When I stopped being a pushover, I discovered that I didn’t have to suffer in silence to make everyone else happy…
Being a Pushover
Learning how to be assertive when I had spent all my life being a chronic people-pleaser was hard work. For a long time, I thought that wanting to make everyone else happy was just a part of my personality, making this change all the more difficult.
I had always prioritized other people’s happiness over mine – and often at my own expense – just to avoid feeling guilty afterward. To make matters worse, this didn’t apply only to my closest relationships but to complete strangers, too.
When I realized that I was beginning to avoid situations where I would have to say “no,” I knew that I had to address this problem. My road to assertiveness was long and by no means did I change overnight, but by applying these simple strategies, I finally stopped being a pushover.
How to Stop Being a Pushover
1. Understand that “no” is a complete answer
A telltale sign that you’re a pushover is the inability to say “no” with conviction. Even when you do, the word is usually followed by a litany of explanations and excuses as to why you didn’t answer in the affirmative. This makes it easier for the other person, be it your own mother or a salesperson, to counter-argue and get you to say “yes.”
A big reason people have such a hard time rejecting others is because they don’t want to cause disappointment or hurt – but how someone reacts to you asserting your boundaries is not your responsibility.
One of my breakthroughs toward becoming assertive was understanding that “no” is a complete answer – I didn’t always owe someone an explanation. If I offered it, it was brief and to the point: “No, I can’t join you camping this weekend. I had a busy week so I’d prefer to relax at home.”
Any attempts to convince me to change my mind were met with the same short answer and in the vast majority of cases, the other person would understand.
2. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind
When I was carrying my first child, I wasn’t feeling particularly social. Half the time I was fighting constant hunger in early pregnancy and the other half I spent sick to my stomach, so entertaining guests wasn’t on my list of priorities.
But did I say that? Of course not.
I kept my opinions to myself to avoid offending friends who wanted to come over and catch up, making myself miserable.
When you’re in the process of unlearning your people-pleasing behavior, you need to become comfortable with sharing what’s on your mind, especially if you disagree with another person’s opinion.
There will always be situations where it’s best to take the high road and not engage in a heated debate, such as at the workplace, but that doesn’t mean you should keep your opinions under wraps all the time. Be honest and you’ll understand it’s not the end of the world.
3. Learn when to ignore the guilt
In the rare instance that a pushover gets into a full-blown argument, this is usually followed by an overwhelming wave of guilt that they have stepped out of line or shouldn’t have argued their position so fiercely.
Make no mistake – this guilt is conning you. It’s your people-pleasing instinct activating and making you feel uncomfortable for standing up for yourself. But in the real world, conflict is a normal part of life. Defending yourself doesn’t a terrible person make.
Setting boundaries is not only important in verbal communication, but in all other areas of life, too. However, while most people wouldn’t tolerate being verbally abused, we seem to give people much more leeway in how they can treat us.
Whether this means putting up with someone who is constantly late or tolerating a friend who only seems to spend time with you when it benefits them, you need to understand what your boundaries are and make it known when they are being violated.
It can be as simple as saying “I expect to be treated with the same respect I show others” or you can even write down an entire list of behaviors you won’t accept anymore.
One of the most common pieces of advice I ever received was to “Be confident!” Unfortunately, I had no clue what that looked like in practice. I thought I already had self-confidence, so I was confused as to what I was doing wrong.
Then, I became aware of the way I spoke – I tended to use words such as “like” and “uhm” and made my statements sound like questions, which made me seem very insecure even when I knew what I was talking about. To sound more confident, I stopped using such words (although I do slip up every now and then) and I speak clearly, without unnecessary pauses or slowing down.
For you, this might not manifest itself in speech but in the way you carry yourself, so it’s all about identifying how you can improve your demeanor to exude confidence.
6. Stop apologizing for everything under the sun
There’s something special about a person who can apologize when they have done wrong, fully accept their wrongdoings, and own up to them. On the flip side, people-pleasers tend to apologize for everything, even the smallest of inconveniences.
In the past when I would be invited to an event I couldn’t go to, I used to say, “I’m so sorry, but I just can’t make it.” Now, I’ve changed my mindset to say, “Thank you for inviting me, but I have already made other plans.”
Of course, your exact response will depend on how close you are to the other person, but the key is to stop saying “sorry” when you have done nothing that would warrant an apology.
7. Understand that you will be happier
It’s unrealistic to go through life thinking everything will and should go your way. But since we’re faced with obstacles on a daily basis, it’s even more necessary to stop letting others run your life in areas you can control.
When I stopped being a pushover, I discovered that I didn’t have to suffer in silence to make everyone else happy. I didn’t need to take part in activities that bored me to death nor did I have to say “yes” when all I really wanted was to say “no.” Once I internalized these behaviors, assertiveness became like second nature to me – and I haven’t looked back since.
**What about you? Have you stopped being a pushover? If not, what’s stopping you?