May 15th, 2023, 05:00 PM

How to Stop People Pleasing

By Aerin Flaharty
Image credit: Unsplash / Remi Walle
A guide for people pleasers: how to say no and create healthy boundaries in friendships and relationships.

This one goes out to the people pleasers, to the libras, to those always holding the door open for others, and to those who have a hard time saying no. If you’re anything like me, you love to say yes, and if you’re anything like me, you need to cut it out. With the help of myself, and our two AUP counselors, Charlotte Vernier and Pamela Montfort, here are some self-help tips to build more boundaries in your friendships and relationships so your wellness is not sacrificed for the convenience of others.

People pleasing symptoms hide behind the shadows of being known as the “kind friend", when in reality you are going out of your way to make others happy. These practices root from wanting to gain validation, having trouble saying no, not setting common boundaries and consistently over apologizing. However, these damaging habits can be broken, so here’s some advice on how to start.

AUP counselors Pamela Montfort and Charlotte Vernier guide you to ask yourself a few questions before you say yes to something:

Is this person’s request reasonable?

If the situation was reversed, could I ask this person the same thing?

Do I feel that person would still care for me if I disagree with them? What happens if/when I say no?

Do I feel drained or hurt by this relationship? How much is this relationship costing me?

People pleasing can range anywhere from saying sorry without actually feeling sorry to filling your schedule with activities that only benefit others. It's normal to want to help friends and to lift weight off of someones back if you're able, but it's unhealthy for you to do so when you have enough weight of your own to carry. At some point in our lives we've practiced people pleasing. A few weeks ago I was walking out of my French class and I was in a but rush. It's a class that runs later in the day which tends to stress me out a little more than usual about the amount of daylight left and the number of things I still had to do. Even though I was in a rush, I decided to go with two of my friends on my way home as I usually do and split up at a road that's closer to my home and is more convenient for me. But as we continued to talk and as I continued to remind myself of the hours left of work I had to do I was asked to walk a different route, which I knew would put me off track and stress me out even more. And even though my brain said "We have important things to do, say 'no'", my mouth played the devils advocate and said yes to make my friends happy. And even though I only agreed to just a few extra minutes, I knew I was shooting myself in the foot instead of politely taking a different route. What should I have said instead? "I have to get home but I'll see you guys later". While there was no intense pressure to follow anyone or go any certain way, it was because of my people pleasing practices that led me to say yes faster than I could even think to say no. 

Building a stronger relationship with your voice is the best start to avoid acts of people pleasing and others manipulating you for your kindness. It’s a tough habit to break if you are constantly used to going far out of your way for others, but it’s a habit you need to practice. It helps to be aware of yourself and recognize the power you obtain. If you become mindful of this now, the next time you are faced with a request you don’t want to say yes to, it will become easier to decline.

Picture yourself being asked a favor by a friend and you just don’t have time to help them. It would be in the people pleasing nature to tell them yes, but remind yourself, “we don’t do that anymore.” Become aware of your situation and know that you have not only the power, but the righteous final word. One day or another people will have to stop mistaking your people pleasing for kindness. You are allowed to say no and you should say it confidently.

Charlotte Vernier and Pamela Montfort collectively offer the advice: “It is important to assess your boundaries, remind yourself and others of what these are, and take time to reflect on what the right balance is. Saying no can be difficult, but it may be essential in order to preserve yourself, especially if you don't agree or you are not comfortable with what is being asked from you; ask yourself if it clashes with your personal values and if you believe it’s the right thing to do.”

Even if your friends and loved ones are so accustomed to your kindness that they don’t even recognize it as people pleasing, it is important for you to be able to decline offers or things being asked of you and to not feel guilty about it. Lets make one thing clear: you should not apologize for choosing to help yourself instead of choosing to help others before yourself. Remember that in airplanes, you put on your own air mask before assisting others. The trick to avoiding people pleasing starts with acknowledging your patterns and using these practices to change them.