KAREN CHAPELLE, a 50-year-old metalwork artist in Toronto, has always had trouble saying no when people ask her for favours. Usually, she’ll respond with a knee-jerk yes—and just as often find herself regretting it.
“It’s a natural thing for me to want to help people,” says Chapelle. “It’s a good feeling to be useful and needed.” The problem, she adds, is that she has unintentionally trained everyone in her life to expect a yes to their requests, no matter what they are.
Chapelle knows her “okaying” to favours, whether requested by coworkers, friends or her family, often at the expense of her own finances, time or mental health, isn’t good for her. But it’s been a hard habit to break.
Many of us get sucked into saying yes—even when we’d really rather not—to avoid conflict, because we feel sorry for others, or because we even feel ashamed when we put ourselves first. If you have difficulty figuring out when, or how, to say no, here are some tips for breaking the cycle of what one psychologist calls “the disease to please.”
PRIORITIZE YOUR TIME
Learning how to take better care of yourself often goes hand in hand with learning that you’re allowed to put your own needs and wants first, and that doing so doesn’t make you a jerk. In fact, consistently putting yourself last is likely to leave you drained and annoyed—a sure path to jerky behaviour.
Dr. Susan Newman is an American social psychologist and the author of The Book of No: 365 Ways to Say It and Mean It—and Stop People-Pleasing Forever. Newman’s book argues that always being there for others (to your own detriment) doesn’t necessarily make you a nicer person; it just makes you miserable.
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