Being a people-pleaser is about fear. As mentioned earlier, I had a problem keeping commitments because I said ‘yes’ to many things I should have said ‘no’ to. I wanted everyone to like me and I feared reprisal. I thought if I was always agreeable, no one could dislike me. For one thing, that is impossible. For another, the problem was that this came at a great expense to my own self. It’s impossible for everyone to like you and you only hurt yourself in the attempt to do so. I have listened to many speakers, watched many videos, and read many books about the importance of saying ‘no’ sometimes. Every source said essentially the same thing: Being able to say ‘no’ to things and disagree with people is vitally important to healthy relationships. People actually appreciate others who are genuine, assertive, and don’t always go whichever way the wind blows them. I have only ever heard of it strengthening relationships, not straining or ruining them. If it did end a relationship, it was a very unhealthy relationship and you should be thankful not to be part of it anymore.
I heard a story once of a man whom had a neighbor with a drug problem. The neighbor would often come to the man’s place to sell something of his to get money when he had spent it all to buy more drugs. The man wanted to maintain a good friendship with his neighbor, so he agreed to buy his things. This continued for some time. Then the man realized he was not really being a good friend at all. The next time the neighbor came to him to sell something he told the neighbor he wouldn’t buy his things because it was not helping him. It was only enabling him. The neighbor studied the man for a minute and came to the conclusion he was sincere in what he said and was not saying it to insult him. The neighbor stopped coming over to sell his things and their friendship actually grew stronger. That is an excellent example of the importance and benefit of respectfully asserting yourself and not being a people-pleaser.
When I am passive and agreeable when I should be assertive and disagreeable I get angry with myself. I feel cheated. I become resentful of the other person because they should have read my mind, so as not to put me in that stressful situation. A lot of people who have major trouble standing up for themselves feel this way. Continuing in this cycle of passiveness followed by anger at myself and others has had a snowball effect in my life; more so since the big move. Every time it happens, I like and respect myself even less. But, on those occasions in which I am assertive, in spite of my fear, there is a tremendous sense of relief and pride. But, there are times when saying ‘no’ to things is not welcome. Putting a lot of weight on how the other person reacts to my ‘no’ can take away that relief and pride if their reaction is negative. The problem is not that I have disappointed someone; it’s that I have given them the power to dictate how I feel. That is not to say we should never care about how other people feel, but if our decision to say ‘no’ is what’s best for us there is no reason to allow their feelings to sink ours, too. But again, the issue is not that I lack that knowledge, it is that I cannot seem to internalize it.
As I mentioned earlier, the only way I can be assured I will say ‘no’ is when the result of saying ‘yes’ would be cataclysmic by my standards (e.g., major financial loss, criminal record, severe or prolonged hardship, etc.). While saying ‘no’ repeatedly to avoid frequent life-altering consequences may help decrease the fear of asserting myself over time, it is much healthier and less stressful to practice it in less critical situations. As we all know if you want to get better at something we must practice often. Unfortunately, we cannot get a lot of practice in quick succession unless we are frequently asked for certain things we can decline. We cannot tell our supervisors ‘no’ whenever they ask us to do something, unless we are fine with losing our jobs. We cannot say ‘no’ to every single request or invitation we get, because that will surely ruin great relationships and will cause isolation and other strife. So, the only practice we can get is when we are told to do or asked for something unreasonable or of little importance. If those opportunities only rarely present themselves, losing the fear of saying ‘no’ may never happen. There must be supplemental methods that can be performed often enough to eliminate that fear. What are they?