Stop being a 'people pleaser' — how to say no to others

It can get easy to always say “yes” to social obligations, even if you really don’t want to be there.

Andrea Bonior, a clinical psychologist and columnist of “Baggage Check,” recently wrote a post in Psychology Today on why some people have a hard time saying “no” to obligations.

She said many of us are people pleasers. “Often mildly socially anxious, these folks — and the majority of them are women, though men can certainly be afflicted — are so afraid of disappointing others that they make themselves miserable in the process,” she wrote.

“They’re desperate for help in saying “no,” and yet they also can’t imagine actually bringing themselves to do it.”

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This can mean wanting to say “no” to a friend’s birthday party or maybe even something more personal like a wedding. The reasons people want to say “no” vary, she added. It can come down to finances, schedule conflicts or just not having the desire to attend.

But it’s human nature for people to not want to disappoint others, often making it hard to use the two-letter word.

“It’s a very human tendency to want to be liked, almost evolutionary,” she told Global News. “The problem comes when your desire to please overtakes the ability to take care of yourself. You sacrifice your own needs.”

She added these days, that sense of belonging and community are still there, and when people ask us to join them for social gatherings, it gets tough to back out.

How we say ‘no’ has also changed

Bonior argued the way we say “no” has also changed, and technology has made it somewhat easier.

“We’re sort of getting less comfortable with interactions that are not calculated,” she said. “People don’t have to decline invitations in person and they can get out of it last minute.”

This can simply be done by sending a text or an email — any way to avoid real-life confrontation. Bonior said this can also mean more people are likely to cancel at the last minute.

“If you are worried about being liked, last-minute cancellations cause more damage,” she said.

Do we just love cancelling on others?

Last year Glamour magazine wrote about society’s “cancellation plague,” and how easy it is for people to bail on others with the tap of a few buttons. Some experts argued this type of culture can ruin friendships.

“Our FOMO (fear of missing out) has been replaced by FOGO (fear of going out),” author Elizabeth Kiefer wrote. “Performative admissions of how much better it is to stay home have become the thing to do on social media. There are countless memes dedicated to the fact that early bedtimes and hanging solo on the couch have become preferable to spending time with our friends.”

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She added cancelling plans to be alone is a reasonable enough excuse, but there’s also a level of narcissism to the move.

“ inherent to the idea that we think we’re too busy, stressed or mentally exhausted to devote time to anyone but ourselves. It’s at odds with the very idea of friendship.”

Bonior said effort also matters and when people expect plans to get cancelled, they don’t want to put any in.

How to say ‘no’

But sometimes, it is about learning how to say “no” in a respectful way, valuing your relationships and also knowing when to set boundaries.

Here are some of Bonior’s tips to say “no.”

Practice first: No, not in front of a mirror, but start learning how to say “no” by actually saying “no” to small things you wouldn’t say “yes” to. “It can be helpful to practice for clarity sake — if somebody sends out a call out for volunteers and you ignore it.” In this situation, respond by saying “no.”

Understand your patterns: “Try to identify when you are most vulnerable to this behaviour, and when you are not. What feelings are associated with saying ‘yes’ to something that you’d rather not? Is it fear of being disliked? Is it the idea that you ‘should’ be able to do it? Is it guilt that no one else will?” Bonior added understanding why you say “yes” when you do will help you figure out when you can say “no.”

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Think before you speak: Bonior said sometimes we blurt out a response to avoid awkwardness or silence or to keep the conversation going.

“Stop responding out of pure reflex, but instead make yourself count to five before you respond. That will not only gradually desensitize you to the awkwardness of pauses, but it will give you further opportunity to deliberate and find the right words for whatever response you choose.”

Stick to your gut: Sometimes a person’s “no” quickly becomes a “yes” because they can’t come up with an excuse for not attending something. “When we give too many reasons for why we are saying ‘no,’ the other person may detect an opening,” she wrote, expecting us to say “yes” instead.

Instead, she recommends just saying, “Sorry, I can’t make it” in the first place

Don’t always say yes: Bonior argued this is different from learning how to say “no” — some people just don’t know when to stop saying yes. “The problem is people put too much on their plate.” She said saying “no” helps you set your priorities.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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