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THE MESS OF YES. Why People Pleasing Is So Messy

A neighbour asks you to cat-sit for their beloved feline, while the are away sunning themselves in Tenerife. Your friend asks if you would mind dropping in on Belinda (that's the cat), filling up her water, feeding her and giving her a little bit of attention. You love animals, your neighbour is friendly; sure, why not. Your friend shows clear relief that Belinda will be in your capable, loving hands. She thanks you profusely and tells you how much she loves Lindy (Belinda's nickname) and how sad it is that she is now incontinent, poor thing. They don't know what's wrong with her but she just can't control herself. They've been to the vets and they can't figure it out, maybe it's just old age? You sympathise. Poor Belinda, indeed.

Guilty Incontinent Cat
Result of People Pleasing

But then, your brain, helpfully, flashes you an image of a cat staring at you nonchalantly whilst it wees up your neighbours hall wall. Who would clear up that mess - and what about all the other accumulated mess? You don't want to be doing that. Your friend throws in (again, a bit too casually for your liking) that it would be great if you could just check for any wees and poos when you go in to check on Lindy too and that you are an absolute star for agreeing. Apparently they have lined the house with newspaper, so it might just be a case of replacing all of that and laying out some fresh.

Your ears ring with "just check" and "replacing all of that" - 'that' being wee-soaked newspaper. You realsie you have indeed, kind of, agreed to this. But that was before the wee news. Had you known that piece of rather important information, it would be, and has to be, a resolute no from you. You have work, school runs, a pet of your own, you couldn't possibly find the time to do all that. You are definitely not the person for this favour. Your neighbour is a nice neighbour, they brought you brownies (leftover ones, to be fair) on your 40th birthday, they banged pans with you during Covid and they brought your bins in for you that one time. If you said no you would have to see them every day feeling guilty that you didn't help them out. But it has got to be a no. No. NO. NO. NOOO!

"YES, sure, okay. If you could just leave me some newspaper out, that'd be helpful." Sorry, what? What did you just say? What just came out of your mouth? "If you could just leave me some newspaper out, that'd be helpful." Helpful? It is a bare minimum on their part, surely? the way, did you hear that you just said yes? Weren't you about to say no? The neighbour hugs you, they have never hugged you before. Of course they hugged you. You are their new, free cat sitter-cum-cleaner. Probably for the rest of Belinda's feline life.

So you leave your neighbour in shock; anxious, resentful and dreading the impending doom of August. You now hate your neighbour and definitely hate Lindy.

The mental mess that a reluctant yes can leave you with can be uncomfortable, to say the least.

What would you really have done in this situation? Would you have been fine with saying, ''That sounds like too much for me actually', and carried away zero guilt? Have you been in similar situations where you know it is a no but a yes slips out anyway?

If you don't find saying no difficult and feel comfortable asserting your needs, then you probably aren't of the people pleasing ilk. Perhaps you have learned that your needs are important and that stating what you want and don't want is a basic human right. Other people, however, (why is everyone suddenly looking at me?) are people pleasers or recovering people pleasers who find saying no excruciatingly painful and struggle setting boundaries to protect what they want and don't want. They don't really feel they have a right to want or not want things and so betray themselves by pleasing others first.

Whether you are a No Pro or find yourself in messy yes's, it is worth reminding yourself of how to realise when healthy boundaries are needed and find clear and kind ways of setting them.

Here are 6 reminders for you:

  1. Know your VALUES. Knowing your values makes setting boundaries and decision-making a whole lot easier. So, what are yours? Try to define a core 5 and use them as a rulebook to set boundaries, make decisions by and behave in alignment with them daily. (Subscribers get a FREE VALUES WORKSHEET this week!)

  2. People pleasing = Self Denial. People-pleasing is not something to laugh or gloat about. It is self-denial. Putting others' needs before your own on a regular basis is a fear response to control your environment and how other people view you. Of course, wanting to be liked is a natural desire but NEEDING to be liked in all interactions and going to any length to achieve that means there are zero resources left for you to meet your own needs. This is why consistent people-pleasing can lead to depression and anxiety.

  3. Fill your own cup first. There is a difference between people-pleasing and helping people. Generosity and kindness are beautiful values, just make sure you fill your own cup first before offering to others.

  4. You are not mean. Setting boundaries does not make you a mean-spirited person. You are not 'bad' for putting your feelings ahead of others' and standing up for yourself. You are keeping yourself safe and protecting yourself - this is very kind.

  5. CLARITY IS KINDNESS. Clearly expressing your limits to someone, especially a loved one, is kind. Who likes confusion and mixed signals? Communicate to people what you like and don't like and how you feel when they behave a certain way. Tell people how you like to be treated and what your limits are. Ask what theirs are. This means your relationships are safe, transparent and reciprocal.

  6. Your feelings are non-negotiable. If you are a people-pleaser, setting boundaries will feel uncomfortable. Just remember: YOUR FEELINGS ARE YOURS AND ARE NON-NEGOTIABLE. People that you have always 'pleased' may be slightly taken aback at your new 'no' skills but..."Those that matter don't mind and those that mind don't matter."

So, to incontinent Belinda's mum, "Thank you for thinking of me, I really do love animals (and Belinda is gorgeous!) and would absolutely have helped out if it was just topping up her food and water and giving her cuddles. The rest is too much for me at the moment, so I'm not going to be able to help on this occasion, but I really hope you find someone."

Simple. Right?

Sometimes it feels simple and other times, it absolutely doesn't, so if you need any help with refining your values, defining your needs and rehearsing boundary setting, then do reach out. I know it can be hard and I am here for you.

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