People-pleasing can be a difficult habit to get out of, but these techniques from psychotherapist Anna Mathur will help you learn how to change your mindset on saying ‘no’.
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Saying yes to things you don’t want to do is okay every now and then. But if you feel unable to say no to things on a regular basis and it’s something that causes you stress, this could lead to social burnout.
We grow up being told that it’s a good thing to put other people’s needs before our own but this is only true to an extent. Putting yourself first is a crucial part of looking after yourself and protecting your mental health, which will also serve to make you a better friend, partner and family member.
You may have noticed your people-pleasing habits intensify post-lockdown, after spending so many months by yourself or exclusively with the people you live with. Saying yes to plans felt like the obvious thing to do after such a long period of isolation, but commiting yourself to too much social interaction can catch up to you pretty quickly, causing you to burnout.
“People-pleasers are very often burnt out because they say yes to everything,” says Anna Mathur, a psychotherapist who specialises in dealing with anxiety and self-esteem. “You have to figure out how you can protect your own boundaries so you can treat life like a marathon not a sprint.”
Anna has developed three coping strategies that people-pleasers can use to help cope with social burnout. Here, she breaks down how to use them for The Curiosity Academy to help you curb your people-pleasing habit for good.
The ‘pause’ technique
The pause technique is something Anna recommends you use every time someone asks something of you, whether that’s making a plan or a favour.
“People-pleasing is a habit – it’s an immediate response,” she says. “So, you have to give yourself an intentional opportunity to pause.”
Whenever someone asks you to do something, even if you want to do it and you know you’re available to, tell them that you will come back to them with an answer at a later date. That can be the same day or a week later but doing this will help you create boundaries with your time and give you space to reflect on what you truly want.
“You can say something as simple as ‘Let me check my diary and come back to you’ or ‘Let me check and get back to you,’” Anna suggests.
Then, Anna says you should think about the wider picture of how you are spending your time that week or month and whether this opportunity will benefit you. “When you give what you haven’t really got, it becomes expensive for you,” Anna says. “It might make you feel like withdrawing.”
If you decide to say yes, Anna stresses that you need to know what your motivation is for saying yes. “Do you want them to think that you’re a great friend, that you’re really loyal, that you value them?” she asks, explaining that these are not valid reasons.
“The likelihood is that the people asking you to do things don’t know what it’s costing you and they wouldn’t want you to do something you don’t want to do,” Anna adds.
The more you take intentional pauses, the quicker this will become a habit and will feel normal, so you always have time to think about your decisions.
The ‘stories’ technique
Often people-pleasers are prone to overthinking, according to Anna. The reason you’re saying yes to things you don’t want to do might be because you have made up stories about what might happen if you say no.
“You might think that other people will think you don’t care or that you’re selfish but that is only a story – you don’t know that they’re going to think that,” Anna says. “Do you think that of other people?”
Anna explains that you should question every thought you have about saying ‘no’ or ‘yes’ to something, and figure out whether this is a story or whether it is fact. You can write this down in a journal but Anna says the best way to work through this is by speaking to a friend about it, who can probably offer a rational perspective.
“When you don’t question the stories, you’ll treat them as truth but becoming aware of them can be really eye-opening,” Anna says.
The ‘simply no’ technique
Often when people-pleasers say no to plans, it comes with an explanation or an excuse. But Anna says that, most of the time, this is totally unnecessary. “No is a very quick answer but it’s a hard one to give,” she says. “But you need to remember that no is an answer in itself and that you don’t always need to explain yourself.”
Anna says that you should practise saying no without an explanation, starting off with small things and with people you’re close to and eventually moving up to more serious things, like work situations.
“When we’re authentic in saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’, we’re respecting not only ourselves and our resources but the other person too,” Anna says. “When we say yes wholeheartedly, you’re valuing people by not committing to things that you can’t do wholeheartedly.”
Find more expert-led techniques on The Curiosity Academy Instagram page.
Anna Mathur, psychotherapist
Anna is passionate about taking therapy out of the therapy room and is widely celebrated for her accessible mental health advice and the light-bulb moments she offers across her platforms, including her Instagram page, podcast The Therapy Edit and five-star rated online courses on Reframing Anxiety, People Pleasing and Self-Worth.
Images: Anna Mathur and Getty