Most of us want to be liked by other people. It feels great to know that others think good of us. However, when we believe that being liked depends on how much stuff we do for other people and how helpful we are, that’s when the problems arise. People-pleasers know this issue too well – the inability to say no.
Helping others can be really fulfilling, but if you do it at the expense of yourself, out of fear or anxiety, it becomes an unhealthy pattern of behaviour that can suck all your energy and negatively impact your relationships. You spend so much time on what you think you need to do that there is almost zero time left for what you actually want to do. In the end, you feel exhausted, stressed, overwhelmed, and even resentful.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. Learning how to say no and not feel awful after is absolutely possible. In fact, knowing how to set boundaries is one of the most important things in sustaining healthy relationships with others and yourself.
Why Saying NO Is So Difficult?
In general, as children, we learn that saying no is inappropriate and rude. If you said no to your parents’, cousins’, or teachers’ requests, you’ve probably been told off for it. Over time, you associated saying yes to requests with getting approval and saying no with criticism. On top of that, early relationships maybe additionally influenced your “people-pleasing” patterns of behaviour.
You may have been raised to be a sweetheart who always took care of other children, especially if you were the oldest child in the family. An influence like this can lead to the formation of beliefs such as: “I am only lovable if I’m accommodating and helpful”. Or maybe you come from a family where providing emotional support was conditional and inconsistent. Thus, in the attempt to secure love from important adults, it’s possible you developed the underlying belief: “If I don’t do everything to make others happy, they might leave or stop caring for me”. Inability to say no can also stem from early experiences with highly-critical parents who severely punished their children, even for small mistakes. Such experiences can lead to beliefs such as: “If I don’t do everything right, I will disappoint others or be punished”.
Whatever the case is, your self-worth may have come to depend on things you do for others. This is a tricky thing because it forms a vicious circle with no satisfying solution. On the one hand, being unable to say NO can make you stressed, exhausted, and resentful toward others. On the other hand, saying NO might be a threat for your self-image and result in you questioning your decision, feeling bad about yourself, or worrying others will get hurt, angry, or disappointed at you. Either way, with this kind of pattern, you can’t win.
But there is a way to actually win, and that is – change the pattern. Here are some steps you can take to help you say no effectively and create space for a more intentional yes.
Step 1: Get To Know Your Priorities
If you don’t know what you want, it’s a high chance you don’t know what you don’t want. Identify what is important to you, and acknowledge what is not. We all have limited energy and time; decide where you want to direct those, and where you definitely don’t. Before you say no, you have to be clear that you want to say no.
There are, of course, things that need to be done, even if we don’t like it, like finishing that important but boring report at work. But there are also things that you are not obliged to do, like spending another two hours at work helping your colleague finish their task while you really wanted to spend that time at the movies with your significant one.
You can’t be all things to all people. Choose what and who the priority is, and invest your limited time and energy there. The rest gets your resources only in case you really decide it’s worth it.
Step 2: Know What Saying NO Is And Is Not
- Saying NO means you’re rejecting a request, not the person. Make clear to yourself (and to the other person) that you’re not rejecting them as a whole person; you’re just turning down their invitation. People will usually understand that it is your right to say no, just as it is their right to ask for the favor, and that your no doesn’t mean “I don’t like you” but simply: “Sorry, my plate is full/my priorities are elsewhere”.
- Saying NO doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Just because you say no to sacrificing your time and comfort to accommodate others doesn’t mean you’re unlikable, rude, or selfish. It means you’re thinking long term and saying no is a preventative act against self-loathing and resentment in the future.
- Saying NO is not a missed opportunity but a trade-off. Some people hate to say no because they feel like they’re missing out the opportunity. However, saying yes to something unimportant often means saying no to something important. So, instead of looking at NO as a missed opportunity, you can see it as a trade-off. You’re choosing the opportunity to do something you value more than the request. It seems like a fair deal.
- Your NO might be much less threatening than it seems to you. Research from Columbia University found that, very often, people whom others see as appropriately assertive mistakenly thought others judged them as being over-assertive. This effect is called the line crossing illusion. So, if you feel you might be confrontational, there is a high chance the other party doesn’t see you that way.
- Saying NO is a form of self-care and self-respect. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first if you want to have the energy to help others.
Step 3: Learn To Tolerate The Reactions Of Others
The reality is, with some people, setting boundaries will unleash some unpleasant emotions and reactions. There is a possibility they get angry or disappointed, especially if they’re used to you being always available and accommodating. Some might even try to cross your boundaries and continue to push to change your NO into YES. However, when you know this, you can be prepared to work to firmly maintain the boundaries that you have set.
Remember that you’re an individual to yourself and that everyone is responsible for their own reactions. Sometimes, deep down, negative response and unpleasant emotions of others are simply not about you. But even if they are, don’t overgeneralize and jump to conclusions too fast. If someone is disappointed or angry, it doesn’t automatically mean they will ditch you out of their life or think you’re an awful person. It means they are disappointed or angry in that particular situation.
If someone keeps crossing your boundaries even when you communicate them clearly and gets upset because you’re not ready to sacrifice your happiness for their comfort, it may be a good idea to ask yourself is it the kind of relationship you want to nurture in the long run. In the end, you want to surround yourself with people who respect you for who you are, not only for what you do for them.
Step 4: Learn Some Practical Skills For Saying NO
Here are some tangible tips for practicing saying a polite but effective no.
✔️ Express your appreciation. More often than not, when people make a request, it’s because they trust your capabilities or they like your presence. Thus, even though you’ll refuse the invitation/request, thank them for approaching you.
✔️ Be kind but firm. Being polite doesn’t need to lead to a YES. Simply expressing your NO with a kind tone can help the other person (and you) feel better about the situation. However, some people don’t give up easily and will test your persistence. In this case, it’s important to know that nobody can “make” you change your answer with their repeated requests; the decision is completely yours. It’s your job to set boundaries. You can be as decisive as they are pushy. This is a good opportunity to practice your assertiveness.
✔️ Give some reason if you want but don’t over-apologize. Some people find it easier to say no if they give a reason for it, and that is okay. If you feel more comfortable saying: “I’m sorry, I have something else in my schedule already” instead of: “Sorry, I can’t”, that is completely fine. Just don’t lie about it and don’t make up excuses, because that will make you feel even guiltier and possibly complicate your life further. It’s important to know that you don’t need the good excuse to say no – having your priorities elsewhere is enough. Remember, you’re not asking for anyone’s permission to say no – you already have the right to it.
✔️ You can take time to think about it. Sometimes we just babble out YES and commit to something we don’t want to because we feel pressured to give the answer right away. It’s okay to take some time to think about it. That way, we give ourselves the opportunity to answer from the logical and realistic point of view instead out of anxiety and desire to please. If you’re really not sure about the request, tell the other person you’ll get back to them when you think about it. Just make sure you actually do it in a timely manner.
Saying no is a new thing for many of us, and therefore takes practice and courage. But with time, it becomes easier and brings amazing benefits. You are unique, important, and valuable even when you say no to being everything to everyone and take time for yourself. Don’t be afraid to practice it.
What are your experiences with saying no? Share it with us in the comments below! And also, share this post on social media; some people-pleasers you know might be thankful ?
Smith, M. J. (1975). When I say no, I feel guilty: how to cope–using the skills of systematic assertive therapy. Bantam.
Do you feel like the same situations keep happening to you over and over again? Do you keep attracting partners that don’t fulfill your needs or you face the same problems in different relationships? Are you struggling with the same stresses and conflicts at work, or you keep losing your jobs? It’s like you’re a magnet for people who hurt you, or embarrassing situations, or bullies at work, etc.
I am sure that, at least once in your life, you have said or thought something like: “Why this keeps happening to me all the time?”. And really, why? Is it some kind of a mystic cosmic power that brings these experiences to your life? Fortunately, psychology has a more realistic explanation to why you keep entering the same unpleasant situations all over again. Let’s explore what actually happens.
Frameworks You Live By
From the moment you are born, you are in a survival mode. During your childhood, your little mind is programmed to absorb everything that is happening around you in order to learn and adapt to your environment. You pull in the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, ideals of those around you. By interacting with your parents or primary caregivers, you form certain beliefs about yourself, other people, and life in general. These beliefs are the product of the way you interpreted behaviours of your important adults and how they treated your needs, as well as things they were telling you about other people, rules, and life in general.
Of course, not all parents are the same. Thus, some will be convinced that life is a fight, you are not allowed to make mistakes and need to be perfect in order to succeed or be loved and appreciated. For others, life will be a scary and dangerous place full of people waiting to hurt you, so you need to be careful who you trust and never let your guard down. Some will, on the other hand, believe that life is easy and fun, that people usually have good intentions and that, whatever you do, everything will be okay in the end.
These belief systems become the frameworks we live by. They are like colored glasses that affect how we see everything unfolding in our lives. More importantly, these beliefs direct our decision making, condition our behaviour and, ultimately, affect how others react to our behaviours and how they treat us.
Now, imagine a situation that you’re going to a party where you don’t know almost anyone.
Version 1: You’re afraid nobody will talk to you because believe you’re boring or not good with new people. Consequentially, you will probably feel self-conscious and anxious, and enter the party acting awkward, standoffish and not so friendly. As a result, people will not be encouraged to come to you and start a conversation, which will only, in turn, reinforce beliefs you already had.
Version 2: You strongly believe that you’re an interesting person and others will be open to meet you. You think: “This party is going to be great”. People will probably be drawn by your openness and outgoing attitude and come talk to you, which also proves you were right in your beliefs in the first place.
This effect is called a self-fulfilling prophecy, a term coined by famous sociologist, Robert Merton.
Merton noticed that sometimes a belief brings about consequences that cause reality to match the belief. He defined self-fulfilling prophecy as “a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true” (Merton, 1968).
In other words, a self-fulfilling prophecy is a belief or expectation that we hold about a future event that manifests because we hold it. Our expectations and predictions of what will happen impact our behaviour, which shapes how others see us and how they act toward us. In turn, they provide feedback we set ourselves to get in the first place, which serves to reinforce the original belief. Generally, this process is unintentional – we are not aware that our beliefs cause the consequences we expect or fear. And that’s exactly why it’s so difficult to tackle them down and start changing them.
Breaking the Cycle Can Be Hard…
Breaking the cycle of entering the same situations over and over again can be tricky, in the first place because we don’t see our fundamental beliefs as beliefs but as actual facts about the world. Subconsciously, it’s important for us to prove that our beliefs about how life works are “right” because it gives us a sense of security. If we “know” the rules by which the world functions, we feel like we can prepare and know what to expect. That’s why we filter information so they can fit our belief system. We rate experiences that are in line with our beliefs as an important “proof” that our frameworks are actually true, while we label those opposite to our frameworks as unimportant coincidences that won’t impact the way we see the world.
Over time, these patterns of thought and behaviour become our automatic response, a sort of a habitual reaction to circumstances. Researchers believe we have neural pathways in our brains that are reinforced by habit. The more you repeat the behaviour, the stronger your neural pathway for that behaviour becomes, and the easier it triggers the next time.
It’s like a forest dirt road – the more you walk on it, the more well-established it becomes. You have an automatic impulse to walk down that well-worn path, rather than on the grassy part. However, this dirt road often leads to the same destination. To break the cycle, you need to consciously resist the urge to stay on the road you know and start walking on the grass to a different direction. Over time, as you repeat taking the same route on the grass, another path will form and it will be easier to walk on.
One thing you can do to make the first step toward exiting the circle of “attracting” the same problems is to, for starters, let go of certainty. It’s important to understand that much of what you think you know about yourself, other people, and life, is more probably a belief and less probably a fact. It is a product of your upbringing and your past experiences. But the good news is that we can choose our beliefs and, therefore, change them.
You can start off by choosing a pattern that you want to break out of. Then, write down the past five times when it happened. List all the details about those situations – how did it happened, what led to it, why you think it happened. Now, try to find commonalities across these situations. In the end, try to find what part you play in these situations? Are there any behaviours that might have led you to the common outcome?
Here is a list of questions that might be helpful in discovering a pattern and your part in it:
- What keeps happening over and over again?
- How does it start?
- What happens next?
- And then what happens?
- How does it end?
- How do you feel after it ends? (John James, 1973)
This process is crucial for changing your patterns. It gives the opportunity to tackle down the reason you might have taken up a particular role and contributed to the outcome that keeps happening. From there, you can set up a goal – what you want to change and what results to get – and then map out a different path from the one you’re taking now.
It’s absolutely okay if you’re not able to identify the reason behind the same situations repeating in your life by yourself. A good therapist can help you figure out where you’re standing and how to proceed.
Please share your thoughts and experiences on the topic down below in the comments, it’s always amazing to hear it! Also, don’t forget to share this post on your social media.
Yesterday marked my first day exploring downtown Vancouver. I decided that with the sun shining, I would take the opportunity and sit by the beach. So I found myself a rock and curled up with the view of the ocean and the mountains in the distance.
There was a man next to me, probably in his mid-20’s, relaxing and sunbathing. As I fell into a blissful feeling, enjoying the warmth on my face as I read my book, I noticed the guy beside me was swimming! As a note, although I’m in Vancouver now, it is still only the 7th of April.
Before I decided to leave, I decided I would initiate a few words with him. So, I asked:
Me: “How cold was the water?”
Him: “It was really cold. But, if you tell yourself it’s really cold you’ll never get in. I come down to the beach every day in the summer. I live close to here. I’ve been wanting to come swimming all week, but today was finally warm enough. Cold is relative.”
What impressed me the most was his choice of words. It was obvious to me that:
- if you want something bad enough you’ll do it
- if you keep a positive perspective you’ll face adversity
- your words affect your actions
- what is okay for me, may not be okay for you. But if it aligns with your values, goals, and desires, you’re being authentic.
Although there was a bit more to our conversation, this was the gist of it.
So here is your tip:
I think we can all take a piece of his perspective and try to use it more in our daily lives.
Have you caught yourself reframing your self-talk or your words? How has it helped you? What helped you change your perspective? Share it down below in the comments!
As we transition into Autumn here in Ontario, I find myself reflective about my own life choices as well as about some of the stories my clients have shared with me.
One of the beautiful things about life is that we have an abundance of choice around us. Have you walked down the aisle’s of your grocery store lately? What about exploring the department store? Let’s not even talk about the ways to express yourself through social media!
These choices are great; they provide us with options, allow us to feel empowered and abundant. However, sometimes perhaps these choices can lead to a “road block”, where we have TOO many choices and are left feeling stumped.
From what I’ve observed, making choices about certain transitions or changes in your life can sometimes feel overwhelming. Let’s face it, when we think about the big, “life-impacting” decisions we have around us, they are just that, “life-impacting”! So, how do you make these decisions with clear eyes and open hearts?
The important piece to this, in my opinion, is to make your decision based on your values, and what you want for YOU. It’s your life to live. So, without prevail, embrace what you really want, with logic, and with a smile.
Let’s face it – feeling insecure is draining! Insecurity in a relationship can be the main cause of jealousy, accusing, a constant need for validation, misunderstandings, and fights. In order to make your relationship work, you need to overcome uncertainties about yourself. Enjoying more of life and your partner will empower you with positive feelings.
What Can Help Me to Overcome Insecurity in a Relationship?
Insecurities can happen as a result of a rocky childhood, a relationship that went sour, or people with low self-esteem. No one is perfect, but we really don’t have to be. This article, by uncommonhelp.me, outlines quite nicely how to overcome insecurities in a relationship. Here’s the link to read more: http://www.uncommonhelp.me/articles/overcoming-insecurity-in-relationships/
Insecurities in a relationship can ruin even the happiest moments. Thus, discovering where your insecurities come from is important for resolving some issues you might have with your partner. Maybe your insecurities are coming from the type of attachment you developed throughout your life. Read our article: “How Attached are you?” to find out more.
What do you do to improve your self-esteem? Moreover, did you tell yourself you’re gorgeous today? Because you are!
So you’ve been slacking on your new year’s resolution; who hasn’t? The question now is: are you going to make the necessary changes to achieve your goals? Remember, a positive mindset is required with the ambition to do more. Here, we will work on the times when doubt creeps into your mind and you find yourself loosing your motivation, slacking again. So even as the snow thaws out and the flowers start to bloom, note if your new year’s resolutions are starting to dwindle in your mind. Let’s take this post to reflect on the reasons why we chose those goals and how we can stick to achieving them in the coming months.
How Do You Speak About your Goals?
Let’s first look at how you articulated our goals to others. Did you scream it from the rooftop after too much champagne? Or maybe you scribbled it in the sand before the tide came in? Either way, you found some way to tell others what your goals are for this year. But after that night, did you write them out somewhere? A place you know you would read them? Because something as simple as writing on a blank page and posting it on the wall can go a long way toward helping you reach that goal, one day at a time.
Another effective method, that puts more accountability on your actions, is using an agenda. Did you reach your milestones in the time you allotted yourself?
Whichever method you decide to use, just make sure you stay aware of both: where you want to be and when you want to be there. Try to repeat the goal over and over to yourself, take the time to listen to what you are saying. This technique can up your stakes on your goals, by helping you dig deep and finding the real motivators behind them.
How to Motivate Yourself
Visualizing what you want to accomplish is important for motivation. Did you want to exercise to fit into those skinny jeans? Or did you want to give your doctor less concern about cholesterol levels? Take a few days to really listen to what the foundation is for your goals. Something you can do to help determine motivation is weighing the pros and cons of your thought process on making these changes: What am I gaining? What am I avoiding?
Motivating factors can be described as:
1 Fear: “If you don’t do the dishes you’re not going out tonight!”
2 Incentive: “If you meet your sales quota this month you’ll get a $1000 bonus on your paycheck”
3 Intrinsic (attitude/internal): “I complete this 5km run because doing so gives me a sense of accomplishment – and I know it’s good for my physical and mental health.”
By now you should start getting a clearer picture of where your goals are being formulated. Have you found something you’re passionate about? Is there something you know you have been putting off for years? Use this awareness to embracing your purpose for this year. I am not trying to make you uncomfortable by overwhelming you with an overarching reason for your actions, but rather trying to draw out some accountability about how you act towards your goal. As these actions are rooted in how your goals are presented to you, both internally and externally.
Internal (intrinsic) vs. External (extrinsic) Motivation:
● Internal motivation comes from the fulfillment of self-gratification
● External motivation comes from outside the learner in the forms of tangible rewards and punishments such as competition, grades, awards, promotion, pay, etc.
Where to begin?
If you’d like to inquire about goal setting and motivation treatment and help in Mississauga or Bradford Ontario at Real Life Counselling, don’t hesitate to call us at 289-231-8479.
Taylor, J. (2013). Personal Growth: Motivation: The Drive to Change. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201201/personal-growth-motivation-the-drive-change
N.A. (2013) NALD: BDAA. Canada’s Literacy and Essential Skills Network. Retrieved from: www.nald.ca/adultlearningcourse/glossary.htm
Ham, V., Davey, R., Fenaughty, J. (2013). Proceedings from the 16th International Conference on Thinking (ICOT). International Conference on Thinking. Retrieved from: http://icot2013.core-ed.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Proceedings-ICOT-2013.pdf#page=181
Frequently in my practice, I have individuals share their struggles with making life decisions. These decisions revolve around: What to do next? To stay with my partner or to leave? To find a new career or put up with my current? etc.
There really isn’t an easy answer to these questions. We will all encounter various transitions in our lives and some of the answers or paths to making these decisions will come easier than others.
The question clients most often ask is:
How can I make the transition during this decision-making process easier?
Here are a few tips about life decisions to keep in mind:
- I quote Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid, “have balance, and focus“
- Write out your choices… allowing you to empty your mind of emotion and use more logical reasoning when deciding
- Trust your inner voice and stick to your decision. You’ll feel confident you made the decision and stuck to the plan.
If you’ve never heard of Level 5 Leadership, it’s a concept developed by Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great”. Level 5 leaders are ambitious, but their ambition comes from the cause, from company’s benefits, not from their own gains. They inspire others and share credit for success. Also, they are often shy and reserved, but at the same time fearless when it comes to making decisions. Collins says that CEOs of 11, in his opinion, greatest and most successful companies in the world, are level 5 leaders.
Links Between Level 5 Leadership and Meditation
So, here is the good news – being a level 5 leader is learnable. Collins says that, under the right circumstances, you can evolve into a level 5 leader. But what are those circumstances exactly? Among other factors, such as having a level-5 boss or loving parents, can also be self-reflection and conscious personal development. Now, both of these improve with meditation. Meditation, among numerous other benefits, takes you to the present moment and helps you reflect on your own feelings and thoughts. Thus, it is a great tool for getting to know yourself and, accordingly, improve in areas that you think need improving.
Here’s a great article from Harvard University on how leadership and meditation are connected: https://hbr.org/2015/12/how-meditation-benefits-ceos. It might be a good starting point on your journey to becoming a level 5 leader.
Ah yes. The birds are chirping, tulips are growing, and days are getting longer. We are officially in the season of Spring, and with all these changes taking place, I’m sure you feel the urge to clean up your relationships. Before you get the broom and sweep people off to the side, first recognize what is at hand… relationships with people (e.g., family, love, friends, business, etc.). We are social beings and, at the end of the day, the people in our lives provide us with happiness, satisfaction, and positivity. Try and identify what makes you uncomfortable now, and where you want to improve it.
Does your best friend put you down in front of other people? Does your partner reinforce your bad habits? You feel crummy after talking to that family member…but guilty if you don’t? You are incredibly bored, tired, and want out of your relationship? Do people put too many demands on you, making you feel like you must have all the answers and solutions in the world?
It’s understandable, we can all relate to some type of relationship like this in our lives. Here are 3 tips on how to “refresh” your relationships and to enjoy them more.
1. Air out the bad news and differences
Listen, communicate, and accept without judgment. When we take the time to effectively listen to someone and the concerns they are having they feel we genuinely care and are interested in what they have to say. By doing so, negative feelings will be less likely to be present and both parties will be heard. Remember to communicate without interrupting, and use “I” statements.
2. Open up and breathe in the winds of change
It’s easy to judge, or even to take those people in your life for granted. This Spring, try adjusting your sails and chart new waters with your relationships. Experiment with new ways of listening (i.e., put the cell phone away and listen attentively to words and body language). Open up to trying something new – remember that embracing minor discomforts makes you a stronger person.
3. Provide the necessary components for growth
As the trees bloom leaves, flowers stretch out of the garden, and the grass grows greener, you need to recognize that it takes two to tango and take personal responsibility for what you can do to enhance your relationship.
Whether you decide to embark on one or all of the above, I am confident you will be happy you did. Relationships need attentive care and attention – just like growing a garden. Here are two good questions to consider before doing too much ‘sweeping’: How is this relationship valuable to me? And what am I willing to do to retain its worth?
When change is about to happen to you, the results can be significant. Maybe you’re expected to get out of your comfort zone, or to completely change the way you’re living your life. Whatever it is, change can be hard and painful, at least in the beginning. Thus, the psychology of change can be complicated, and you should seek to manage the cognitive and behavioral changes from the very beginning. Typically, people go through few stages of change in order to adapt to the new situation. Getting to know these stages can help you deal with your process of change.
The Process of Change
Initial concerns: The threat to deep systems.
Initial reactions: Negative or positive?
The Kübler-Ross grief cycle: The emotional cycle on given bad news.
Shock stage: Initial paralysis at hearing the bad news.
Denial stage: Trying to avoid the inevitable.
Anger stage: Frustrated outpouring of bottled-up emotion.
Bargaining stage: Seeking in vain for a way out.
Depression stage: Final realization of the inevitable.
Testing stage: Seeking realistic solutions.
Acceptance stage: Finally finding the way forward.
The positive change cycle: Even good news has its ups and downs.
Resistance to change: When people push back against the change.
Rationale for resistance: What people tell themselves.
The resistance zoo: The animals and their styles of resistance.
Signs of resistance: Spotting subtle signals of dissent.
How to cause resistance: There are many ways!
Strong and weak commitment: After an agreement, commitment may vary.
In managing the initial announcement, the key is to do just that: manage it. Rather than just announce is, first think about the effects that it will have. Then, stage the communication in a way to have the impact and effect that you desire. In other words, if you’re not communicating it on the right way, the change that seemed easy at first can result in a real mess. Lastly, I personally believe that you got this!