Call me selfish but…

You like being liked, you want to be helpful, you practice kindness, you offer a listening ear at all costs and always put other people’s feelings first. If this is you, you are being the best kind of friend, colleague, parent or partner. 

Or are you?

I once mentioned in an interview that I have been guilty of being a ‘people pleaser’ and the interviewee replied with ‘are you recovered or a recovering one?’ This really made me think about how far I have come in trying to be authentic and stay true to myself. I believe I am still recovering because I haven’t yet managed to completely get rid the anxiety I feel in the pit of my stomach when I say no. But for me, I have gone from this being a daily occurrence whereby I would go to friends and family with my latest ‘moral dilemma’ asking for approval and permission; to now being able to manage this and in some sense, my emotions independently. 

In some ways I am grateful for that feeling. It isn’t comfortable, but it makes me reflect on situation and not just make a rash choice. I think of it as my safety net to make me stop, take notice and think about what is the ‘right’ thing to do. If the feeling subsides after the decision has been made, then I take that as my green light that it was in fact the right thing for me to do. 

So how many of us can relate to being a ‘people pleaser’? You may not realise you even are one. For some of us it is so embedded in how we think, behave and live our lives for a whole range of reasons. A study conducted by YouGov (2022) found that 50% of the 1000 people asked, said that they would openly label themselves as a ‘people pleaser’. With 50% of them again saying that they liked being called one, almost like it is being worn as a badge of honor. But who are we honoring when we live by this? Quite often not ourselves. 

Giving ourselves permission to put ourselves first might seem selfish? I was called this as a child and it has really stuck with me. Now I challenge it, call me selfish but I now prioritise my wellbeing when deciding. I believe it to be protective.

How can we be clear with our boundaries without it coming across wrong? How can we say no without it looking like we don’t care? 

Here is a scenario.

You get invited to some drinks at the pub by some friends. They want to meet at 7pm and they are talking about staying out late on a weeknight. You think, I haven’t been out recently, but you feel tired, you are trying to save money, cut down on my alcohol and you have a busy week at work so want to be on form the next day.

Try asking yourself the following questions:

  1. What is my first reaction to this? Take notice of this. 
  2. Do I feel like I need to top up my ‘social wellbeing’ cup?
  3. How will I feel the next day after attending these drinks? 
  4. Does this serve your goals right now? 
  5. Will this have a positive impact on your wellbeing? 

You may not know the answers to all these questions as often we don’t want to go to something, we go anyway, and leave feeling great and feel silly not wanting to go in the first place. Sometimes it is useful to challenge ourselves. 

If you decide to accept the invite – that’s great, go and enjoy yourself if that serves you right now. If it is a no, be clear with your boundaries. There are many positives to this, for you and your relationships. 

  1. Use direct and clear communication
  2. Try not to over-apologise or over-explain why you have said no
  3. Be consistent with your boundaries that you set 
  4. Follow through with the boundary that you set 

When those around you understand these boundaries, you gain respect. Try practicing this in return too. Be the example, give yourself permission to say no. Go on, I dare you. J


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