Years ago, a woman came to me and told me that she had a bad habit of saying “yes” when she really wanted to say “no.” At the end of the day, she felt exhausted. She seethed with resentment because there was never any energy or time left over for what was important to her. Even when she was maxed to the hilt, she'd take on more and do just one more favor for a friend. Then the next day started all over again with the same recipe for unhappiness. She'd had enough of being a people pleaser. She asked me: What can I do to regain my life?
I congratulated her on her growing self-awareness, and for reaching out for help. Self-awareness is an essential first step and deciding to change is a vital second! And her story illustrates why boundaries are so crucial in creating a happy life. Without them, we flounder. With boundaries, we provide ourselves with a sacred space to live our truth and be ourselves.
From People Pleasing to Being Authentically YOU!
To begin the journey back from being a people pleaser is one that requires courage, constancy, and fortitude. However, it IS possible to remake ourselves and transform our lives completely. Science backs this claim.
So why is it critical to set healthy boundaries? They define us. Boundaries allow us to care for ourselves. When setting boundaries effectively, they create a life with relationships we love. They are the way we honor ourselves and others.
In a blog titled, "Good Boundaries Invite Loving Play," the author says:
Boundaries define the field-of-play between your inner experience and your outer co-creation with others.
Good boundaries outline the borders of your field-of-play. They are an invitation. Clear, honored boundaries express how much you love, listen to, and respect yourself—and precisely reflect how much you can love, listen to, and respect others.
Wherever you are on your path of personal growth and whatever you want to change, boundaries are imperative.
When you shift from people-pleasing—saying yes automatically—to doing something different, boundaries are the one skill you need to be successful.
Shifting into a new way of being and interacting with life requires us to pause. So the first way to start honoring yourself is to ask: “What do I want?” many times a day! By asking this question repeatedly, you'll begin to reacquaint yourself with your desires that may have been trampled by compliance and pleasing. The greater the clarity, the harder it is to go against your truth.
Whatever you do, start small, but take action.
A good thing to do as you're learning to flex new muscles is to give yourself some quiet and safe space alone before responding to requests. Instead of saying yes immediately, give yourself a little time alone. It is far easier to know what we want when we’re in our own energy and space unencumbered by others' emotions or pressured by their requests. You can take five minutes or two days—it’s up to you. This practice will give you an opportunity without pressure to decide what you really want.
Some phrases to use when responding to a request:
"Let me get back to you on that request."
"Sounds like a great opportunity, let me check my schedule."
"How soon do you need an answer?"
"I'll check with my husband and see if it will work."
"I'd love to help, and I need to check my other commitments before agreeing."
Practice pausing so you can determine if you have the energy, desire, and time to take on one more thing. If you can't do it wholeheartedly, don't do it!
Next, ask yourself: "Does this request align with my goals and values?" If the request doesn't support them, it's less likely to jump in bed with your habit-buddy compliance because you'll get in touch with what's important to you.
Related reading: "Why You Should Stop Being a People Pleaser"
Next, go to the underlying cause of your habit. Get curious about why you say yes so often. Is it because you hate conflict? Are you afraid of letting someone down? Is it because you want people to know you care? Did mom drill into you that it was selfish to say no to those in need? Find out what is driving your yes-habit. Once the reasons for the habit are conscious, changing the pattern will be easier.
For a mentor along the way, get our e-book "Advice from an Ex-Pleaser: How to Stop Being a People Pleaser."
Now, you're ready to take a bolder move. Start practicing saying no in the safest relationships first. You know those people: the ones that want you to be happy and love who you are. The people in your life who regularly encourage you to take care of yourself. When you first practice setting boundaries in small ways in trusted and reliable relationships, you'll gain confidence. As you advocate for yourself, your resentment will decrease and your happiness will increase. Then you'll find yourself feeling good about saying, "No, that doesn't work for me."
And if you happen to catch yourself occasionally agreeing when you didn’t want to, don’t sweat it. Consider it an opportunity to recommit to honoring yourself next time.
Then when you do say yes, you'll WANT to say yes. And when our yeses support our true self, you'll show up more fully and with tremendous inner peace and joy. Now you're on your way to transforming your life—inside and out!
More on People Pleasing: "Why Being a People Pleaser Damages Relationships—and What to Do About It!"
To learn how to set healthy boundaries, see "How to Create a Healthy and Happy Life with Effective Boundaries."