The Toxic Habit of People-Pleasing

And how to say no to this unhealthy behaviour

Brian Pennie
Dec 16, 2020 · 5 min read

“People-pleasing is a form of Assholery.”

Whitney was stunned by this statement, but she couldn’t disagree, “because you’re not pleasing anyone. You’re just making them resentful… and you’re also assuming they can’t handle the truth. It’s patronizing.”

People-pleasers never say ‘no’

It’s hard to disagree with Whitney, but at the same time, people-pleasers are some of the nicest and most helpful people you can meet. They spend much of their time helping others. They’re great organizers. You can always count on them for favours. And they always make time for their family and friends.

The Risks of People-Pleasing

People-pleasing might seem harmless, but it can lead to serious health risks — both mental and physical — especially when taken to the extremes.

How to Say ‘No’ to People-Pleasing

To stop people-pleasing, one must learn how to say ‘no’. This often requires trading popularity for respect, which is a problem for many people-pleasers, so they first need to get clear on why it’s important to say ‘no’.

  • You’ll have more time for your nearest and dearest.
  • Saying no to things you don’t want to do, gives you more time for things you do want to do.
  • Your ability to deliver will increase tenfold.
  • With fewer things to think about, your mental wellbeing will dramatically improve.
  1. Don’t explain. Sometimes you can leave yourself open to judgement and negotiation if you try to explain yourself. So just say: “Sorry, I’ll have to take a pass”. You don’t have to defend your position.
  2. Decline with gratitude. Be grateful for the offer, but kindly refuse: “Thank you for the opportunity. I appreciate you asking, but I’m maxed out with other commitments at the moment”.
  3. Show them you thought about it carefully: “I’ve had to think hard about this because it sounds like a great opportunity, but I have to say no this time.”
  4. Make it non-personal. Establish a blanket policy that applies to everyone: “I’m sorry, but I’ve made it a policy to say no to any social events until…”, or “I’ll have to take a pass, I’m on a coffee shop diet for the next two months.”
  5. Use your calendar. Simply tell them: “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.” This will give you time to pause and reflect, and ultimately give you a chance to make a decision that suits your needs.
  6. Volunteer someone else. It’s often the case that people don’t care who helps them — as long as they get help: “I can’t do it, but X might be interested.”
  7. Say it with humour. “Nope, not for me!”
  8. Just say ‘no’. If it’s something absurd, just say no, or if it’s an unreasonable message, delete it.

Takeaway message

By saying yes to everyone and everything, you are putting yourself at risk — both mentally and physically. To stop this toxic habit, you must learn why and how to say ‘no’.

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