Why people pleasers struggle to say No

The hallmark of a classic people pleaser is their inability to say No to requests and demands.

Self-sacrifice, leading to burnout, is a very common experience for people pleasers. They will constantly prioritize other people’s needs and wants over their own, even when the other people haven’t specifically asked for them to.

In fact, it’s not unusual to see a people pleaser overcoming resistance in order to help someone, i.e. they’ve actually asked you NOT to help and yet you insist.

The reasons people pleasers struggle to say No

Before we explore why this happens, let’s first acknowledge that people pleasers (like you?) are already well aware of this problem. They usually know that they are taking on too much and neglecting themselves (and their loved ones) to please others.

The issue is the stories they tell themselves as to why they must continue behaving like this.

These are the reasons people pleasers THINK they struggle to say No. This is not all the possible reasons, but I’m sure you’ll resonate with some of these.

People will think I’m lazy and selfish if I don’t. This is the idea that being helpful and productive and agreeable is what is accepted and loved by society, and anything else is what “bad” people do. Taking care of yourself first is seen as harmful to others.

People will suffer – others need my help. This is the judgment that other people are weak, incapable and dependent on you. You predict that without your strong intervention people’s lives will fall apart and their results will at least be less good than what they’d be with your support.

Prioritizing other people is noble and good. This is the belief that “good people” sacrifice themselves for others, and that doing so is somehow morally superior. Whether it’s getting into Heaven or just being appreciated by your friends, there’s a belief that helping others more than yourself should be rewarded.

It’s just easier and quicker this way. This is another judgment that results happen quicker and more effectively when you get involved, and that without you people will struggle more and produce less than ideal outcomes. It’s like you spending time helping is actually time saved overall.

I need to show others how to be a good person. A martyr-like judgment assuming that other people are inherently selfish or even evil, and that they need a strong rolemodel to set them straight and show them what it means to be a good person, i.e. make them feel guilty about not also sacrificing themselves. 

The world needs people like me. Following on from the last point, people pleasers often think that the world is seriously lacking in good people. They see most people as somewhere on the spectrum between a bit selfish and totally evil, and very few others are deemed to be as good as the people pleaser, so they fell that they must pull extra weight to make up for the damage done by others.

I don’t have a choice. This will change in specific application depending on the context, but it’s a general approach to any situation, that ends with the conclusion that there is no other option. Whether it’s because a deadline will be missed, or someone’s wedding will be ruined, or a child will be brainwashed, the people pleaser always has a compelling story about why they MUST help THIS time.

This is just who I am. A great way to make sense of harming yourself to please others is to tell yourself that this is genuine, authentic behaviour. You’re just a “good person” right? This is just natural instinct for you, and there’s no deeper, darker, traumatized reason for this… right?

So I hate to say it, but all these reasons are lies we tell ourselves to deal with the guilt and cognitive dissonance that arises from disrespecting and neglecting ourselves and our loved ones to please random fuckers who probably don’t deserve it (or need it).

The real reasons are far less noble and far more selfish than we want to acknowledge. Are you ready to go there?

The REAL reasons people pleasers struggle to say No

Now that we’ve got the bullshit stories you tell yourself out of the way, let’s peel those onion skins back and get to the crunchy, sickening center that makes you cry when you cut into it.

I need to control everyone else to suit my preferences. Pleasing others is really about control. Rather than letting them do what they want and possible affect you negatively, it’s better to just get your hands on everything so that you are the master of all, and therefore control the future comfort of your own life. This is mostly to make sure you and others don’t ever feel uncomfortable emotions, which you’re just not a big fan of.

I can use helping others to force them to owe me something in return. You didn’t really believe that all that helpfulness was altruistic, did you?! Come on mate, you’re not that naive! People pleasers don’t help without making sure it’s known that they helped. They believe that “good” people are rewarded, but you need to be noticed to be rewarded. If you’re noticed, you’re owed, like an employee who hands in their timesheet.

I already have loved ones locked in, now I need to restock the shelves. As in the video below, people pleasers tend to neglect their loved ones in order to please other less important people, like the guy who’s always late home to spend time with his family because he’s doing unpaid overtime at work. This is because people pleasers focus on making a quantity of people love them, and don’t bother maintaining the quality of connections that are already ‘secured’.

This will keep people from leaving me. Pleasing and prioritizing others simultaneously achieves three manipulative tactics for securing a relationship. Firstly, you make the person feel guilty for your self-sacrifice so that they owe you (and therefore can’t leave you yet). And secondly, you make people think you’re a good person so they want to be with you. And thirdly, you make them dependent on your help so they can’t function without you.

I can use a good person reputation to get rewards for my own selfish desires. Pleasing one person gets small rewards, like appreciation, attention and even maybe some sex. But pleasing lots of people consistently over time builds a pleasing reputation. This is like investing in lots of stocks to build up a big regarding portfolio that should pay out in the longer term.

I am stuck using a childhood trauma strategy. The heartbreaking truth behind most people pleasers being unable to say No is because it wasn’t safe for them to do so as children. We significantly underestimate the damage parents do when they don’t make it ok for their kids to be resistant and self-serving. When it reaches the level of painful or terrifying to say No, kids eventually become adults who are still hurt and scared.

Look, it’s not that you’re a bad person at the core. It’s that you’re simply unaware that these sick and selfish motives are what really drives you. If you can face this truth, then you can correct your intentions and actually be of greater service to others once you take better care of yourself first.

How to start saying No safely

If you’re a people pleaser who has read this and agrees that never saying No is a sign of trauma and insecurity, and is NOT the “goodness” you originally thought it was, then you can start to heal and develop a more healthy style of generosity.

One for them and one for you. Start following every act of pleasing others with an act of self-care or impressing yourself. Think of it like you’re not allowed to say Yes to someone else until you’ve said Yes to yourself first (and acted on it).

Stop offering to help. If you’re not yet brave enough to start saying No directly to requests, at least stop adding to your plate without being asked. It’s an interesting experiment that many of my clients do: try not offering support to anyone for an entire month. Watch how few people notice or care! And notice who it is that asks for help often… these people may be users or at least co-dependents.

Broker rather than fix. When someone asks for your support, help them find a better person to help! Make helping other people about putting them in contact with better support than you can offer, such as therapists, consultants, coaches, tradesmen, and internet educational courses. Even better, ask them, “What do you think YOU should do about it?” and encourage them to at least try to sort it on their own first.

Fill your calendar with priorities. Before saying Yes to others, first fill your calendar with all the self-care and family care that you can. Gym, quality time with the kids, mowing your lawn, reading your book etc. Literally book this all into a calendar. Then, when someone asks for help, bring up your calendar to find a time to book them in before saying Yes. Show them the calendar if you’re worried they won’t believe that you’re too busy.

Just wait. Especially when you get an email or message request or something, if no one will die waiting, give it 24 hours before you respond. Notice how many problems people solve on their own if they’re forced to wait. You’re not saying No, just Not Yet.

Of course, these are just baby steps leading up to the real work: becoming ruthlessly protective of your time and your core values, and mostly saying No to other people so that you can go all in on your few but important Yes’s.

How you can make massive progress in just a few months!

You can do all this on your own.

Through trial and error, books, courses and online content, you can figure it out slowly piece by piece over time if you dedicate yourself to it and are willing to fail often and get uncomfortable in order to achieve relationship mastery and build strong self confidence.


You can work directly with me in your corner for a short period of time and achieve the same results in months that would take you YEARS on your own (or your money back!).

That’s what my confidence coaching is really all about. I accelerate your progress significantly by ensuring you:

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It took me about 7-10 years to figure this stuff out on my own. It takes my average coaching client only about 3-6 months to achieve a level of mastery that leaves them able to continue coaching themselves to further success while feeling absolutely certain that they’re on the right path (proven by the results they get).

I’ve turned around doomed marriages.

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I’ve created assertive leaders out of meek people pleasers.

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Thanks for reading

Hope to speak to you soon

Dan Munro

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