Agreed to weekend plans you don't want to do again?

My client Helena told me that she sat through a two-and-a-half-hour film with her sister, even though she had seen it last week. Saskia shared that she agreed to a date at a sushi bar even though she hates sushi.


Sarah said she would switch shifts with her colleague at the hospital even though she had worked eight days straight and was so looking forward to a chilled night at home. Maybe reading this you can think back to instances where you have said "yes" but you know deep inside you want to say "no".

So why do we do this?

Why do we agree to those Tuesday night drinks with colleagues? Why do we go along to the weekly Zumba class that we actually hate? Why do we say yes to a friend when all we want to do is say "no"? Humans, by design, tend to move away from things that make them feel uncomfortable and towards the experiences that make them feel good.

People pleasing itself is a deeply ingrained trait for many people that stems back to our childhoods due to an innate desire to feel safe. It feels good to make other people happy, even if that feeling is temporary and short-lived. In fact, science shows that our desire to please starts from as young as six weeks old with the act of a smile. Through the smile, the baby receives love and attention.
Throughout our early life, when authority figures and caregivers (parents, teachers, grandparents) approved of what we did, we felt accepted and validated. Getting good grades at school might have meant getting an ice cream on the way home. Helping your younger brother with his homework perhaps allowed you to stay up late. Being sensible and easy maybe you earned you extra affection.

We quickly learn that making other people happy feels good and often comes with a reward. In short, we learn to please. There are many reasons why a person may say "yes" when it's actually a full-body no":

  • a desire to make someone happy
  • a fear of hurting someone
  • a fear of missing out
  • a sense of duty
  • a fear of rejection
  • an authority figure

We might say to ourselves things like, "If I admit I don't like sushi, maybe he won't want to go on that second date after all" (fear of rejection). Or "She'll be annoyed if I say I've already watched the film because she really wants to see it" (a desire to make someone happy). Or "They'll think I'm lazy or disrespectful if I don't switch shifts" (a sense of duty).

So how can we identify what we need and learn to say "no"?

The first step is (as with so much of therapy and coaching) awareness. If you have been doing this for years, decades, then this trait is going to be deeply engrained in your body's programming so much so that you might not even be aware that you are doing it. Recognising in what situations (and with who, you say "yes" without really meaning it) is essential to overcoming unhealthy people-pleasing tendencies.

The second step is to pause and consider what is actually going on. You might have an internal conversation with yourself or better yet, grab your journal and reflect deeply on the following questions:

  • What do I actually feel about this? (physically / mentally / emotionally / energetically)
  • What am I saying "no" to by saying "yes"?
  • Why do I feel like I need to say "yes"?
  • Why do I feel that I can't say "no"?

Learning to say "no" is establishing a form of boundary. I'm sure you know, it's no easy thing to do. So the final step is to practice being honest, authentic and compassionate with the people you feel most comfortable with. In doing so you'll soon discover that it's safe and necessary to learn how to say no.

Over time you'll teach yourself that people won't reject you, or think less of you for standing your ground or expressing your needs. And if anyone does then they're certainly not the type of person you want to be surrounding yourself with anyway - so it's good to shine a light on the people that don't have your best interest at heart.

Chances are these people-pleasing tendencies have been there since you were a child, so it will likely take time, patience and practice to rewire your brain in these instances. If you're looking for support and accountability, then I'd love to work with you. This is your opportunity to truly understand the reasons behind why you don't feel quite as happy as you know you could as well as develop the confidence to deeply trust yourself and show up authentically in this world. This invitation is only for someone who is ready to do the work required to change. It's not always easy stuff but it is so worth it!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London SW6 & Lymington SO41
Written by Alexandra Taylor, Holistic Life & Mindset Coach for Women
London SW6 & Lymington SO41

Alexandra, is an experienced Integrative Coach supporting her clients in overcoming their inner critic and reaching their full potential. She helps people to make the changes that they wish to make so that they can lead happier, healthier and more balanced lives.

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