Just say no, the end of the people pleasing era

Hi, my name is Natalie and I am a people pleaser…

Let me just say that “people pleasing” is my specialty, my weakness, my default mode. Ask me to do something for you and I will say yes. I will say yes if you’re my mother, my boyfriend, my friends, a police officer, a stranger, a child, a pet. I will say yes, not only because I want to be helpful, but because I don’t even think about saying no, “yes” comes out on autopilot.  Sometimes I say yes and I feel warm and fuzzy inside, knowing that I’m contributing to someone’s life. Often, I experience instant remorse, dread even, knowing that I either a. don’t want to do the thing I’ve been asked to do b. don’t have time to do the thing I’ve been asked to do c. feel like I’m always doing these things for you – when are you gonna start doing the things for me?

Saying yes is a part of life, but so is saying no…because saying no, is always saying yes to something else. A wise mentor told me that you must focus on what you get to say yes to. That is the key. Because you’re shifting that yes to yourself – what your needs are vs. someone else’s needs. There are times we MUST say yes…we have job responsibilities, families, pets etc. that rely on us and that need to be loved and cared for. But there are times when we need to make saying yes to ourselves more of a priority.

Not only, is saying “no” important for our mental health and well-being, but it’s also for our physical health. In his book, When the Body Says No, Dr. Gabor Mate presents research and clinical anecdotes describing potential illness outcomes that result from not setting healthy boundaries. He writes that “when we have been prevented from learning how to say no, our bodies may end up saying it for us”. Lydia Temoshok PhD. talks about the Type C Personality as a category of people with a temperament that might predispose them to cancer. She says that “these patients were “pleasers” who had spent their entire lives trying to be accepted by others”. Temoshok has identified a relationship between repressed emotions and depression of the immune system.

Learning how to say no is so important to leading a full and healthy life. I urge all of my fellow people pleasers to learn this critical skill. A mentor once suggested that instead of saying “yes” or “no”, to always say “let me get back to you” or “let me think about that”.  That gives you some space to choose a response that feels good to you, that leaves you feeling whole and that contributes to your health and well-being. Good luck and may the “no” be with you.


Cunningham AJ. & Watson K. (2004) How psychological therapy may prolong survival in cancer patients: new evidence and a simple theory. Integr Cancer Ther. 3(3):214-29. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15312263

Eskelinen M. & Ollonen P. (2011) Assessment of ‘Cancer-prone Personality’ Characteristics in Healthy Study Subjects and in Patients with Breast Disease and Breast Cancer Using the Commitment Questionnaire: A Prospective Case–Control Study in Finland. Anticancer Res. 31(11):4013-7. http://ar.iiarjournals.org/content/31/11/4013.long

Gabor M. When the Body Says No. Canada: Vintage Canada, 2004. Print.

Temoshok, L. (2000) Complex coping patterns and their role in adaptation and neuroimmunomodulation. Theory, methodology, and research. Ann N Y Acad Sci917:446-55http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11268372

Temoshok, L. (1987) Personality, coping style, emotion and cancer: towards an integrative model. Cancer Surv. 6(3):545-67. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3326661

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