I am a people pleaser. Since I can remember I have always gone out of my way to help other people. I have worked jobs with ridiculous hours, for little to no pay. I have pushed myself to meet people or do tasks for them even when I knew I didn’t have enough time or when I felt uncomfortable. I have engaged in conversations with people that made me uncomfortable, smiled when I wanted to shout. Laughed at jokes that I didn’t find funny. Said yes to things I didn’t want to to.
Why did I do all this, you may ask. I don’t think I was ever really taught how to say “No.” properly. I have never been taught that being asserting and having boundaries is perfectly fine and incredibly important in interpersonal relationships. I grew up living my life with a constant thought on my mind.
“What will people think of me?”
And naturally I only wanted people to think positive things about me. When I was bullied during my school years I yearned for nothing more than to be accepted by my peers and I would do absolutely everything to get that acceptance and validation. I worked on entire group projects all on my own, did homework for other students, agreed to just about every task that was asked of me, even if I really didn’t want to do it. People, for some reason already didn’t like me – so I did everything I could to prevent this dislike from spiraling further.
I volunteered in church, despite knowing from a very early age that I wasn’t religious, I started playing accordion at age 10 because my parents wanted me to and I didn’t want to disappoint them and even though I didn’t like it I was too afraid to tell my teacher or my parents that I wanted to stop taking lessons until I was 17. Later on, when I started my work life, things didn’t necessarily change. The first job I ever had was an apprenticeship in which I worked 40 hours a week for 300€ a month. That’s approximately 1,80€ an hour. Nowhere near minimum wage. Yet, I took that job and stayed in it for a year. Why did I do it? Again, I didn’t want to disappoint my family. After leaving school I was bombarded with expectations. I was expected to get a job, earn money, live independently. And I was determined to make people proud, no matter the cost.
Little did I know how much my mental health would be suffering from this. It still does to some extend.
Only recently I have started to learn that saying “No” to things that I don’t want to do is perfectly fine. I have learned that you cannot please everyone and that there will always be someone who might not like you. It took me years to unlearn behaviours that I had ingrained into my brain so deeply, it was almost like learning to walk all over again.
Through a lot of reading and a few very educational accounts on various social media platforms I have slowly learned that I am in fact enough. That whatever I may be doing is enough. That my efforts are enough and that I do not need to work myself to complete exhaustion and mental burnout just to please other people. It’s a long process learning these things and, most of all, internalising them to the point that I can now comfortably said “No” to people or things that I feel don’t benefit me. It comes with a lot of insecurity and hurt.
I had to learn to make my own mental health and sanity my priority and look out for my own comfort, not someone else’s. This process is slow and takes a lot of baby steps. One thing that has helped me was disconnecting from people that I did no longer benefit from. Unfollowing people, deleting emails and messages. Another thing was to go through various message requests on my social media and tell people quite plainly that I wanted nothing to do with them. (Mind you, most of these requests were men looking for a hook-up, but just learning to be assertive in a situation like that has helped me do the same with people in real life.)
Now instead of thinking “What will other people think of me?” I ask myself
“How will this benefit me? Am I comfortable doing this?”
And I would encourage you to do the same. Ask yourself, does this task compromise your standards or comfort in any way? If the answer to that is yes, then it is almost always not worth doing. And I understand that some things have to be done, regardless of how uncomfortable they may be. I understand that overcoming fears is a big part of our growth as an individual, but that’s not the point of this post. What I’m trying to say is, that you as an individual are more than enough – you don’t have to bend over backwards for the sake of someone else’s comfort. That’s their own responsibility.
Learn to make yourself a priority!
Setting healthy boundaries is important and doing it can greatly improve your mental health. It’s nothing to do with being mean or lazy or rude. It’s there purely to protect your own energy! Setting boundaries is an important form of self care that everyone should learn and practise.
Remember, you cannot and will not please everyone – and that’s OK! The people who truly care for you will understand this, and the ones that don’t are quite frankly not worth your time.
Be true to yourself and don’t compromise yourself for anyone. You are enough.