Letting someone down is never easy, but if you're a perfectionist or a people-pleaser, it can be a real struggle to say "no." This can occur in all kinds of situations: Relationships, friendships, and bosses all have the potential to put you in a situation where you feel pressured to take on extra work, do favors, or otherwise put yourself out to help others. Sometimes helping others is awesome! But if you're already stressed or overworked, continuing to say "yes" even when you're reaching a breaking point is only hurting you in the long run.
If you're someone who typically says yes to things (even when you really, really want to say no) the habit can become difficult to break. At times, it can even feel like your identity has shifted into becoming a "yes" person: Who will you be if you start telling people no? Will people still like you? Will your co-workers still respect you? In reality, knowing your limits and telling people "no" is a healthy part of life, though it can definitely be nerve-wracking to actually experience. It doesn't have to be, though! Here are four ways to get comfortable saying no — even if you're prone to perfectionism or people-pleasing:
1. Practice, Practice, Practice
Try to think of the last time you told someone "no." If it's hard for you to remember, it's probably a sign you need to practice doing it. Telling someone you can't help them out is always a little awkward; after all, you want to be a good friend, good co-worker, good spouse, etc., and in the short term, always saying "yes" to a person you value can feel like you're filling your role in the best possible way. However, the reality is that you have to draw the line somewhere, and when that time comes, you want to feel as comfortable doing it as possible.
For example, if you're used to helping co-workers finish projects in the office and you aren't sure how to say no without it being awkward, try writing down exactly how you'll phrase it before hand and practicing in front of a mirror. You can also practice the conversation by rehearsing it with a friend or partner. The key here is to feel comfortable and confident in the words you're using so that when the time comes, you don't backtrack and end up saying "yes," anyway.
2. Remind Yourself of Your Own Value
Seriously. Reminding yourself of your own value can make a world of difference when it comes to telling someone "no." Remember, your loved ones love and value you for all aspects of yourself, not just because you agree to help them with things. You have a complex, nuanced personality and if people care about you, they will recognize and celebrate that. For people who are apt to being people-pleasers, it can sometimes stem from a desire to be liked or accepted by others. However, if someone cares about you, they aren't going to love you less because you start telling them "no" when you need to.
3. Use "I" Statements To Express Yourself
Using "I" statements to express yourself is generally a good communication tip anyway, but I think it can be especially helpful if you're struggling to communicate something because you don't want to hurt someone, or you lack confidence in what you're saying. For example, if a friend asks you to help them move, but you really need to get some rest before a busy day at your job, an "I" statement could go like this: "I wish I could come over and help, but I have work in the early morning and I need the extra sleep." This is contrast to framing the "no" in a "you" statement, something like, "Man, it sucks you're moving on a weeknight... I'll see what I can do to help." The latter statement, based around the "you," is more avoidant and unclear. The "I" focused statement clearly states what you're prioritizing (in this case, your need for sleep) and makes it clear you're saying no. Ideally, "I" statements like these help prevent the follow up questions of "Why?? Are you sure??" that can create extra pressure or stress.
4. Remind Yourself Of All That You Already Do
Even if you're a low-key person, you should celebrate what you accomplish. If you're someone who functions at a high level of expectations, though, you definitely need to take a breather and remind yourself of everything you accomplish on a regular basis. For instance, if co-workers often pressure you into taking on more work in group activities, it's OK to let them know you need someone else to take charge on the next activity. Balance is healthy, and even if you can do it all, it doesn't mean you have to.
Often, people fear telling people "no" because they fear feeling guilty afterwards: Are my co-workers going to be mad at me? Are they going to think I'm lazy? Should I have just done it and gotten it over with? It's never healthy to do things out of a sense of guilt or obligation, though it's tempting to do so in the moment, if you don't want to risk upsetting someone or causing disappointment. In reality, though, you're only hurting yourself in the long-run. Learning how to directly and tactfully tell someone "no" is, in my opinion, a valuable life skill which can save you stress and resentment in the long-term.