A psychologist explains 3 ways to make self-advocacy your new superpower

Many people come to therapy saying that the people around them always seem to take advantage of their kindness. They ask questions like:

  • “I do most of the work at home. How can I tell my partner to get more involved in keeping our house clean without disturbing him? »
  • “I often stay late at work and go the extra mile to make life easier for my boss. Why are my efforts not appreciated? »
  • “Why do my friends make plans without consulting me first? I don’t want to miss this, so I often cancel my own plans just to get to theirs.

If you find yourself constantly pleasing people to the detriment of your own well-being, a re-examination of your relationships (with yourself and others) may be in order.

Here are three practical ways to defend yourself when people try to impose your kindness.

#1. Recalibrate others’ expectations of you

People often fall into patterns with each other. It happens in friendships, work relationships, marriages, etc.

According to research, humans, like all mammals, have developed subconscious and subtle ways to signal dominance and submission. Once the power dynamics of a relationship are established, it is often difficult to change.

What you can do, however, is speak out against unfair expectations others have of you. It may seem intimidating and you may come across as being rude. You may have fears like:

  • What if they stop hanging out with me after I report them for their behavior?
  • What if they tell others I’m picky?
  • What if I hurt their feelings?

While these things can happen, it’s important to understand that someone worth keeping is unlikely to react in this way. Their unfair behavior may have developed unconsciously and may persist largely because you did not directly communicate your displeasure with them.

Give them the benefit of the doubt and remind them that you may not be able to meet all of their expectations.

#2. Say “no” more often and keep your explanations polite, short and honest

If you never say “no” to people, you will find that their requests eventually turn into requests. Rejecting requests from time to time is okay because it signals to people that you have your own life to live.

Take time for yourself and your hobbies and don’t be discouraged by giving in to pressure from others. It’s a double whammy: it will hurt your self-esteem while making you resent others for stealing your personal time.

You may feel the need to explain yourself when you refuse a request, but this can be seen as a sign of weakness. It’s best to keep the explanation short and honest. This will signal trust and people will appreciate your honesty.

Instead of explaining yourself (especially if someone you love needs help), you can point them to a solution that will help them without having to be directly involved. This way you help them help themselves and they will (hopefully) thank you for it in the long run.

Rest assured that the people who deserve your time won’t shut you out of their lives just because you say “no” to them, especially if you’re polite about it.

#3. Nobody’s perfect, so cut yourself some slack

We tend to think of people’s pleasing behavior as a selfless act. However, in reality, the motivation to constantly please others comes from a need to be seen as perfect.

A study Posted in Interpersonal and biological processes found that wanting to maintain an image of perfection is linked to greater susceptibility to rejection and higher levels of depression in young adults.

Examine your behavior patterns and assess your reasons for wanting to please others. Are you addicted to the social acceptance you receive when talking to others? Is your growing resentment a sign of greater tolerance for the validation you receive for your pleasant behavior?

If so, understand that while validation from others is a great boost to your ego and self-image, it isn’t a lasting change in your sense of self-worth. Soon, the novelty of this validation will begin to wane, and you may begin to put your own life on hold just for others to compliment you on your kind and always dependable personality.

The next time you feel like you have to be there for someone at the expense of your own well-being, remind yourself of the aspects of your personality that you love. Also, remember that no one can be omnipresent. Tell yourself that whether or not you’re there for that person right now (and whether or not they like you for it), your personality is going to stay the same.

Think carefully about why you might want to help this person and assess the opportunity cost of helping them:

  • Is there anything you would rather do that would help you grow as a person?
  • Is helping this person the only way to feel good about yourself?
  • Do you really want to help them or do you just want to prove yourself to them?

By doing this exercise, you will feel in control of your decisions, even if you decide to help them.


Nobody likes to be a doormat for others. Here’s the good news: you are responsible for how you are perceived by others. This means that you have control over your people satisfaction status. Recognize this and take small steps to assert yourself. Before you know it, you will find that your relationships with people are mutually improving more than ever.

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