“Why Can’t I Say No?!” The Woman’s Holiday Guide to Stop People-Pleasing
While the holiday season brings out many joyful emotions, it also tends to bring out the inner people-pleaser in many women. “Sure I’ll host the family dinner.” “Sure I’ll bake 700 cookies for the PTA.” “Sure I’ll sell my kidney so I can afford all these gifts.” There’s nothing wrong with going the extra mile to make the holidays special for the people you care about, but too much people-pleasing can take a toll on your well-being.
So what can women do to tame their inner people-pleaser?
1. Understand it’s a problem
You may think, “it’s easier to accommodate others rather than deal with the backlash of saying no.” While there are times to be flexible to others’ desires, excessive people-pleasing is a habit that can seriously impact your mental health. Always putting the needs of others before your own can lead to:
Experiencing stress or depression
Passive aggressive behavior
Feeling angry and resentful
Over or under eating
Feeling frustration from being taken advantage of
2. Realize the relationship damage
You may think that your people-pleasing helps your relationships because it reduces confrontation, but people-pleasing actually builds a wedge between you and your loved ones. When you over-work in a relationship, the other person naturally under-works knowing that you will pick up the slack, and that isn’t healthy for either of you. Plus, relationships are about people understanding one another and connecting on a personal level. Authentic connections can’t take place when you’re always hiding your true feelings.
3. Address the root issue
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be helpful to others, but there’s a difference between being considerate and being a doormat. If you feel a lot of anxiety around making others happy, it may be due to a low sense of self-worth and/or fear of rejection. You probably know some people who don’t people-please but still have lots of friends, so let go of the idea that you need to be compliant to be liked. Focus on improving your own self-image and believing that you are worthy of having your needs met.
4. Take responsibility for your happiness
…and no one else’s! Maybe you host your family for the weekend and Aunt Susan always finds something to complain about. The roast is dry, the pillows are lumpy, your shampoo gives her eczema, whatever. Accept that no matter what you do or don’t do, you are only responsible for your own happiness, and you have no control over the contentment of others. Go to the lengths that make you feel happy and don’t concern yourself with what others think about it.
5. Consider your sacrifices
Remember that every time you say yes to a request, you may be saying no the things you truly value. For example, if you say yes to your cousin’s invitation to go fishing for the holiday when you really don’t want to, you may be preventing your children from enjoying the traditions that you had planned for them at home. Saying no can be hard, but consider what’s being sacrificed each time you say yes out of guilt.
6. Deck the halls with lots of stalling
You invited your parents over for an intimate holiday dinner, but they ask if they can invite 20 members of your extended family. You say yes and immediately regret it, becoming angry at yourself for agreeing and resentful at them for asking. A great way around this scenario is making your default response, “let me get back to you,” when someone makes a request. There’s nothing wrong with taking time to deliver a decision, and stalling will allow you to think through the pros and cons of the request.
7. Use empathetic insertions
It can be hard to use “no” as a full sentence. Empathetic insertions can help soften your “no” while also helping the other person feel understood and less defensive. Just make sure that your response doesn’t include specific excuses, as excuses give the other person wiggle room to talk you out of your reasoning.
Example: “I understand it’s a lot of work putting your Christmas lights up, but I’m not available this weekend to come over and help.”
8. Get support
It can feel impossible for many women to say “no,” even if it means compromising her own sanity. As scary as it may seem, there are ways to build up your confidence, stick to your boundaries, and maintain happy and healthy relationships. Our specialists at Variations Psychology can empower you with the tools to learn how.
Dr. Daniella A. Davis, Psy.D., is an expert in dealing with the unique challenges that women face throughout each stage of life. If you are a woman struggling to stop putting yourself last, Dr. Davis can help.
Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Ph.D., is an expert in child and educational psychology. If you are concerned that people-pleasing may be taking away from caring for yourself or your children, Dr. Shinn can evaluate for mental and emotional health concerns and provide tools to overcome challenges.
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