Saying NoCan you say no when you mean no? Can you be honest about your opinion or feeling when asked? If not then you might be suffering from a condition called “people-pleaser syndrome” (PPS). If you suffer from PPS you might be liked by many but you are probably known by few, if not none. PPS means that you hide your own feelings or boundaries because you are preoccupied with guessing what others want and doing what you believe will make them happy. If you find yourself agreeing to things and then wishing you hadn’t said yes, you’re suffering from PPS. People-pleasers often fear disappointment and rejection from others so deeply that they neglect their own truth. While pleasing others is well-intended, it accumulates in a relationship in a negative way. Here’s the thing that the people-pleasers don’t consider. They are LIARS! I’ll use a silly but common example to demonstrate my point. By telling me that you’re happy to drive me to the airport and then acting weird and uncomfortable about it while still telling me that it’s fine for you, you are lying to me. You are hiding your truth in order to try to please me, which doesn’t allow me to know you. And the examples can become much more consequential. For example, I once worked with a client who had a baby because her partner wanted a baby, but she had always known that she didn’t want children. She became very depressed after her son was born because she was living a life she had never wanted to live. When her partner left her and her son when their son was still an infant, she was confronted with all of the ways she had tried to please her partner and had ignored her own truth. She received a very harsh lesson in how nothing we can do can truly make someone else happy. And ignoring our own truth doesn’t make it go away.
Where our own truth comes from is a bit of a mystery. Over the eons people have talked about our truth or our intuition living in our hearts and our guts. This is because we can FEEL our truth if we pay attention. When someone asks you to drive them to the airport and you’re already feeling pressed for time, you can feel the “uh-oh” feeling in your gut. When someone does or doesn’t want to have children, they often feel that truth in their heart or in their gut. I don’t know how to explain the origins of those feelings other than “mystery.” Some people say that we come to this life with a path or a mission and that some life experiences are a part of that mission. To me that possibility can shed some light on huge decisions like having children, but it doesn’t explain the little truths that we feel inside. I don’t think that whether or not I drive you to the airport is part of a larger mission. But I do think that our spirits know what fits for us at any given moment and what does not. I think our spirits are talking to us when we feel our subtle truths in our gut/heart.
And that’s usually when our minds get NOISY. “But you should drive her to the airport or you’re being selfish. She’s going to be mad if you don’t do it.” “You can’t deprive him of having children just because you decided when you were a kid that you didn’t want kids. You can’t tell him you don’t want kids or he’ll leave you for someone who does.” Our minds can instantly find fault with our truths and create a compelling story of a doomed future where that relationship blows up and we are all alone. The most confusing part is that our minds can be loud and demanding while our truth remains quiet and present. Unless we are careful we will misguidedly listen to the squeakiest wheel and our minds will win every time. If you make decisions from your mind based on a pattern of pleasing others, then you are an expert at ignoring your deeper truth. But it’s still there and your fight to ignore it can sometimes be witnessed by others.
Many people can tell when someone says yes and means no. They start saying things like, “Are you sure?” This is a well-intended probe to give the other person a chance to reconsider since the initiator of the request is receiving mixed messages in the form of a YES verbally but a NO in tone or body language. The problem is that an honest person never needs an, “Are you sure.” I actually think those words are toxic in a relationship because they really mean, “Are you telling me the truth?” I think it’s important to assume the other person in the relationship is telling you the truth. And if they are not, it’s their responsibility to figure that out and correct themselves. If I am constantly questioning the integrity of the people that I supposedly trust, I’m constantly accusing them of being dishonest. And a people-pleaser who is truly stuck in the pattern of pleasing will always ignore their deeper truth anyway, so your attempts to get the truth out of that person will be for naught.
If you are recognizing any of these people-pleasing patterns in yourself, consider these options. Once you have agreed to something that you wish you had not agreed to, you still have an opportunity to change your mind. You can always call your friend back and tell them that you can’t drive them to the airport afterall….no explanation required. And if you’re overwhelmed by saying no in person, you can text or email your change of heart. Of course it’s ideal if you can be honest far enough in advance that your friend can arrange another ride, but that’s just to highlight how much your lying can impact others. I think honesty in relationships is the most important part of building trust. So the next time you find yourself about to say yes when your gut is screaming no, stop yourself before you compulsively say yes. Tell the person that you need to figure out something pending in your life and you’ll get back to them. Take the time to get clear inside of yourself what your truth is. If your truth is a no, practice saying no by writing it down and rehearsing it in front of a mirror or with a trusted friend. And then tell the person your honest answer. Fear of disappointing someone else is just fear….don’t listen to it. But loving someone and the desire to be honest with them and with yourself is priceless. And it builds trust.
Think once again of the qualities that you want in your relationships. Do you want honesty, transparency, and trust in your relationships? Then you need to embody those qualities. The only way we can have the beautiful, honest relationships that we desire is to be honest with ourselves and those we love. Try it…I dare you. You can be a reformed people pleaser! Remind yourself that if a relationship blows up because you express your truth, then it wasn’t the right relationship for you in the first place. And if you are truly stuck, there may be some digging to do before you can take these steps in your life. Consider setting up a counseling appointment with me to dig deeper. Sometimes we all need help changing long-held ways of being.Read More Articles