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Confessions of a Compulsive People Pleaser

Servant People Pleaser

You have to stop.

I knew the look on her face from the other side of the line.

You’re exactly like your dad you know, never saying no to people and always feeling bad about it. I don’t understand how you, who have such a Rambo mom, can let people use you like that.

It’s not the first time we’re having this discussion. And I know it’s not the last time either.

Truth is, I can’t say no to people, no matter how much I want to. The word simply will not cross my lips.

As a matter of fact, it gets worse than that.

Brace yourself.

Instead of saying no, which I intensely want to, I say yes with great (read: faked) enthusiasm.

Do you want to come to my place for lunch?

Sure, great!

Could you help me with this analysis?

Definitely, no problem!

Can you stay in the office during the summer while I go on five weeks of vacation?


You get the point. Long story short, I am pretty much the all-inclusive, all you can eat, people pleaser slash straight-A student on a bad trip.

Now, I count myself as a fairly rational person. I’m not a masochist. I know that I have a (serious) problem, and I know that I need to change my behaviour. But I just can’t.

So what the heck is wrong with me?

I like when people are happy. I like doing good, helping when I can. Fairly standard stuff.

However, more than anything else, I hate to disappoint. And this is my Achilles heel, because as a result of trying to satisfy everyone else’s needs I end up overlooking my own, and this makes me unhappy.

Or actually, it makes me angry. Angry that people dare to abuse, angry that I let them. Angry that I seldom get the appreciation I deserve, angry that still I cannot stop caring.

Angry, angry, angry.

All this anger, I tell you, it’s an unpleasant burden to carry.

I thought I could deal with it as an adult by starting to beat the sh*t out of a boxing bag once a week.

Eventually, my hands stopped getting bruised. My uppercut got better. My self-esteem, not so much.

It’s a tricky situation. In many ways, desiring to please is like any other addiction. When I say yes to people, I get a short-term rush from doing good. Quickly afterwards, however, comes the dip in the form of feelings of guilt and disappointment with myself for not resisting. And so it goes over, over and over again.

I can’t wait for the “quit-smoking” patch to evolve into a “stop-pleasing” patch. The person solving that equation should be a strong contender for the Nobel prize.

Recognizing, however, that this may take a while to hit the shelf, I figure I need to come up with a different action plan for becoming less agreeable.

Now, don’t get me wrong here, I still believe it’s a positive thing to want to do a good job, to want to make people happy. Being mean or rude to people is not how I was brought up. Even Rambo would agree that’s just unnecessary (unless they’re armed and dangerous).

What I mean is that you need to strike a balance between doing things for others and doing things for yourself. Sure, selflessness is great, but not if it comes at the expense of your personal well-being.

My experience is that simply having someone repeatedly encouraging you to say no is not enough. A role model can indeed be useful, but in the end you will need to learn to say no in your own way.

For me, the solution seems to lie in gradually turning from “definitely!” to no. Translation: I now have several very creative ways of saying no without actually using the word. Let me illustrate:

Do you want to come to my place for lunch?

I don’t have time this week, but I will let you know once I’m available.

Could you help me with this analysis?

Right now I don’t have the time, maybe you can first check with someone else.

Can you stay in the office during the summer while I go on five weeks of vacation?

Actually, I had also planned to go on holidays, so we will need to discuss a solution.


Easy as cake. Hopefully this method will eventually lead me to the holy grail of no.

That’s one small step for mankind, a giant leap for me.


2 thoughts on “Confessions of a Compulsive People Pleaser

  1. Ally says:

    This is something I also struggle with. I’m working on not saying yes all the time, thanks for the examples provided, gives me ideas for my own situation.


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