“When you say “yes” to others, make sure you aren’t saying “no” to yourself.” ~Paulo Coehlo
For as long as I can remember I have been a people pleaser. I have prided myself on being well-liked, on saying yes and never saying no. I go out of my way for people even when it’s inconvenient for me. I have felt proud that a skill of mine is accommodating people so much so that I am needed. I avoid conflict; I make the jokes. I am happiest when I feel like people are happy with me.
For some time, this felt like a good thing to me. I felt helpful. I liked being described as easy going. By making myself likeable, I was making everything around me better, more stable. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do, all that mattered was what I should do.
But then there were the other times. The times where I felt I acted outside of myself just to please someone else and be liked. The times I have done things out of my character, said yes to people who didn’t deserve yes, and went above and beyond just to keep the peace.
I had never thought about the why behind this behavior until this year when a friend asked me for a favor. This was something I had done before for this friend, but it would inconvenience me greatly on this specific day, one that I had packed full of necessary obligations and chores.
I typed out an answer to decline and erased it at least six times before I asked myself, why was I so afraid to say no? Why did I always feel so afraid to say no? Why did saying no to something I actually could not commit to cause me so much anxiety? Why was I always trying so hard to please everyone around me?
The answer came when I started examining my past, particularly by examining the first people in my life I ever felt the need to please—my parents. Many of my memories of my parents’ marriage are joyful. They are memories of times we’d go on family vacations, soak up the sun together, and go on great adventures. There are memories and video evidence of happy holidays filled with laughter, excitement, and joy.
Then there are the other times. The times when they would scream at one another, throw things at one another, and spew negativity and hate. There were slammed doors and physical struggles between the both of them to get to the other. There were weeks-long silent treatments, threats, police called, a house filled with eggshells for floors.
It was in this environment I learned what to do to cause the least amount of added complication. It was in this environment I became what I needed to be to add the least amount of stress to an already terribly stressful situation. It was in this environment I became a people pleaser.
All of my life I never considered the effect growing up in that environment had on me, but suddenly everything became so clear. This is where all of it came from. This is where the part of me that has been so afraid to make any kind of wave derives from. This is where the me that is afraid to add to any chaos or upset anyone and the me that is has been so eager to please just to keep the peace comes from.
When I realized this, I finally started to make peace with many of the decisions I had and had not made. I made peace with the part of me that wants everything to always be okay, predictable, and planned. I made peace with the part of me that has acted beside myself just to fit in. I made peace with the part of me that has lied just to be liked. I made peace with this part of me and have started to let go.
Not everyone will be pleased with me at all times, and that is okay. I can be the source of chaos. I can be the stress of a situation, and that is okay too. Saying no won’t make the people in my life scold me, hate me, or leave me. And if they do, that relationship wasn’t strong enough to begin with.
There are reasons behind the reactions you have, the ways you act and the ways you think. The negative behaviors, those draining thought patterns—they can all be sourced back to different moments in your life.
By examining these patterns and questioning these behaviors, we are able to identify their source and see why it is so necessary for us to let them go, no matter how safe and stable these patterns have made us feel.
If you are ever acting in a way that confuses you and brings you unnecessary anxiety, I encourage you to question yourself and ask exactly where this feeling is coming from. It may be one of the most powerful things you ever do.
About Adrienne Courtney
Adrienne Courtney is a writer and psychology student living in Orlando, Florida. She is passionate about mental health awareness and the part sharing our stories plays in both mental health and overall human connection. Find more of her personal essays at inourfeelings.com.