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People-pleasing vs. Inability to Say No

Updated: Sep 2, 2021

Typical people pleaser

There is this theory that I have intuitively developed through my experience coaching clients and even when I was maneuvering my own relationships- When we think of the typical people pleaser, we think of “yes” people. People pleasers will put other’s their needs before their own. People pleasers will run themselves ragged in order to please somebody else. But is this really true? Let’s take a closer look....

Are you a people pleaser?

From my experience, I have seen people pleasers commonly repeat this pattern. They agree to something they will not be able to deliver and then when faced with the notion of letting someone down, they will avoid contact or avoid telling the person they will not be able to do what they said.

This is usually out of fear of disappointing the other person. What these types of people often fail to realize is that the disappointment is inevitable. If I was moving and needed a friend to help me, and my friend said yes without meaning it. Then, come the day of the move, I will not be able to make any other arrangements for help since I counted on them for saying yes.

A losing battle....

So, the disappointment is still there, and even more so now, since it will be more challenging to find help last minute. People that repeat this dysfunctional pattern continuously, typically do not like confrontation and rarely speak up to obtain their own needs.

So, if this disappointment is inevitable, is it really people pleasing or is it just an inability to say no?

How to say no....

One technique I often advise my clients that mention they have this pattern of behavior, is to learn to pause before they give an answer. So for example if someone was to ask you for a favor, you can say certain catch phrases like “let me get back to you, I may have another commitment that day”, or “can I let you know tomorrow, I need to make sure I am able to do it”.

I too have found myself saying yes to things without checking but it has never been difficult for me to tell someone I am no longer able to do what they asked. Now, this is the trick with these catch phrases: YOU HAVE TO GET BACK TO THE PERSON.

These are not short cuts to get out of a commitment. Instead be a person of integrity and get back to the person within the timeframe you said you have.

Where I have seen a lot of things go wrong in many relationships is that there tends to be a pattern of relationships formed where there is little if any confrontation, needs are repressed, and the person the people pleaser disappoints does not want to stir the pot and address this.

This is where people can find themselves in the vacuum of continually people pleasing and causing disarray in their personal relationships.

A little case study...

Let’s exemplify this with the fictional Sally Sue. Sally Sue was supposed to help Mary Jo clean out her garage. She agreed to it for the coming weekend. Mary Jo contacts Sally Sue and is unable to reach her. Now, Mary Jo is now upset. A few days go by, and still no word from Sally Sue. Mary Jo is wondering what happened to Sally, so after a few days she reaches out to her again and still no answer. Sally Sue then contacts Mary Jo after a few weeks and acts like nothing happened.

This impositions Mary Jo to not address the disappointment since Sally is acting like nothing happened. This can also be a form of gaslighting, especially if Mary Jo was to say something and Sally Sue did not acknowledge it. So instead of discussing Mary Jo then recategorizes Sally Sue and realizes she can’t depend on her.

Sound familiar?

When it comes to people pleasing and avoidance, we must do better. Hold your loved ones accountable for their behaviors because it is adversity that causes growth and change, not peace. Do not fear addressing things with your close ones. The ones that are truly there for you can always handle it. If you struggle with people pleasing or the inability to say no please reach out to me and we can work on this together.

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