people pleaser

On Being Willing to Disappoint People

"I have to go into hibernation mode if I'm ever going to get this book done!" I said to my husband.  I said it with a chuckle, not yet knowing just what that meant. He looked at our calendar and quipped, "Good luck!" when he saw my schedule.

Sometimes No Is the Loving Truth

If I wanted to be in writing mode in January then I probably needed to be saying no to things back in November and December (and probably shouldn't have taken on planning two big surprises weekends to celebrate his birthday last month!) but now I am ready.  I know that to birth a manuscript by May means that I need to be churning out a chapter a week for the next couple of months.  And to churn out a chapter means I need several uninterrupted days every single week.  Every. Single. Week.

But since this is on top of an already full life of seeing friends, running a business, traveling to speak, and keeping up with things that matter to me like blogging, etc.-- something has to give.  I'm not a full-time writer who has the luxury of spending months in a cabin.

So I have to say no.  To a lot of events. To projects. To ideas. To people.

Grateful my friend, Christine Arylo, has been saying this again and again over the years!

Saying No is Frickin' Hard!

Saying "no" isn't my forte.  I'm a recovering people-pleaser. I want people to like me.  And I want to communicate that I like them!

On Tuesday, I looked through my inbox and felt my shoulders collapse a bit just looking at all the requests: one friend wants to schedule our next lunch, another wants to know if I can help promote her book, a reporter wants to interview me for a story, a project partner wants me write a guest blog, a group I'm a part of needs me to RSVP for a lunch, someone who has interviewed me in her community wonders if I can return the favor, another asking me if I'm attending a specific conference, a close friend needs some advice and hopes I can call tonight, a friend of a friend wonders if I have 5 minutes to help mentor her through book publishing, and someone I met a few weeks ago read in my book that we should always set a date instead of putting it off so she wants to know when we can get together next. *sigh*

For almost every single one of them I can tell you why I should say yes: well this one helped me with my book launch so it's only fair I return the love, this one's a really good friend, this one would only take me fifteen minutes, this one is from someone who never asks me for anything so I want to come through so she gets more comfortable asking for help, this one would be fun to do, this one would help promote my business, and this one is a cause I really want to support.  Almost all of them from women I love, or at least know and admire.

I don't want to miss out on anything fun. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.  I want to love my friends lavishly. I want to support my network and make time to be a giver.

But I know deep down that I can't birth this book and keep up my own life and do all these things. Even for people I love. Even for relationships that are important to me.

My friend Christine Arylo, the Queen of Self-Love, is like a little voice in my head:

"Stay true to yourself, even if it means disappointing another."

If that's true, then this week I feel like I'm in a graduate course for self-love.  And while love is in the word-- I assure you that when doing it, it doesn't feel like hearts and rainbows; it feels like fear and panic.

How Not to Say No

With the first few emails I found myself sort of saying no, but not really.

I kept falling into the temptation to assuage my guilt:

  • Barter: "No, I can't do that, but I can do this instead." --Which then left me still obligated, even if in a smaller way, but my head space was still committed to that project or person in some way.
  • Justify:  "I'm so sorry <insert long explanation here> but I so support you <insert long gush here>"-- Which then made me realize that in the 15 minutes it took me to say no, slightly defeating the purpose of trying to clear up my days.
  • Delay: "I can't do lunch right now as I'm writing, but let's get something on the calendar for end of May!" which felt like a put-off, required 2-3 more emails to get it scheduled, and then I started dreading the end of May for when I'd be over-committed to all these things when what I'd probably need is a get-away!

I was trying to find a way to say yes while saying no, but I found that I felt just as bad, it wasn't freeing up head space, and it felt like I was still committed to things that didn't reflect the season of my life. Saying one thing and meaning another is not the path to integrity.

How to Say No

The gift of having to say no to many people all in the same time frame is that as I practiced, I got better:

"Dear amazing friend <insert name>-- You are important to me and this ________ <insert project, event, interview, request> is undoubtedly something I would love to do or be at; unfortunately I'm in a season of life where I have to say no to a lot of awesome things in order to do what I've already committed to do.  I'm a fan of anyone who asks for what they want so I'm glad you asked and hope you feel comfortable reaching out again in a few months. With love, Shasta"

What I learned:

  • Keep it short and simple.  A no is a no, they don't need my sob story.  The temptation to drag on is my own issue.
  • Avoid promises. In some cases, the "no I can't do that, but I can do this" is the best approach.  In committed relationships, that is what I'll be doing as needed. But in the vast amount of the requests, my gut knew that I just needed to say a firm and clear no, without getting hopes up or dragging out the process.
  • Affirm them and their request. That's important to me to communicate my respect.  It's possible they'll still get hurt feelings or be disappointed, but I know I spoke kindly.
  • Invite them to ask again, later.  I struggled with adding this one... but finally decided, in my case, that it felt good.  One of the causes I champion is helping women to learn to ask for what they need... so even if I can't always say yes, I'm proud of them for asking.  And I hope it causes them to feel safer asking things of me, as they can trust me to say yes or no, as needed.

Many people fall for the belief that we have to say yes to people we love.  I disagree.  In fact, I believe it's the people we love that can be our safest places to practice.  We know they love us, we don't have to dance and sing to entertain them.  We can practice listening to our intuition and acting on it.

My mantra this week:

"Stay true to yourself, even if it means disappointing another."

And I hope my friends believe that, too, even if it means saying no to me at some point.

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p.s. And this doesn't mean I am ignoring all my friends-- that's never okay. I will continue to make time for my closest friends, partly for the sake of the friendship, and partly out of self-care to me.

p.s.s  Next Friday, February 13, is Self-Love Day.  If you live in LA then you can join Christine Arylo live to "take a bold stand to end your negative self talk" or watch from your computer via Livestream!

My Name is Shasta. I'm a Recovering People-Pleaser.

I am a recovering people-pleaser. I Am a People-Pleaser.

My mom was visiting last week and told a story about me from junior high.  One of those random snapshot memories that revealed just how strong my people-pleaser tendency was at such a young age. Apparently, I had been upset that morning so withpeanuts cartoon a tear-streaked face I insisted I couldn't go to school "because everyone expects me to be the happy one who cheers them up. And I simply can't today." My mom said it was one of those moments where she saw just how serious I was, how her heart broke to think how much pressure I felt to ensure everyone's happiness, and how she couldn't figure out where I ever got such a "silly notion." I was a natural people-pleaser.

A people-pleaser is one who gives in order to feel valuable, who gains approval by giving to others. Warning signals include: feelings of resentment, a sense of depletion, and a fear that we mustn't say no. We are scared to show up in any way other than as the giver.

I Am Recovering!

But the word recovering is definitely a part of my DNA now too.  One of the gifts of my twenties was growing from a huge personal failure of mine.  Not only did I have to accept that I could actually hurt and disappoint people that I loved, but I realized that if I waited to only show up until I was happy-- it might be several years before people saw me again!

I had to learn to show up in my messy life with my tear-streaked face.  Acknowledge that I could hurt people even when I hadn't intended to.  That I couldn't be responsible for their happiness.  That I couldn't fake my own. It was an era of disappointment that I now cherish for the clarity it brought me about me, others, and life. Needless to say, I earned every letter of the word recovering as a badge to precede people-pleaser.

What Does That Mean Though?

As with any addiction, we are trying to use a substitute to fill a hole. In people-pleasing,  we lose sight of our inherent worth and are trying to feel valuable by monitoring how others feel, rather than on what we know to be true about us.

Unlike a recovering alcoholic who chooses to never have alcohol touch her lips again... I can't pull an all-or-nothing in my healing.  To be in my form of recovery doesn't mean that I never please people.  It doesn't mean that I always say no, that I make people mad, and that I don't try to bring joy wherever I go. Which is a relief as I certainly wouldn't want to be an anti-people-pleaser!

So determining whether I'm acting out of my people-pleaser mode could be more difficult because it's less about avoiding a specific substance, and more about determining my motives. Am I saying yes so that she likes me more? Am I offering this to win her over? Am I exerting all this energy so that I feel more valuable and needed? Am I over-extending myself because I'm out of touch with how I feel and what I need?

Notice that in all those questions we ask ourselves, there is a sense that when we give we are expecting something back. We give so that we feel better about us. We kiss-up so that we receive kudos and rewards. We please so that we feel needed or valued. And to point out the obvious-- when we give with a need to receive, it's hardly a gift, as much as it is a commodity exchange (where the other person may not even know or agree to the terms!)

5 Ways Recovering from People Pleasing Actually Pleases People

There are many resources for why we are this way, how to awaken to our worth, and how to start practicing the "no."  The angle I want to take is within our relationships... a few notes of encouragement to give you hope that saying no doesn't risk you losing what you value most.

Here are five ways your friendships can be enhanced when you learn how to metaphorically say no when you need to:

1)  No relationship is healthier than the lowest common denominator of the two individuals in it.  You simply can't have two depleted people and end up with a healthy friendship. Even one depleted person who can't hold her own worth ensures that her experience of the relationship is never healthier than her own personal health. The lowest common denominator between a 3 and 9 is a 3, not a 6. You getting healthy enhances your relationships, it does not detract from them.

2)  Your friends want a mutual friendship, not a doormat/slave/depleted martyr. You might think they prefer to have you doing them favors, but they wouldn't if they saw the price tag: resentment, a sense of imbalance, fear, scorecards, feeding your low self-esteem, your exhaustion, etc.

3)  Holding the belief that we live in a universe with enough love for both of us. I've also heard it called a "win:win universe" or as Einstein said "a friendly universe." It means that we trust that when we do something loving for ourselves, it also gives love to others.  Sometimes saying no is the most loving thing we can do.  Sometimes leaving a relationship is the most loving thing we can do.  Sometimes letting someone else hit their bottom without us trying to fix them is the most loving thing for them.  We are arrogant and foolish if we think we're the best judge of what's truly best for everyone else... especially when we obviously don't even know what's best for us. We simply don't know. All we can do is try to make the most loving and compassionate choice for our health and happiness and trust that when there is love present it's ultimately good for both parties.

4)  Saying no to them gives them permission to do the same. I had a friend thank me for my no to her requested favor this week.  She said it not only increased her trust that she knew she could ask me and I'd be honest, but that it modeled for her that it was okay to evaluate her own choices, too.  Interesting that what we fear saying may be the healthiest and most loving gift of permission to them!

5)  When we show up honestly, it tells them we will accept them when they do too. When I was in 8th grade, I thought if I could make people feel better that it was the loving thing to do.  I made the mistake of thinking sadness wasn't good-- that we needed to avoid that.  We don't.  Sadness isn't bad, it's a real feeling that gives us important information.  By refusing to show up with my tear-stained face, I, in essence, was saying to my friends that it wasn't an acceptable way to feel.  Which is hardly a place of love.

As with anyone in recovery, we still know our tendencies.  Someone from AA can be sober for 30 years and still describe themselves as an alcoholic.  To face your demon doesn't mean it's gone, it only means you can see it more clearly.

My name is Shasta.  I'm a Recovering People-Pleaser.  Anyone else care to introduce yourself?  :)  Nice to meet you.

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On a similar theme, I previously posted on Huffington Post a two-part series on Giving & Receiving: Do You Give More Than You Receive? and 6 Ways to Bring Balance To Your Relationships

Also, note that the 21-Days of Friendship Curriculum that I guide in September helps you evaluate what you should be giving and to whom.  Not all friends are equal! Be sure you know your own energy and where to best give it!