I am a recovering people pleaser.
Honestly, it really pains me to say that. Even hearing that in the solitude of my own head, unable to be drowned out by the noise in my headphones that follows me when I blog, it drives a splinter of pain into my heart.
I know that I’m not the only one either. Speaking with several of my close friends, many of them have had similar struggles. And even more unfortunately, many of them have had rude awakenings to it.
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you?
Do you often find yourself reaching out to people who don’t care enough to try first? And then when you meet, it feels awkward and forced?
Do you take on more projects than you can handle? Even at the risk of isolating and pushing away the ones who truly are there for you?
Do you feel like you’re suffocating? Even when you have free time, you can’t relax, because there are a million other “more productive” things you could be doing?
Do you always, or almost always, accept social invitations because you’re worried that people won’t like you if you don’t?
Do you feel guilty telling people no?
If so, I hate to break it to you (no, I don’t, because you need to hear this, and it’s WAY more important to be truthful with you than please you right now…), but you are most likely a people pleaser.
How do I stop this, you may ask? You may have unpleasant thoughts of being considered a pushover if you continue to be a people pleaser, or a bad friend or family member if you stop being so.
However, the person it is most important to please is YOURSELF. I’m not saying to shirk your loved ones; obviously not, the ones who truly love you will always be there right by your side as long as you continue to treat them as the treasures they are. However, I know the pain that results from not listening to yourself as you go through life, and as any sufferer of a chronic disease can tell you, pain prevents you from living your best, or happiest, life.
Not sure how you process the world, or why you’re a people pleaser?
I found part of my reason in a personality test that many employers/universities use to help their students or employees learn more about themselves. It’s called StrengthsQuest, and after a short 20 minute test, where you are supposed to answer questions as spontaneously as possible, you are given the top 5 strengths out of a list of about 100 or so. My top 5 strengths really did help me learn a lot about myself: Input (collecting as much knowledge/meaningful things as desired), Ideation (creating new ideas), Futuristic, Strategic, and Responsibility.
I took this test about 3 years ago, but when I look at the result reports, I learn something new every time. When going through my old StrengthsQuest results a week or so ago, I found out that my sense of responsibility predisposes me to people-pleasing behavior, with the added side effect of killing my free time. When I get asked to help with organizations, homework, or the like, I feel personally responsible to pitch in my time. The little manager on my shoulder (who sometimes wears angel wings, and sometimes demon horns) whispers in my ear, “They believe in you, and you can really help this project, so you have to! To say no would simply be selfish. What if no one else can help?”
In my life, this has culminated in things such as me clinging to friendships where I was the only one really investing effort, me taking on too many projects (even including a several year research project), not always being able to make enough time for those who DO actually care for me, and me tearing my hair out (both figuratively and literally). I could go on, but neither you nor me wants to be here all day.
How to Break the Habit
Since I started saying no, and establishing more boundaries, I’ve started on the path to healing. When I establish the need for a two-sided friendship, I don’t have to feel as obligated to continue to reach out to people who have shown time after time that they don’t care to put effort into the relationship.
When I say no to another project, part-time job, or club obligation, I’m not personally invested in its success later, and my calendar stays more free for those people who truly care. When I say no to things that aren’t as important to me, I say yes to myself, the people I care about, and the projects, organizations, or hobbies that are truly meaningful to me.
This means that the people around you also benefit. Those who you do choose to give your energy to will like get more of it. From happier friends, to more successful organizations, to higher work quality, everything benefits when you have less to think about.
Although I’m still learning how to say no, I think my first few test “no”s out of my comfort zone have set me up for a good path throughout life. As a college senior, I feel as if I now have a group of lifelong friends, impacts that I have left on multiple clubs on campus without outstaying my welcome, and have determined many long-term goals from the things that I truly enjoy doing.
This year, I’m prioritizing my
- physical health by sticking with Taekwondo,
- mental health by being exec on only one organization that really matters to me (International Partners and Leaders, or IPALs for short) and saying no to most other long term commitments,
- my future career health by prepping for grad school in space engineering, which will get me one step closer to my dream job of becoming an astronaut,
- and my social/mental health by nurturing close friendships, and pruning many others who take more than they give
How can you improve your overall health and well-being by saying no? Chances are, you’ve overextended yourself somewhere. Take a moment, breathe, grab a coffee/tea/cocoa, and when you get something done, don’t feel the need to pick something up to replace it. You and everyone else around you will be better for it.
(I hope you enjoyed reading, this was my first Medium post!)