Lower your stress by protecting yourself from a consuming tendency to avoid conflict

A lot of us are people pleasers. Our goal is to live life without conflict.  We say yes to invitations and requests even when doing so makes us feel overwhelmed and trapped or stressed and unappreciated. We even take on tasks voluntarily, springing into action without being asked to prepare a gourmet meal, organize a surprise party, or chip in to buy someone an unexpected gift. Our unspoken hope is that our generosity will be appreciated, maybe even reciprocated. But by trying to make sure everyone else is happy, we end up unhappy ourselves.

Here’s how:

We suffer with stress
Saying yes when we want to say no is stressful. In protecting someone else from a negative exchange, we take on unwanted responsibility. That’s a net negative for us.

We strain the relationship
Saying yes when you want to say no is misleading to the person making the request. Agree once and you increase the chance you’ll be asked again. The request will feel even more burdensome the second or third time. Repeated accommodation can strain the relationship.

We reinforce the behavior
Instead of being true to ourselves, we are reinforcing the habit of ignoring our true feelings and making decisions that cause stress. This pattern becomes more difficult to change every time we repeat it over and over and over.

We lower our self-esteem
When our behavior doesn’t match how we feel, this causes cognitive dissonance—the uncomfortable feeling that we aren’t being our real self, that we don’t think enough of ourselves to expose who we truly are.

We lower our self-reliance
Every time we ignore ourselves, we are abandoning and disappointing ourselves, all in the effort to avoid disappointing someone else. The final result? We don’t feel like we can count on ourselves anymore.

Small Stressors Become Large Stressors

Each of these stressors can take a toll on the quality of our lives. Collectively, they wreak real havoc. People pleasers can struggle with depression and anxiety. We think no one appreciates us. We start to believe that our relationships are contingent on what we provide instead of who we are. We may become so good at doing what others want that we become less and less able to recognize and pursue what we want, and need. Even if we do recognize our own desire, we may be so trained to ignore ourselves that our people pleasing becomes a habit which we think we can’t control.

How to Find a Balance and Lower the Stress

Don’t think of yourself as that important  

This doesn’t seem to go along with feeling better, but I am not joking. You are not the only one that your friend or family member can ask to do a favor or attend an event. As people pleasers we get so caught up imagining how upset someone will be if we say no that we forget to think about other options that person has.

Don’t assume the other person is as sensitive as you are

Sensitive people experience intense emotions. We know how sad, lonely, frustrated, or hurt we can feel when we are told “no” or experience disappointment. When we are easily hurt and feel pain deeply, we often commit to doing everything we can to not be the cause of these difficult emotions in others. But we are not all the same and not everyone feels as deeply as people pleasers do.

Remember that others can speak for themselves  

If we say no and someone is inadvertently devastated, that person can tell us. Imagining or guessing how another person will feel is not our responsibility. We don’t have to guess about how badly we feel when we overextend ourselves trying to please others. Keep that in mind!

Get professional help

Just as we are experience things differently, we all have a unique personal history which influences the ways that we think, feel and behave. If these reminders are not enough to protect yourself from this well-meaning habit, consider getting therapy. Many professionals have struggled with people pleasing and are likely to understand!

Developing insight that helps us be more honest with ourselves and with others is possible. We can learn how to say no in a way that lowers our stress and doesn’t hurt others. We can learn that saying no can be empowering rather than stressful. With practice, we can break the habit of people pleasing and align our behavior with what’s best for us.