Question: Do you know what a people-pleaser’s biggest fear is?
(Hint: it’s only one word)
The answer: No.
The biggest fear of a people-pleaser is saying ’no’ when someone asks for something, may that be a favor or a meeting. It’s the fear of creating a conflict, of provoking the person who is asking, by saying the simple but oh-so-dramatic ’no’.
I haven’t written about people-pleasing in a while. That is mostly because my life has been pretty calm and there haven’t been that many requests or favors asked of me. And it’s been nice. I’ve been able to focus on more important things, on myself, on my writing.
However, now I have something to say, something to update you on. Progress, so to say.
After I decided upon quitting my people-pleasing behavior (progress that has been going on for a year or so, but the active, conscious decision was made this Summer), I’ve done pretty well saying ’no’ to many things. If I haven’t felt like doing something or meeting someone, I’ve simply declined and moved on with my life. Of course, everyone hasn’t been quite okay with me saying no to them, but I’ve tried my best to accepted that.
Instead, I’ve focused on myself, prioritized my school work, my own interests, my own time and energy. They have come in the first place while favors and other things have come second.
However, there is a thing here: all the favors and meetings have been asked by friends and acquaintances. When the people asking for favors are part of my family, it’s a whole different story.
When they call and ask for something, it feels like I turn on an autopilot mode. I don’t even consider saying ’no’ to them because I’m already thinking how I can say ’yes’ to the thing they are asking. It’s insane – and still it happens.
Let me give you an example.
Last week, I was extremely focused on finishing the theory part of my thesis before the deadline on Friday. I invested huge chunks of time writing it in the library and prioritized the thesis over everything else (except my creative writing and habits). On Monday, my mother called. She asked if I could to do her a favor on Wednesday, two days before the deadline. It was something that would probably take a few hours of my afternoon. It would help her a good deal, she said.
While holding the phone to my ear, I already knew what my answer should be. I knew I should say ’no’ to her. I knew that I needed all the time I had scheduled for my thesis-writing that week and if I’d spend ”a few hours of my afternoon” executing that favor, it would definitely put me behind my work. I’d probably even miss my deadline. In addition to that, I knew the favor wouldn’t take only a few hours. I would put down energy and time before that favor (whether I wanted to or not), waiting for it to happen, and I would probably need a good deal of time for the after-effects of that favor, processing the experience and my thoughts about it.
In other words, the favor wouldn’t take only a few hours of my time. Instead of two hours, it would probably take five or six hours of my day, most likely the whole day.
While on the phone, I was aware of all this. I knew I was supposed to say ’no’ because it would have been the right thing to do for myself. It was my deadline, my biggest and most important essay for school, I needed to make that deadline in order to get onward in my life.
But here’s the thing: a people-pleaser never puts herself first. She always thinks of others before she thinks of herself. And this is why, while my mother explained something on the phone, my brain started going through these thoughts:
”Maybe I’d be able to get everything done before the deadline if I just re-scheduled my creative writing or postponed it altogether, prioritizing my thesis instead of Yellow Tails. After all, Yellow Tails doesn’t have to get done as soon as possible, even though I’d like to finish the first draft as soon as possible.”
”Even if I don’t make it to the deadline, it wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen. I could probably ask for more time, say I only need a few days more if it were okay. I could finish the theory during the weekend. Yellow Tails could wait.”
In retrospect, what amazes me is that I had a one hundred percent valid excuse to say no to my mother’s request and I knew it. I knew it – and still I was doing some serious B-planning in that moment! I was actually considering putting a favor in the first place, and letting my thesis, my novel, my personal well-being take the second place.
Now, a week after that phone call, I wonder how could I even consider it. But I did. It was so close that I would have said ’yes’. However, I managed to say that I needed to check my calendar first. I’d call her later that evening.
So, hello. I’m H.E.R., a recovering people-pleaser who almost relapsed last week.
That phone call last week made me realize that my family truly is the weak point of the people-pleasing side of me. The members of my family are the people who trigger that people-pleasing behavior in me and even take it to the next level, the insane level.
It isn’t any wonder that it’s my parents and my sisters who trigger the behavior in me. The people-pleasing habits of an individual are often created in one’s childhood. As children, we want to please the people we love in order to avoid conflicts and not add to the burden. I recognize myself there – I never wanted to add to my parents burden. Therefore, I was always the kind, trouble-free, helpful, well-behaving child. The one, who always had the time and energy to help others out.
And now I’m paying for that.
The happenings last week helped me realize another thing as well: my role in the family has always been to be that person who gives her time and attention to the other members of the family. I have always been that person who helps out, listens and does favors. I never ask anything for myself, in order to not add to the burden. I manage everything myself, but when someone needs my help, needs to lend my ears, my attention – count me in, I’ll be there.
It’s a tough boggart to fight. It’s tough saying ’no’ to one’s family – after all, haven’t they done so much for you? Haven’t they always taken care of you, helped out when needed? Wouldn’t saying ’no’ be ungrateful?
The answer: no.
It’s tough to say ’no’ because you know it will provoke a conflict, questions about your attitude, your behavior. Your family will remember that you said ’no’ – and they will remind you of it later.
It’s even tougher to decline when I know my family doesn’t understand that me saying ’no’ is actually completely normal – they’re not just used to it.
Despite all this, the answer is: no.
Saying ’no’ is the only option I have if I wish to quit this kind of behavior once and for all. It was my family that brought up that behavior in me when I was a child and they are the people who trigger the behavior in me today. Saying ’no’ to my parents and my sisters, when it feels like I’m doing wrong towards myself in order to please them, is the only right thing to do if I want to stop pleasing other people.
It’s a battle I must take on. I want to be the kind of person who holds on to her own values and uses her time and energy on her own terms. A person who respects herself and who doesn’t recognize an autopilot mode when it comes to doing favors.
And that is why I told my mother I couldn’t do her the favor she asked for. I didn’t say it in the moment, on the phone, but later that evening as I had promised I would tell her when I got home. It was already late when I got home so I sent her a text message, explaining about my deadline and how important it was for me to use every hour I had to be able to meet it.
If she understood what I tried to say and if she respected my effort, I don’t know. She only informed me the next day that she had managed to get someone else to do the favor. I was left with mixed feelings, but in retrospect, I’m proud I said no. Because now I know it’ll be easier to do the same next time.
(And yes: there will be a next time.)