What Happened When I Started Saying “No” to People and Learned to Put Myself First

Melissa Badamo Sep 26, 2022

For most of my life, I considered myself a chronic people pleaser. 

I used to say “yes” to every favor, whether it was a friend asking for a ride or a coworker asking to cover their shift. Doing nice things for people feels good. It establishes a sense of trust, and can bring people closer. However, being too altruistic comes with a price. Saying “yes” to everyone’s favors can get exhausting. I began to sacrifice my own freedom and happiness, which is when I knew I had to make a change in my life. Here is what happened when I learned to say “no” to others more frequently.


Why It’s So Hard To Say “No” To Others

Much of this is rooted in our self-esteem. There’s the worry that others won’t like us if we say “no”, or that they won’t invite us to things again. The reality is, if they are like that, they’re really not your people.

For me, being a people pleaser stemmed from a subconscious fear of being perceived as mean, selfish, or unlikable. Any time someone needed a favor, I asked myself; “What will they think of me if I say no?”

Getting past this fear of not being liked is difficult, but in doing so, saying “no” becomes more effortless. The more you do it, the more comfortable you become setting boundaries. As a result of doing this, my assertiveness has grown and my sense of self-respect too, not seeing myself as a pushover. It’s also taught others how I want to be seen and respected too. Overall, it boosted my confidence—if I can get over this fear of saying “no,” then I can do anything.


The Benefits of Saying “No”

Once I started setting these boundaries, I began to have more time for myself. As a full-time graduate student with multiple jobs and responsibilities, it’s extremely difficult to find free time. I realized that instead of putting all my energy into making others happy, I can give more time to the activities I enjoy—such as watching my favorite TV show, reading, playing guitar, and spending time with friends and family. Once I realized that making myself a priority isn’t selfish, saying “no” became much easier.

It helped me learn who my real friends are. Not being a people pleaser doesn’t mean that I never help others. As someone who values kindness, I’m always there for others in time of need. It becomes a problem when I go out of my way for those who don’t appreciate my generosity.

Not only will my real friends appreciate and reciprocate favors, but they’ll stick by my side even if I have to say “no” to them once in a while. They understand that I can still be a good, caring friend even when I’m busy or when I have to take time for myself. They’ll always be there for shopping trips, a fun night in, or an outdoor adventure.

I noticed that my mental health improved. Because I was able to find more time for myself, my mental wellbeing and stress-levels were so much better. I wasn’t worrying about fulfilling all the promises I’d made to other people and trying to cram in time for myself. I stopped feeling guilty for not pleasing them or worrying about what they were thinking about me. After all, saying “no” is a form of self-care. It allowed me to put myself first and take care of myself and my own needs.


Saying “Yes"

Saying “yes” to those who took advantage of my kindness made me feel used and unappreciated, which began to wear away at my self-esteem. I now have a higher sense of worth now that I know I’m only offering a helping hand to those that truly appreciate me. And, saying “yes” to them feels good for all the right reasons.

Setting boundaries and teaching others how you want to be seen and treated by them is a journey for sure. I’m still in the process of understanding how to put myself first—after all, learning how to stop being a people pleaser is a continuous, non-linear road that takes time to master. Once I realized that I can still be the kind, selfless person I’m proud of being, without having to sacrifice my own freedom and happiness, I began to have a new outlook on life.

Do you have a hard time setting boundaries? What are some of the ways you’ve learned to say “no”? Tag us on social media at #LifeUnzipped