Guest post: by Tammy Bronfen
I connected with Tammy through a blogging course. When I visited her site I came upon this post and thought,” Oh my, this is perfect for my lovely followers.” Who doesn’t struggle with people pleasing, I certainly do and I’m guessing you do too? Hopefully, you will find Tammy’s post as helpful and inspiring as I did.
Thank you, Tammy, for sharing from your heart💗
Learning To Say No When You’re Used To Saying Yes
I used to believe that it’s better to say yes than to say no. That being agreeable and willing to always help somehow makes you a better person. I think there are a number of reasons for this:
- I was brought up in South Africa. I think the sentence I heard most from adults when I was growing up was “Children should be seen and not heard”. We were taught to be quiet and obedient and to never ever disobey or disrespect our elders (even if they said something mean to us or completely disrespected us).
- I’m a woman. Most of us were raised to be “sweethearts”, to obey others and put other people first in the disguise of respecting our elders or other traditional beliefs. These beliefs are core to the feeling that we’re only lovable if we’re compliant, obedient and helpful. But it’s a double-edged sword because being a people-pleaser actually means that your self-worth depends on what you do or don’t do for other people, which in turn means that your needs always come last. And everyone around you gets used to a dynamic where they expect you to be there for them no matter what.
- My parents got divorced when I was 12 and without going into too much detail, it made me avoid conflict like the plague! A Harry Potter invisibility cloak would have been very useful to me during those years.
In short, my genetic and cultural heritage have conditioned me to avoid rocking the boat at all costs, and I do this by saying yes almost automatically to whatever I’m asked to do. Or in other words, I am a true and bonafide “people pleaser”.
My mindset on people pleasing has changed
However, during the last few years, I’ve noticed (with the help of my amazing therapist) that while my natural instinct is to say yes thinking it will help me avoid conflict, the conflict still comes along. Only it’s far worse than it would have been if I’d been clear about what I want or don’t want from the beginning.
For example, my children got so used to me saying yes that when I finally say no to them, it’s almost like I’m shouting it. Or because I work from home and am usually nice and easy to approach, people I barely know often ask me for favors. This is fine once in a while, but I noticed that people started to take advantage, and instead of saying no, I juggled my already crazy schedule even more. Then when I did occasionally say no, I felt like I needed to apologize for it and it wasn’t taken very well.
To cut a long story short, I finally understood that if something doesn’t suit me, I just need to be straight up and honest and say no right from the beginning; instead of saying yes and then resenting it afterwards.
No one else is going to put up the boundaries for me
This came together with the realization that no one but me can put up much-needed boundaries for me. It’s a hard truth but most people (at least those I know) have the tendency to take advantage when circumstances allow for it.
For years, I created a dynamic where I said yes to anyone asking (or hinting) for help. It made me feel needed and it made a lot of people around me depend on me and lean on me for emotional and other support. But it wore me down. I had three kids, and with each one, came more responsibility, and I found myself sometimes juggling things around me even more to accommodate the needs of people I barely even knew. It made me more anxious than normal and pretty exhausted, and eventually I had to set my priorities straight and decide that if saying no to someone meant them not liking me as much, then so be it.
I’m slowly learning though that saying no can actually earn more respect from others. So why do I often fall back into old habits and have such a hard time doing it? I think it’s because changing the dynamic can be tough. Deep down, I’ve been conditioned to believe that saying no means I don’t care, that I’m selfish and letting other people down. And of course, as do others, I fear being disliked, criticized or risking a relationship or friendship.
Not surprisingly, according to research, the ability to say no is directly linked to self-confidence. Most people with lower self-confidence and lower self-esteem are nervous about antagonizing others and often put other people’s needs above their own.
It’s time to stop being a people pleaser
I just turned 40 (last year actually) and I think it’s about time. It’s about time I start realizing where my true priorities lie and stop being such a people pleaser. It’s time I start respecting myself and my time more. It’s time to grow up and understand that no one else can put up boundaries for me except for me.
Some advice to myself (and my children and anyone else who needs it)
- Keep it simple – be firm and direct, say no, and don’t over-apologize. You don’t need to ask for permission to say no.
- Consciously separate refusal from rejecting – remember that you are not turning down a person, only a request.
- Stop feeling guilty about saying no to your children – your children need to understand the concept of saying no to develop healthy boundaries.
- Be true to myself – be honest and clearly define what you want and don’t want instead of getting caught up in what others expect of you.
- Don’t decide straight away – in the case of bigger requests, it’s acceptable to say that you need some time to consider your options.
- Be honest with those around you – don’t expect other people to empathize if you don’t share what you’re going through with them and also ask for help when you need it.
*Tammy has a really inspiring corner on her website called One Day, where she shares a different woman’s typical day, each week. Click here to visit: One Day