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I've always been a people pleaser. I learned to stop saying 'yes' to everything after a painful body massage.

Jennifer Thompson   

I've always been a people pleaser. I learned to stop saying 'yes' to everything after a painful body massage.
  • Jennifer Thompson is an author and motherhood lifestyle blogger.
  • The following is an adapted excerpt from her book "If We're Being Honest: Silencing the Lies We Tell Ourselves to Live a Life We Love."

I used to be a "yes" girl. A rule follower to a fault. A square. My husband would argue I'm still as naïve as they come, but I'm getting better at pushing the limits. For the longest time, pleasing those around me was my job, and I was good at it. Never one to disappoint, I knew exactly what everyone wanted from me and how I was supposed to go about it. Perfection was my jam.

After all, girls are supposed to mind their P's and Q's. We're taught from an early age to be quiet and pleasant, to dial down our voices in a concerted effort to please others and be deemed worthy. Phrases like: Don't make waves. Try not to be so difficult. Just go along with it are hardcoded into our internal psyche, and we don't even know it. We learn all too quickly how to be innately in tune with the needs of those around us, and how to say "yes" to everything, even at the expense of our own passions and desires.

I didn't know how to say 'no'

I know because I was one of them. I was good at making people happy. I was good at seeing a need and always extending a hand and a yes. And for the longest time, it made me feel good. It validated my existence and made me feel worthy — until one day, it didn't. Until the very idea of saying "yes" to one more thing left me feeling emotionally depleted, on edge, and lost. Up until now, I had tied my self-worth into being everything to everyone. My sole purpose of existence was to serve and seek the love of others. I wanted and needed to do it all, but there was one caveat: My all was never enough.

I was drowning in motherhood, life, and work. I was tackling it all, saying "yes" to all the things, when on the inside, my body was screaming for me to stop. I knew I couldn't keep going at this pace, but I didn't want to let anyone down. The irony of it all was that by saying yes to everything, I wasn't helping anyone.

I was stretched too thin, running at a snail's pace, fueled by coffee and a miracle. I needed a break, so I scheduled a massage at our local high-end spa. Something about stepping into that place made me feel instantly at ease. Maybe it was the flute music, hot tea, and energy trail mix, or the chance to read in silence while the oversized robe seemed to swallow my body whole, but whatever it was, I had been looking forward to this moment all day.

"Hi, Jennifer. My name is Candace. I'll be doing your Swedish massage today. Come on back, and we'll get you started."

As we entered the room, she prompted me on where to put my things and asked which oil scent I preferred. "I'll step outside so you can get ready, and I'll be back in a moment to check on you."

When the door shut, I scrambled quickly to hang my robe and hop onto the table, making an effort to not jack up the perfectly folded sheet coverings. As I sunk into the table, I breathed a sigh of relief. Candace entered the room, quietly placing an eye mask over my eyes while guiding me through a few deep breaths. Those first few minutes were bliss, but then…

My Swedish massage felt more like a deep-tissue, torture of death. Every touch felt like the pressure was going to send me screaming. My face winced in pain as the massage went on.

"Is the pressure, okay?" she asked.

"Yes," I replied.

Yes?! I can think of a lot of words to use, and yes is definitely not the one that comes to mind. Really, Jenn. Just say something. No. What if I offend her? I mean other people must enjoy this kind of pressure. Just take it. Don't be rude.

So, I did. I paid $98 plus tip for a massage I hated all because I didn't want to offend someone. Something that was meant to relax me left me feeling miserable and sore. I created my own personal massage hell because I didn't want to speak up. I was afraid of conflict and feared hurting a stranger's feelings.

No. Such a simple word, riddled with anxiety and fear.

After that massage, I knew something had to change

Our inability to say no is woven into everything we do, from small everyday things like massages or the color of our pedicures to large life-altering decisions like careers. As women, we've been socialized into silence. The idea of someone being angry or critical of us creates fear and tension. So much so, I was willing to forgo my own health and sanity because it pleased someone else, even if that person was someone I didn't even know. It didn't matter that it was the wrong choice for me, and every ounce of my body was telling me not to do it. I was ready to say yes.

Have you been there? How many times in a day do you catch yourself saying "yes" to things you don't even want to?

Instead of respecting ourselves and saying no, we ignore our inner peace to meet the expectations of those around us. We sign up for the thing or say "yes" to yet another family function, even when every bone in our body is telling us not to. We agree to sushi with a friend, despite our disdain for raw fish and borderline shellfish allergy.

We say "yes" to another date with a guy we're not even into, because we don't want to be mean. Your friends said he's super nice, so what would that make you? We plan the extravagant wedding to meet our families' expectations when truthfully, we just want something small. We sit silently in the conference room, disagreeing with everything being said, yet fail to speak up for fear of ruffling feathers.

You don't always have to keep the peace. If something makes you uncomfortable, you can say no. If you don't believe an idea at work is going in the right direction, it's okay to disagree. You don't always have to check the sign-up box for the PTA or the latest school activity. You can sit some things out. You can do things that fill your cup. Stop accepting that the only answer is yes.

You don't always need to give an explanation. Sometimes the answer is simply, no.

Excerpted from "If We're Being Honest: Silencing the Lies We Tell Ourselves to Live a Life We Love" by Jennifer Thompson. Copyright 2024 by Jennifer Thompson. Published by Urano World.

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