Have you ever said yes to someone when you really wanted to say no? This is super common and often leads to pleasing others only to be left unhappy and resentful. Saying no is an important part of self care.

I remember years ago when a coworker invited me to her candle party. I didn’t really want to go, but I felt that I “should” because I wanted her to like me. Our other coworkers were all supposed to be there, too. I didn’t really want to spend the time doing it and I didn’t have the money to spend, but I went anyway. While I was there, I did not enjoy it. I struggled with finding something I could buy that wasn’t too expensive (but not too inexpensive because I wanted to support her) because I felt like I should. I left feeling resentful because I spent money I really shouldn’t and spent time doing something I didn’t really want to do.

Another time, my teenage daughter wanted a pair of expensive jeans. It was really hard for me to tell her no because I didn’t want to disappoint her. Although I knew I couldn’t really afford it, I did not want to deal with the result of her disappointment or her being upset for not getting her way. I went ahead and bought the jeans. While I suffered financially as a result and built up resentment, she went off happy as could be.

A lot of the time, we don’t want someone to be unhappy with us, but we end up unhappy. While it may seem noble at the time to sacrifice our own desires and wellbeing for the joy of others, sometimes it backfires or becomes an unhealthy pattern. Whether we end up resentful or our friend notices we aren’t enjoying a gathering as much as everyone else is, people pleasing behavior leaves a negative impact not only on ourselves but on those we were intending to please.

How do we learn to say no?

How do unravel this in our lives? What if people pleasing is all we’ve known? Here are a few techniques that help me say yes to the things that fill me up and no to the things that don’t so I can love others more authentically.

Make a list of the things you do regularly in your life

This simple exercise forces us to take stock of our priorities and realize just how often we turn to people pleasing.

  1. Write down all the things you do regularly.
  2. Which fill your cup or energize you?
  3. Which drain you?
  4. Are you doing things for others that they are capable of doing for themselves?
  5. Are there enjoyable activities or practices you used to do that you could add back in?

Schedule a time for yourself weekly to fill your cup

For the woman who is thinking, “If you only knew my schedule…” right now, you can do this. It doesn’t have to be a spa day. It doesn’t have to be unrealistic. It can be as simple as sitting outside with a cup of coffee for fifteen minutes so you can breathe, listen to the breeze, and just relax.

Now comes the harder part…Treat it like you would an appointment you would not miss. Put it in your calendar or planner, set an alarm ten minutes prior, and make sure those around you know you will be unavailable. When an opportunity arises to do something else that conflicts, respond with “I have a commitment during that time.” They don’t need to know what the commitment is.

Sticking to this not only helps you prioritize your own wellbeing again, it gives you practice in subtle ways to say “no.” It will become easier over time, and you will notice less relational strain between you and the people you’ve previously “pleased” instead of loved. Why is loving different than pleasing? That’s an entirely different blog post, but remember that the nice thing is not always the kind thing, and harboring resentment is not the picture of love most of us want to have towards others.

Before we go, I want to leave you with some encouragement. While saying no is an important part of self care, it can be really really hard. It takes practice, it’s a skill! The more you do it, the easier it becomes. You are not the first person to struggle with this, and you won’t be the last, but we can help each other along the way. If you need someone to remind you to practice self care, I’d love to be that person for you. Whatever you do, remember that you matter, and this journey of growth is worth it.