How I’m Trying to Stop Saying Yes: The Plague of People Pleasing

I’ve been pretty fortunate enough to remain mostly healthy for most of my young life. Besides some minor issues, such as psoriasis, iron deficiency and suspected Raynaud’s syndrome, I’m not sick with anything absolutely horrible. There is one thing, though, that I’ve been suffering and restlessly battling for most of my life, and that is a severe case of the People Pleasing Syndrome.

I must clarify now that I think that people pleasing isn’t the most debilitating condition one can have. It definitely doesn’t do harm to others; it does nothing but help them, obviously. The most serious side effect is at the end of the day, as the people pleaser goes home, frustrated and exhausted, realizing that they have not done anything they actually wanted to that day, and only exclusively pandered to the many needs of others.

The origins of this disease in my psyche are unclear, but I believe it stems from my wonderful and selfless mother. From coaching my brother’s basketball team for one hour to volunteering at my Girl Scout troop’s meeting during the next, she constantly rushed around during my childhood making sure everything was taken care of. Her immediate “yes” reactions established her as the reliable one in her many communities, and whenever a favor was needed, she was the one that everyone called on. She put everything on her plate all of the time, and when someone tried to sneak on the gross pile of green beans that absolutely could not fit into her schedule, instead of refusing, she took it on.

As I was summarizing my mom’s story, I increasingly saw the similarities between her struggles and mine. Right now, in my junior year of college, I am the president of one club, on E-board for two more, work a full day once a week, have to take care of all of the chores and responsibilities that come with living in an apartment and, oh yeah, enrolled in four classes. I have a lot to keep up with, and organization and to-do lists are extremely important to me. When I forget to fulfill one of the many duties I promised to do, and someone gets upset because of it, I feel soul-crushingly guilty. 

I’ve always had a hard time saying no to things, which probably explains my packed schedule. I find that when I show resistance to doing something, the world always tries to persuade me into changing my mind. I’ve just accepted that it’s easier if I shut my mouth and say yes, and do the things that no one else is willing to do, even if I myself don’t really want to do it either. I turned it into a joke, constantly calling myself a “doormat,” and laughing when friends said to me, “How can you let someone take advantage of you like that?” My main priority was keeping up with my “selfless” and “reliable” reputation, no matter how damaging it was to me.

This past year, I’ve realized that I have had enough, and if I want to prioritize my self care and sanity, I can no longer live this way. 

All of my life, I’ve classified myself as “easy-going,” but lately, I don’t think that’s the case. On top of wanting to please everybody in my life, I am also petrified of conflict. The slightest chance of someone being upset or disappointed with me sends me into a spiral, and I get into an extreme perfectionist whirlwind when someone critiques anything that I do. On the flip-side, if someone does me dirty, my stomach turns into one big knot at the thought of bringing it up to them.

It took me a long time to realize that my relationship with conflict was not a good one. I had this epiphany late into my sophomore year of college, when I spoke up about an issue I was having with something and all of the tension I’ve been holding in my body immediately evaporated. I freaked out, for lack of a better phrase. Has it always been this easy? All I had to do this entire time was stand up for myself? Everyone else is allowed to have boundaries; why can’t I? 

My biggest strife with bringing up conflict is the fear that my concerns would be invalidated. Like I mentioned earlier about always being persuaded into saying yes, I was scared that I would be convinced into not being displeased with the issue I brought up. I understand now that the other person’s validation does not matter; I hold all of the power into enforcing a personal rule or policy. I don’t have to accept disrespect at all. 

Boundaries are another thing I’ve been experimenting with, specifically setting them on my time. I’m a person who absolutely requires alone time to recharge from all of the stress I put on myself during the daytime hours, so there comes a time where I must excuse myself and lounge around in the cave that is my room. Lately, if someone asks something of me that will cut into my recharge time, I have been respectfully declining. Sorry, but I must spend time with my Spotify playlists, my Gua Sha and my White Cheddar Cheez-Its. 

“Nice guys finish last,” is a phrase that many roll their eyes upon, but in this situation, I found it to be unfortunately true. I made sure that everyone else came before me, that I was putting my wants and needs to the absolute back of the burner. I had to even relearn what exactly I wanted and needed through journaling and shadow work, because I was so focused on making sure others were pleased with my opinions that I somehow lost myself in the process.  

Journaling has been my saving grace throughout this discovery, because it provides a space that is solely dedicated to me, myself and I. At the end of a day, I love to sit down and write down my thoughts and struggles I have experienced during it, and then try to boost my confidence by writing down some affirmations and the things I am grateful for. 

One of those things is definitely my support group of friends and family, who never fail to listen to me and validate my experiences. Of course, there were some environments and individuals that I had to distance myself from when I came to the conclusion that they only ever asked of me, and never gave anything back in return, but those losses have given me unbelievable personal gains.

When I realized that my opinions matter, and are equal to those who were more vocal about theirs, it made them stronger. I became a more confident person in the many positions I hold that put me “in charge” of something. I always thought being assertive meant being mean to others and acting like they were “below” you, but the reality is that it is possible to politely assert yourself. I was just afraid of the draining people who used to be in my life giving me backlash when I stopped serving them on hand and foot. 

If you are struggling with People Pleasing Syndrome as well, the pills to heal can be really tough to swallow. I still have a hard time with standing up for myself, even when I realize that I need to. Hopefully putting this out into the world will help me put these ideas into action, and I hope that this resonates with all the passives who read it. Together, we must realize how important our real thoughts are to our world, and how much we deserve to contribute to it. 

About Alli Dempsey 30 Articles
Allison (Alli) Dempsey (she/her) is a third-year journalism major and communications minor from Staten Island, NY. This is her third semester on the Oracle, and second as Arts Editor. She is also a member of the WFNP Radio E-board staff, president of the New Paltz Music Collective and manages her own music blog, Twilight Collective. You can reach her by emailing dempseya1@newpaltz.edu.