People Pleasing – Having Trouble Saying No?


BY KALI MUNRO, M.Ed., Psychotherapist, 2001
Originally published BodyTalk Magazine, Aug. 2001

Do you have trouble saying NO? Do you do things for other people but almost never ask anybody to do things for you? You may be a people pleaser.

People pleasers think of other people’s needs before their own. They worry about what other people want, think, or need, and spend a lot of time doing things for others. They rarely do things for themselves, and feel guilty when they do. It’s hard being a people pleaser.

People pleasers hold back from saying what they really think or from asking for what they want if they think someone will be upset with them for it. Yet they often spend time with people who don’t consider their needs at all. In fact, people pleasers often feel driven to make insensitive or unhappy people feel better – even at the detriment to themselves.

Constantly trying to please other people is draining and many people pleasers feel anxious, worried, unhappy, and tired a lot of the time. They may not understand why no one does anything for them, when they do so much for others – but they often won’t ask for what they need.

A people pleaser may believe that if they ask someone for help and that person agrees, that person would be giving out of obligation, not because they really wanted to. The thinking goes – if they really wanted to help, they would have offered without my asking. This line of thinking happens because people pleasers themselves feel obliged to help, and do not always do things because they want to. Sadly, people pleasers have been taught that their worth depends on doing things for other people.

It’s painful being a people pleaser. People pleasers are not only very sensitive to other people’s feelings, and often take things personally, but they also rarely focus on themselves. When they do take a moment for themselves, they feel selfish, indulgent, and guilty which is why they are often on the go, rushing to get things done. Because people pleasers accomplish so much and are easy to get along with, they are often the first to be asked to do things – they are vulnerable to be being taken advantage of.

People pleasers were raised in homes where their needs and feelings were not valued, respected, or considered important. They were often expected as children to respond to or to take care of other people’s needs. Or they may have been silenced, neglected, or otherwise abused, thus learning that their feelings and needs were not important. In many cultures, girls are raised to be people pleasers – to think of others’ needs first, and to neglect their own. Many women have at least some degree of people pleasing in them. Men who identified with their mothers often do as well.

People pleasers’ focus is mostly on others and away from themselves. They often feel empty, or don’t know how they feel, what they think, or what they want for themselves. But it’s possible to change this pattern and to feel better about yourself.

There are many ways to reduce your tendency to please others.
Here are some suggestions:

  • Practice saying NO. This is a very important word! Say it as often as you can, just to hear the word come out of your mouth. Say it out loud when you are alone. Practice phrases with NO in them, such as, “No, I can’t do that” or “No, I don’t want to go there”.Try it for simple things first, then build your way up to harder situations.
  • Stop saying YES. Try to pause or take a breath before responding to someone’s request. You may want to answer requests with “I need to think about it first, I’ll get back to you” or “Let me check my schedule and call you back”. Use any phrase that you feel comfortable with that gives you time before you automatically respond with YES.
  • Take small breaks, even if you feel guilty. You won’t always feel guilty, but most likely in the beginning you will.
  • Walk slowly. It’s part of slowing down your pace.
  • Discover what gives you pleasure, for example, reading magazines, watching videos, going to a park, and listening to music, and then give yourself permission to do those things.
  • Ask someone to help you with something. I know this is a hard one but you can do it!

Check in with how you feel and what you are thinking. It’s important to be aware of these things; they’re part of who you are. And then try saying what you feel and think more often.

Many people pleasers believe that nobody will like them if they stop doing things for other people. If someone stops liking you because you don’t do what they ask, then you’re being used by them and probably don’t want them as a friend anyway. People will like you for who you are and not simply for what you do. You deserve to take time to yourself, to say NO, and to take care of yourself without feeling guilty. It’s within your reach to change – one small step at a time!

Copyright © KALI MUNRO. All rights reserved.