to decline or accept offers. The choice was mine, all mine. I still said yes quite often. Yes, to a date night with my husband. Yes, to spending an entire Saturday and Sunday in a gym watching my son play basketball. Yes, to flying to Nashville for a girls weekend with Summer. Yes, to authentically sharing life’s daily joys and struggles with friends. Yes, to mindless nights at home watching Netflix to unwind. Yes, to a life full of freedom, delight, and love.
A really wise person recently gave me “permission” to give up my need to please. He told me it was not my responsibility to make others feel comfortable. It was my responsibility to make myself feel comfortable in my own skin. This was a foreign idea to me. I had dedicated so much of my life to taking care of others that I had not realized I had uspered the need to care for myself. My heart was in the right place, but I was neglecting to practice self-care. I was consumed with the fear of rejection. I believed that if I didn’t work to make people happy, they wouldn’t love me. Admittedly, I lost favor with some, but not with the ones that mean the most to me. I had to make peace with the fact that not everyone was going to like me. I had to quit looking for validation from others and start loving myself. I was consumed with the fear of failure. I believed that if I made a mistake, I would be the recipient of harsh criticism. Guess what, sometimes I WAS bad-mouthed for my inadequacies, but not by the ones that mean the most to me. I learned that those that mean the most to you, will LOVE YOU UNCONDITIONALLY in spite of your shortcomings. I had to make peace with the fact that I am not perfect. I will disappoint. I won’t always be a first-rate wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, or employee. I am human. I am not perfect, far from it actually. I’m still on this journey that began years ago, but I hope sharing my story will inspire any other people pleaser out there to start their own pilgrimage.
So here are five ways to get started:
- Remember, we teach people how to treat us. Speak up if someone takes advantage of you. It is their fault the first time it happens, and your fault all of the subsequent times for not teaching them differently.
- Quit trying to make others feel comfortable at the expense of your own well-being.
- Don’t feel guilty for using that tiny but might word, no. You are worth it. Self-care is a necessity not a luxury.
- Not everyone will like you, accept it.
- Disappointing others is inevitable. Embrace disappointment instead of avoiding it.
Life is sure to bring stressful circumstances. That is certain. And, there are many situations that we simply cannot avoid, times we just cannot say no. However, there are many circumstances that have the potential to cause stress, but that can be evaded by using that tiny but might word. Learning to saying no will allow you to say yes to the things that mean the most to you. So this new year, I hope you feel empowered to be brave, be bold, say no!