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7 Ways To Stop People-Pleasing Over The Holidays, From A Therapist

Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, CST
Clinical Sexologist & Psychotherapist By Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, CST
Clinical Sexologist & Psychotherapist
Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, CST, is a clinical sexologist and psychotherapist with 12 years of clinical experience. She is a licensed counselor in California, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana. She is also a certified sex therapist, certified addiction professional, and president of the Therapy Department, a private practice in Orange County that provides counseling services throughout the United States.
Small group of people celebrating the holidays

If you're a "yes" person—even when you want to say no—the holidays can be more exhausting than normal.

Not only do you have regular life problems, like relationships, social isolation due to COVID, and dealing with the chaotic world we're living in, but now comes the holidays—with all the social demands and family obligations that usually come with it.

Your struggle with people-pleasing doesn't take a back seat when times get stressful. Here are a few ways to stop people-pleasing over the holidays to help you manage your time and energy:

1. Understand what leads you to say yes.

Being a people-pleaser means you like for people to be happy with you. The problem is that even though they may be glad you said yes to a request, you're the opposite of happy.

If you're ready to make a change, start by examining what leads you to say yes even when you want to say no. Maybe you are trying to avoid conflict, or you don't want to come off as rude. Or maybe you're worried that if you say no, someone might become upset with you or not like you.

Whatever the reason is, it's time to figure it out. Someone is requesting you, your time, and your energy. Ask yourself, "What is leading me to say yes?" Try to identify the thought you are telling yourself about the person and situation.


2. Get your boundaries in check.

Your boundaries are how you teach people how to treat you. Think of boundaries as invisible walls we establish with others to keep us safe and protected. If you keep saying yes when you want to say no, you have loose boundaries.

People are going to ask and treat you the way you are allowing them to. Start by identifying people in your life with whom you know you need to create a boundary. Maybe it's your mom who won't stop asking you about your job loss or your older cousin who won't stop bringing up your ex.

Boundaries aren't rude; they are a lifesaver. After you identify the people you need to create boundaries with, list what boundary is needed. Doing this gets you out of your head and forces you to write out an action plan that you can implement.

3. Set a time limit.

Start treating your time as a commodity by setting limits. The holidays are notorious for events, plans, and parties. Before you say yes to every event because you don't want to seem rude, think about limiting the time you have available.

Start by telling the person exactly how much time you have available for an event or phone call. You can say that you're planning to spend more time at home this year and have a limited amount of time for gatherings.

You get to decide if you will stop by for a few minutes or miss the event altogether due to time constraints. This also works great for phone calls with that person you can't seem to get off the phone.

4. Don't catastrophize a no.

As a people-pleaser, you're probably worried that there will be a horrible fallout or conflict if you say no. However, your worst-case scenario probably won't happen.

It's easy to overthink and overindex on the "what if?" that may happen by saying no. Think about the last time your worst-case scenario came true. It probably didn't, and it's highly likely it won't this time either.

Are you OK exchanging your happiness for someone else's? If not, then stop worrying about what horrible things could happen when you say no. Your family may not even notice the difference. If they do, tell them that you're evolving and learning how to take care of your own needs.


5. Stop apologizing for doing nothing wrong.

You may find yourself excessively apologizing, especially when you begin to stop your people-pleasing behavior. You may say you're sorry you can't help out and continue to apologize.

Your decision to stop people-pleasing and to sacrifice your happiness needs to be celebrated, not apologized for. Over-apologizing takes away the power that you just demonstrated with your no.

You don't have to make excuses for saying no. Your "no" is a full sentence, and you're responsible for preserving both your time and energy by lessening your people-pleasing behavior.

6. Let go of the need for validation.

One reason you may be struggling with people-pleasing is that you are looking for validation. As long as you give your time, effort, and energy to people, you feel valid and good enough. The problem with getting validation from others is that it's a moving target. They may be happy with you today for what you do for them, and the next day you do the same thing to help, and you get a different result.

Your validation can't come from others because their feelings about you or your actions can change at any time. So don't set yourself up for failure. Your ability to say no to people who request things will help you feel more confident than saying yes ever will.


7. Have realistic expectations of others.

Do you know the difference between realistic versus unrealistic expectations, especially when it comes to others? If you're hoping the other person will set a boundary so you won't have to, you're going to be disappointed.

Sure, it would make your life easier because if they set the boundary, you don't have to say no and feel bad about it. But don't set yourself up by having unrealistic expectations for others. You're responsible for teaching others how to treat you, so you'll have to set that boundary you're dreading.

You've got a big heart and don't want to experience conflict, but at what expense? This holiday season is a perfect time to practice setting boundaries, saying no, and doing what makes you feel good versus worrying about others.

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