Develop How You Say “No”
Saying no is the hardest thing for a people pleaser to achieve. We often feel guilty or useless for doing so, which can be just as damaging as saying yes to things we’d rather not agree to. When it comes to saying no, it’s vital that you do so in a way that practices healthy communication and self-respect. There should be no room for argument when saying no.
In today’s society, the tendency to prioritize others’ needs and expectations over one’s own can lead to significant emotional and psychological challenges. In this series, we would like to explore the complex dynamics of people-pleasing behavior and its impact on individual well-being and relationships. We would like to discuss the root causes of people-pleasing behavior, its effects on personal and professional life, and practical steps for cultivating healthier relationships and self-esteem. We hope that this series can provide insights, strategies, and real-life experiences that can help individuals navigate and overcome the pitfalls of being a people pleaser. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Melody Votoire.
Melody Votoire is an author best known for her book “Temptations of a Splintered Heart”. Votoire isn’t just an artist, she’s a mental health advocate wielding words laced in personal traumas as weapons of hope and healing. Through her poetry, film, and social media presence, she paints a poignant picture of the struggles and triumphs of navigating the human psyche. Votoire is paving the way for the de-stigmatization of mental illness, creating a positive future as a shining example of the power of vulnerability and healing.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Growing up in the Midwest, my childhood was shaped by the unique blend of hard work and entrepreneurial spirit that defined my family. My parents, both incredibly unique and hardworking, constantly created an environment that fostered creativity and motivation. My mother’s work as an influencer kept me in the loop on the latest trends and ever-changing landscape of the world around me as I learned how to turn artistry into a career, and my father’s similarly exciting business adventures set a lovely example for positive risk-taking and innovation. Dinner time always felt less like a traditional family get-together and more like a team of close friends working together in order to encourage growth and success, and I am beyond thankful for the fact that my parents were always prepared to nurture my passions and the creative spirit that I was blessed with. Still, I was no stranger to the tricky trials of teenage rebellion, and I absolutely explored a variety of different paths throughout my teen years. For several years, I would desperately seek out the approval of others — dedicating my every breath to fitting into the desires of my peers and loved ones alike. I tried out a plethora of identities as I struggled to find myself, all of which greatly shaped who I am today (even the most draining and traumatic moments) as I began to learn from my mistakes and discover what truly made me happy — and why my own happiness should always, always be my number one priority. The main theme of my life as a young adult has been to take from the traumas of my adolescence and use them to fuel a passion for helping myself, in turn inspiring the growth of others.
Can you tell us a bit about what you do professionally, and what brought you to this specific career path?
I am an author and content creator. Writing has been a deep-rooted passion of mine since I can remember — my first attempt at a novel was proudly presented to my family and friends when I was only seven years old. Whether I was scribbling zaney lines of “fan fiction” or pouring my heart into free-verse poetry, I felt more alive than ever as I pursued my enamor for writing. Now, I mainly write poetry and autobiographical content, all of which is lovingly laced in themes of empowerment, growth, and self-love. My work is largely inspired by the experiences I’ve had in my personal life, and I share it in the hopes of helping others to heal from their wounds and discover the best possible version of themselves. I may not be able to erase my mistakes and hardships, but I have certainly found it incredibly healing to use my past experiences as a foundation to inspire and teach others.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about People Pleasing. To make sure that we are all on the same page, let’s begin with a simple definition. What does “People Pleaser” mean to you?
I define people pleasing as behavior that sacrifices your own needs for the sake of others. Often seen as overly helpful or kind, the people pleaser puts their own mental health at risk in order to appease those around them, frequently becoming trapped in the desire of gaining approval and validation. In my own personal life, I’ve found people pleasing to be an addiction like no other — sacrificing my passions and sanity in a wild goose chase for praise and acceptance. People pleasing has proven to be parasitic, being something that lingers in the back of my mind even through the extensive work I have done to eradicate it from my lifestyle.
On the surface, it seems like being a person who wants to please others is a good thing. Can you help articulate a few of the challenges that come with being a people pleaser?
The intentions behind being a people pleaser are arguably positive, but the consequences of people pleasing behavior are negatively impactful in a wide variety of ways. People pleasers often experience significant damage to their relationship with themselves as they begin to sacrifice time and energy meant for catering to their own needs and desires. This leads to incredible amounts of anxiety and stress, which can sometimes be so damaging that the people pleaser even builds up resentment for those around them. An example from my own experience is the willful sacrifice of my free time — I often gave up hours meant for fulfilling my passions to hangout sessions with acquaintances. While having time set aside for fun with my peers was an incredibly important aspect of my life, I allowed it to take over because I simply could not say no to requests to spend time together. All I could think was that I’d be disappointing my friends, coming off as a “flake”, and hurting others by coming off as careless. Consequently, my personal projects rapidly lost priority in my life. I, like many others with people-pleasing habits, became increasingly bitter toward those around me as a result. The people pleaser may also feel taken advantage of, used, or underappreciated, which is not only detrimental to their own mental health but to the quality of their relationships with others. As lovely as it is to want to make everyone happy, people-pleasing behavior can begin to cause more damage than good in the long run.
Does being a people pleaser give you certain advantages? Can you explain?
People pleasers may feel proud and accomplished as a result of their people-pleasing behavior — for many, extending kindness and care to others is deeply fulfilling behavior that can bring immense feelings of purpose and value to their lives. In addition to the personal feelings of fulfillment, praise from others is often a reward for people-pleasing behavior. The validation of others can often be a strong source of motivation and happiness. I found myself practically obsessed with the way someone’s eyes would light up when I offered to extend my energy towards going out of my way for them, and I would draw my happiness from getting joyful reactions in exchange for my behavior. My behavior absolutely succeeded in increasing my positive reputation, but it is worth noting that this caused damage the moment I let it get out of control.
Can you describe a moment in your life when you realized that your own people-pleasing behavior was more harmful than helpful?
Throughout the struggles of my adolescence, I found myself constantly sacrificing my time for others. Friends, classmates, and co-workers would constantly ask for my attention. At first, it was easy and fulfilling to dedicate my free time to others — I became increasingly addicted to the feeling of being needed, and to the smiles I would see every time I agreed to give away just a bit more of my personal time. This behavior was extremely unhealthy, and slowly drained me as I lost sight of my own hobbies and responsibilities. I began taking on a majority of the responsibilities of my peers, as well and watched as I was viewed more as a pushover than a helpful peer. As requests from others became more and more harmful, I began to see that I had to change my ways in order to reclaim respect as well as my own sanity.
In your opinion, what are the common root causes of people-pleasing behavior?
I believe a need for validation and social approval is the most common root cause of people-pleasing behavior. In most cases, the desire to be liked by one’s peers can be incredibly powerful and drive the people pleaser’s actions. One’s childhood can also hold major effects on adult behavior — if they felt deprived of attention and approval from their parental figures, they may feel more compelled to seek out this praise in their adult life.
How does people-pleasing behavior impact personal relationships?
People-pleasing behavior impacts personal relationships in a number of ways. People pleasers risk developing codependent relationships in which they hold a deep-rooted obsession with pleasing those close to them, in turn sacrificing their own needs massively. This behavior can be crippling to relationships, platonic or romantic, as the relationship slowly becomes more about the constant search for validation as opposed to the reasons that brought the two together in the first place. As the people pleaser’s own mental health deteriorates, their need for validation only increases, creating a vicious cycle that can be incredibly damaging in any dynamic. I remember a moment in which a toxic partner casually asked me to pay off their considerably high debts with absolutely no concern for my own lack of finances at the time, and I felt mentally destroyed by denying their requests. This occurrence was the catalyst for an even deeper spiral into desperate attempts for praise and appreciation, which only worsened the unhealthy dynamic of my relationship.
How does people-pleasing behavior impact professional relationships?
People-pleasing behavior can often be taken advantage of within professional relationships. Often, a people-pleasing personality is unfortunately viewed as a sign of weakness and vulnerability. This leads to the exploitation of an employee ranging from placing excess tasks on the people pleaser to providing them with fewer benefits than others. For example, the people pleaser’s break periods or vacation time may be “overlooked” with the knowledge that there is a low chance of confrontation. Coworkers can often create a toxic work environment for the people pleaser as well by taking advantage of the people pleaser’s struggle to say no. The people pleaser may eventually become disenchanted with their workplace and overwhelmed by work, causing further damage to their mental health and personal life.
How can long-term people-pleasing behavior impact an individual’s mental health?
Long-term people pleasing slowly deteriorates one’s ability to set healthy boundaries and deeply damages their
relationship with themselves. When people pleasing becomes a long-term behavior, it becomes difficult for the people pleaser to truly understand their own identity and desires — feeling as though the behavior they act out in favor of those around them has become their identity instead. The way they dress, speak, and act can all be impacted by their attempts to gain approval and validation from their peers, ultimately replacing their own sense of self. In my teen years, depressive thoughts became a constant battle as I noticed my actions no longer matched my desires. Even the music I listened to was yet another attempt to fit in, and my sanity rapidly depleted in light of these realizations.
In your experience, what is the role of self-awareness in overcoming people-pleasing tendencies, and how can individuals cultivate it?
As mentioned prior, people pleasing behavior can result in the loss of one’s sense of self. Self-awareness of these tendencies is the first step in overcoming people pleasing tendencies as they recognize the issue and how it may affect their identity. In my personal life, I continued my people pleasing behaviors for several years, progressively struggling more and more, because I could not let myself admit that I had a problem. “Everyone likes me now!” was all I could think, and finally grasping onto the validation I had so desperately craved before was addicting enough to keep me in denial. It took an incredible amount of mental turmoil and self-abuse before I finally reached my breaking point and saw that I had to change my ways. Upon understanding that I had a problem (through extensive mental exercise..I promise it’s neither easy nor instantaneous), I was able to finally begin my healing journey and break free from the cycle of people pleasing.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience or research, what are the “Five Strategies Or Techniques That Can Help Individuals Break Free From The Cycle Of People-Pleasing”?
1 . Journaling
The number one tip I consistently share to those exhibiting people pleasing behavior (or anyone who is experiencing mental struggles, for that matter) is journaling. It may seem like a cliche, but it is truly one of the most powerful healing tools in existence — and anyone can do it! I’ve found that many people tend to get caught up in their skill level when presented with the task of journaling. The truth is, it doesn’t matter if you’re writing out masterpieces with deep, innovative thoughts and perfect prose, or jotting down bullet points in the midst of emotional collapse. What matters is that you’re getting your thoughts and feelings documented in a way that simultaneously allows for raw, authentic self expression. Journaling allows you to track your progress over time, as well as to identify habits or occurrences that contribute to your people pleasing behavior. This insight creates space for you to move forward from harmful behaviors and into more balanced, healthy practices. A personal practice of mine is to have bi-monthly re-read sessions in which I look over the last few months of my journal entries and reflect on challenges and opportunities for growth. These sessions have helped me realize a number of things about myself, such as the fact that I am often most inclined to people please in group settings due to my fear of feeling judged or isolated. Since understanding this, I have been able to make a valiant effort to be more self-aware in social settings and think twice before I agree to anything that might be draining for me.
2 . Scheduling Time For Yourself
A great way to combat people pleasing behavior is to schedule time to recharge and focus on connecting with yourself. Periodically spending time with yourself allows you to analyze your desires, needs, and feelings as you develop a better understanding of your priorities. This time to yourself can be anything that works for you: an at-home spa day as you sing heartbreak anthems in the shower, exploring local nature sites, or even just sitting down and catching up on your favorite Netflix series. What matters most is that you are taking care of yourself, leaving you in a better mental state to handle challenges with people pleasing behavior in a confident and healthy fashion while acting with freshly developed knowledge of what’s best for you in every situation. I’ve personally found that taking time to play guitar each day has allowed me to connect with my love for music, get out some physical energy (which works wonders for my anxiety), and have a way to express my feelings with each note. I call this “The Art Of Making Yourself Less Available’ — blocking out time for you, and you only, is a difficult process but it can be incredibly rewarding and healing.
3 . Starting Healthy Conversations
While self reflection is a key factor in breaking free from people pleasing behavior, it is also important to recognize that your peers aren’t mind-readers, and sometimes won’t even know there is an issue with your people pleasing dynamic, or that it’s affecting you negatively. For this reason, it is massively important that you take the initiative to start healthy conversations by setting clear boundaries and speaking about your feelings. For example, I’ve had sit-down conversations with my closest friends in which I explain to them that I need a certain amount of alone time in order to nurture my mental health and be the best possible version of myself. These conversations have allowed my friends to understand my needs and realize that rejected invites to social events are not a sign of deteriorating friendship or abandonment, but rather a healthy and necessary part of my growth as a person. It’s important to be incredibly clear and firm when communicating your boundaries so that there is no “wiggle room’ for others to overstep or question your personal boundaries.
4 . Develop How You Say “No”
Saying no is the hardest thing for a people pleaser to achieve. We often feel guilty or useless for doing so, which can be just as damaging as saying yes to things we’d rather not agree to. When it comes to saying no, it’s vital that you do so in a way that practices healthy communication and self-respect. There should be no room for argument when saying no. For example, saying no to a friend asking you to go out could be “No thanks, I have other plans for tonight. Maybe another time,” as opposed to “Well, I was hoping to do something else tonight,” as the latter option leaves room for negotiation or pressure towards the people pleaser. It’s important to remember that saying no doesn’t have to be cruel or disrespectful, and that demanding respect towards your choices is not an inherently mean act. I used to struggle a lot with feeling like I would be selfish for saying no, but I’ve found that the best people to have in your life are people who respect your boundaries and your desires. If someone is implying upholding boundaries is selfish or rude behavior, they are likely a toxic individual and it’s important to monitor behavior in which they may be taking advantage of you or your vulnerability within people pleasing habits.
5 . Learn How To Listen To Yourself
Far too often, people pleasers not only lose themselves in the needs of others, but make excuses for the bad feelings caused by this behavior. This can look like ignoring anxious feelings, disregarding intuition, or even dismissing toxic behavior from peers. When a person is repeatedly putting you in draining or upsetting situations and not fostering an environment for you to politely and healthily reject their requests, it’s important to take note of this behavior and listen to your internal feelings of apprehension towards this person or situation. Disregarding feelings of discomfort and ignoring trends of negative emotions will only worsen people pleasing behavior, and is an example of disrespecting yourself. I have absolutely found myself in a multitude of situations in which I felt as though coworkers may have been taking advantage of my willingness to please, and for a very long time, I would consistently defend even the most obvious examples of their toxic behavior. Downplaying how I felt about these situations allowed me to justify continued participation in my people pleasing habit, which ultimately led to a worsened mental state. Upon being honest with myself about how these situations and people were affecting me, I was able to implement a more healthy and effective way of dealing with my coworkers, which led to a healthier work environment and significantly more positive relationships with those around me.
What steps should people pleasers take to establish healthier boundaries?
In order to establish healthier boundaries, people pleasers must first understand what boundaries must be set and what behaviors must be avoided. Upon realizing these, it’s extremely important to communicate them to peers in a kind but firm way that leaves absolutely no room for misunderstanding. The job of establishing healthy boundaries isn’t done here, though. Once boundaries have been established, people pleasers must make a conscious effort to uphold their boundaries and hold others accountable for disrespecting them. This is arguably the most difficult step for people pleasers as it not only comes with saying no, but confronting negative behavior in an assertive and confident manner. Upholding boundaries is a skill that people pleasers must consistently develop, and over time, it will become easier — creating a newfound sense of empowerment and an overall healthier mental state than ever before.
How can someone who is naturally empathetic maintain their compassion while becoming more assertive?
A phase I’ve noticed people pleasers tend to go through on their journey to becoming more assertive and upholding boundaries is saying no even in situations where it may be inappropriate to do so. For example, ignoring responsibilities or being excessively unhelpful as a way of “reclaiming” time and energy that may have been lost during the peak of their people pleasing behavior. This can be a difficult phase to navigate as gaining control and assertiveness is an incredibly positive step, but executing it in a negative way absolutely needs to be addressed. In any case, ensuring to be kind and thoughtful when saying no is vital to maintaining compassion while simultaneously being assertive. Never allow cruelty to seep into self-defense, instead maintain healthy communication and honesty while ensuring you are always acting in your best interest.
What are the most common misconceptions about people pleasers, and how do these misconceptions affect their journey toward recovery?
An incredibly common misconception about people pleasers is that their behavior is a healthy method of becoming more “likable”. Many choose to label people pleasing as proof of being a good person, and that a lack of people pleasing behavior is a sign of selfishness or being rude. These misconceptions are extremely detrimental to the process of healing people pleasing behavior as they essentially reinforce insecurities the people pleaser may already hold regarding their recovery.
What role can therapy or counseling play in helping individuals overcome people-pleasing behavior?
While not a solution for every individual, many can benefit greatly from therapy or counseling. Therapy is a great tool for exploring deep-rooted ideas that one may believe in, as well as analyzing how these concepts may be affecting their people pleasing behavior. By exploring these ideas in a safe and judgment-free environment, the people pleaser can begin to plan their healing process all while having a helpful, unbiased guide to assist them during their healing journey.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Through film, I aspire to destigmatize mental illness by normalizing the negative aspects of disorders through a raw, unfiltered perspective. I want to encourage honesty as opposed to romanticization of mental illness and shed light on the realities of what the mentally ill experience, incorporating real-life experiences of my own as well as those of others in order to set the tone for an environment in which the reality of mental health is understood and not feared.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow my work by checking out my social media and books at Votoire.com! I’m always in the midst of an exciting new project to share with the world, such as my upcoming memoir detailing the psychological effects of domestic abuse and the beautiful process of healing. I also plan to release a series of short films throughout 2024!
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Thank you infinitely for having me!
Melody Votoire of VOTOIRE MEDIA On How to Recover From Being a People Pleaser was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.