Are you a people pleaser but hate it? Stop saying 'yes' when you mean 'no'

THERE’s a nasty virus going around at the moment. No, not that one. You can’t see it but it seems to disproportionately affect women. Maybe you even have a case of it yourself. Symptoms include feeling guilty, resentful or irritated. It’s the disease to please and I suffer from it in a big way.

Even mega-talented, world-famous multimillionaires aren’t immune to it. Adele recently shared a picture on Instagram of the book Untamed: Stop Pleasing, Start Living by Glennon Doyle, which states that “when women learn to please, we forget who we are” and offers tips on how to stop seeking approval from others.

“I am so ready for myself after reading this book!” Adele wrote. “It’s as if I just flew into my body for the very first time. Whew!”

She’s just the latest in a long line of female celebrities, including Lena Dunham, Kendall Jenner, Sheryl Crow, and even HRH Beyoncé, who have talked about the pressure they feel to put others’ needs first.

My people-pleasing goes through phases, but a desire to be liked is always lurking. I’m thinking of all the times I’ve nearly bankrupted myself forking out for another hen do I couldn’t afford. Or the way I refresh my emails every two minutes in the hope of getting praise for some work I’ve done. People-pleasing syndrome was definitely in full force right before lockdown, when I trekked halfway across the country to see a friend who never comes to see me, and then seethed about it the whole train journey home. All while texting her saying: “Thanks for a great weekend! Let’s do it again sometime!”

From an early age I was taught, like most women, to be pleasant and agreeable; that people will only like me if I make them feel happy and safe and nurtured. My parents’ messy divorce made me feel like I could never rock the boat and that I had to be a straight-A student, the good girl. Which, as I grew up became the perfect friend, the easy-going girlfriend, the model employee and then the ideal wife… and that one didn’t turn out so well.


This week I’m…

Obsessed with…

My Dyson desk fan 

I never knew that being pregnant makes you hotter than the sun, but it’s been my saviour.

Excited about…

The Lying Life Of Adults 

Elena Ferrante’s first novel since her Neapolitan Quartet hits the UK on Tuesday. 

Slathering on… 

Olaplex No. 0

The new treatment from the brand loved by pros is a proper thirst- quencher for dry hair.

I tell myself that I’m a people pleaser because I want to be a nice person – and what’s wrong with that? – but, in fact, saying “yes” when you want to say “no” only leads to resentment later down the line. I’ve come to realise that by masking my real needs and being afraid to say what I want, I’m essentially being a massive coward/big fat liar. It’s manipulative and unhelpful. It leads to flakiness (when you end up bailing on all those things you said yes to that you had no hope of making) and the odd bout of murderous rage (it’s lucky they only had plastic cutlery on that train).

So I’m trying hard to be less people-pleasey. It’s embarrassing to admit, but it’s taken something as extreme as being pregnant to feel like I have a legitimate reason to turn down invites and put myself first. Other friends have reported feeling less obligated to do stuff thanks to lockdown. Now, every time I hear myself say I “should” do something, I catch myself and replace it with a “could”, and work out whether it’s really something I want to devote my time and effort to. 

I’ve finally come to see that “no” isn’t a dirty word. Too much people pleasing means that nobody ends up very pleased. In the words of Adele, “Whew!” 

  • Follow Kate on Instagram @katewillswrites.
  • Hair & make-up: Sara Bowden 
  • Styling: Jess Evans 
  • Stockists: Dyson (Dyson.co.uk), Olaplex (Lookfantastic.com)

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