I used to be terrible at saying ‘No’. I would say ‘Yep, sure, no worries, I’ll do that’ when I really wanted to say ‘No thank you, not this time, I won’t be able to do that’. It happened all the time — more often than I would like to admit. And it was all because I was a Golden Globe-winning people pleaser.
I grew up watching the women in my life perfect the art of people-pleasing. But to be totally honest with you, it wasn’t just the women. The men did it too. I came from a very catholic Italian family where we ‘should-ed’ all over each other like nobody’s business…
‘You should do this because it’s for your brother.’
‘You should eat that because your grandmother made it and she will be offended if you don’t.’
‘You should say this, act this way, come to this event, go to church, show up this way wearing that outfit because you just should, should, should.’
The shoulds were dropped in our household A LOT.
This is what I learned growing up, this was my schooling. Until, that is, I hit rock bottom in 2010 (which you can read all about in my book Mastering Your Mean Girl).
It was at rock bottom, when I was in the hospital with a whole host of physical and mental health issues — one being chronic fatigue and another being adrenal fatigue, from literally being an expert people pleaser — that I knew I had to stop. I knew that I needed to learn to put myself first. I needed to put on my own oxygen mask before I helped the person next to me.
So that’s what I did. And since then, my life has never been the same…
Before I teach you how you can quit people pleasing and become a master of the ‘no thank you’, let’s look at the psychology behind why we people please and why we say yes to things we don’t really want to do.
We say ‘yes’ more often than ‘no’ because at the core of it, it hits on a deep human wound of feeling rejected. Us humans believe that if we say ‘no’ then the other person will in some way ‘reject’ us. How cray-cray is that?!
Most of us would never want someone else to do something for us out of obligation, when they don’t really want to do it… but we expect it of ourselves. We do things that we may not really want to because there’s a little part of us that’s scared to speak our truth because we might disappoint others and experience rejection.
But seriously, would you want your friend saying ‘Sure I can help you move house’ when she didn’t actually want to and doesn’t have the space to do it?
Would you want your mother-in-law to babysit your kids when she really wanted to go to her weekly bingo night?
Would you want your partner helping you pick out an outfit for your friend’s wedding when he would rather stick pins in his eye?
Would you really want your work colleague looking over your presentation or proposal when she really doesn’t want to because she is flat out herself?
The answer most likely is no. I personally would not want anyone doing anything for me if it was not true for them.
I would want my friend to help me move house because she truly wanted to. I would want my mother-in-law to babysit my kids because she was bursting out of her skin to do it. I would want my partner to really care when he was helping me pick an outfit for my friend’s wedding and I would want my colleague to read my presentation because she actually wants to and is excited about it.
I want people to do things for me out of the kindness of their heart and from a place of love — not fear of being rejected. I would want them to say ‘yes’ because they really wanted to, not because deep down their rejection wound is getting triggered. And I would want them to say ‘no’ if that’s their truth.
And because I want people to only agree to things when it’s their Truth, that’s what I do. I practice what I preach.
Today I only do things that are a full body hell yeah. I will not say yes even if it triggers my rejection wound. I will not go against my inner knowing just to avoid the possibility of someone else’s disappointment. Everything has to pass the Full Body Hell Yeah Test and if it doesn’t, it’s a loving, ‘Thank you so much for thinking of me but no thank you, I won’t be able to do this’. You don’t need to give an explanation if you don’t want to, you just need to honour your Truth.
Saying a firm but loving ‘no’ becomes easy when you have healthy boundaries in place. I talk a lot about boundaries in my book Open Wide (and if you feel called to dive deeper into this topic, I recommend checking it out).
But here’s the nutshell version to get you started…
A lot of spiritual folk struggle with setting boundaries. Some even struggle just saying the word ‘boundary’. They worry that having boundaries isn’t spiritual, or that it will make them feel closed off from the world, as though they’re surrounded by a 50 foot high barrier. But you know what? The opposite is actually true. Setting healthy boundaries allows you to say ‘no thank you’ to things that are not true for you and a big fully body hell yeah to the things that are.
Let me paint you a picture…
Imagine you own an empty block of land in the middle of a busy street — there’s no house, no fence, nothing but lush green grass butting up to the pavement. With no boundary or markers in place, random people walking by might start trespassing on your property, maybe using it as a shortcut, or dropping their trash there… They might even let their dog poop on your beautiful grass! How would that make you feel? You’d probably find yourself getting angry or defensive that these people weren’t respecting your property. You might even become one of those cranky people who yell at passers by before they’ve even done anything wrong. (“Get off my lawn, kids!”) Of course, though people should know not to drop trash in your yard, there is something you could have done in the first place to make everything a lot easier on yourself…
You teach others how you want to be treated.
Imagine now, that as the owner of that lovely block of land, you instead choose to erect a wooden fence. This fence — all painted and pretty — lets people know that the land is owned and cared for. All of a sudden, people respect that boundary — they don’t randomly trek across your block as a shortcut anymore, or toss their litter, and they definitely don’t let little Fido poop there. Why this change in behaviour? Because you’ve proactively set the guidelines for them, so they know how to interact with your property. You’re not leaving things up to chance, you’re setting your boundaries upfront. You’re not totally rigid about it, of course — there’s a gate in your fence, so that people who you know or who you want to be there (like the postman or the gardener) can enter and exit without hassle. But any unwelcome visitors? They know to steer clear and stay on the right side of your fence.
This fence analogy is exactly how personal boundaries work too. Having your own personal ‘fences’ in place allows you to relax, feel safe and allows you to say ‘no thank you’ and ‘absolutely’ when you really want to and when it’s true for you. This is because you’ve proactively laid the guidelines for how people should interact with and treat you.
Practice Makes Perfect
The thing with getting really good at anything — especially saying ‘no thank you’ — is you have to practice it. The more you practice, the better and better you get at it.
By the way, this does not mean that you don’t do nice things for people. NO way, that’s not what I am saying. I do nice things for others ALL the time. Last week I sat with one of my besties and mapped out her whole website. I cooked another bestie (who has just had a baby) a lentil curry and chocolate peppermint slice and dropped it over to her house. I emailed another friend my book proposal outline for her to get some ideas. I made an important introduction that is going to elevate a friend’s business. I helped my husband brainstorm music video concepts and map out the treatment. I dropped off groceries to my elderly neighbours. I paid for the person behind me at the cafe. And I do all those things because I truly want to. Because I want to be of service. Because it feels true for me and because it’s a full body hell yeah. I am not telling you this to get a pat on the back. I am telling you because you CAN still do things for others and do them as much as you can, but do them from a place of love and because you truly want to… not because it triggers the rejection wound. There’s a big difference and you, my friend, now know the difference and it’s your role to honour that.
Tell me in the comments below: have you mastered the ‘no thank you’ or is this something you’re still working on? I would love to hear.