You give and give and give, and now you’re concerned that the words “Welcome Mat” have been written permanently across your forehead. Fortunately, you don’t have to become a self-absorbed jerk to keep others from taking advantage of your niceness; simply know yourself and your assert your limits. Others will begin to see that you are a valuable contributor in a relationship, with opinions and preferences of your own.
To make changes to your behavior, you’ll first have to look inside to figure out why you act the way you do -- why you’ve let people walk all over you. Your excessive niceness might come from fear of confrontation or loneliness, a lack of confidence in yourself or the need to feel needed. If you fear how someone might react if you refuse a request or voice an opinion, your self-esteem may need some bolstering. Start a journal to become aware of what situations trigger your excessive niceness and why you feel you respond the way you do.
Once you’ve determined the reason for your behavior, it’s time to take small, manageable steps toward the strong, assertive person you’d like to become. Start by making a list each day or week of small tasks that will help you to reach your objective. Start with small, attainable goals that help to bolster your self-esteem, such as maintaining a healthier lifestyle, running in a marathon or committing to an hour a week of "me" time. Next, commit to changing how you respond to a request. If you're not ready to say "no" just yet, make the objective to say something other than "yes." For example, say "Let me think about it," or "I'll have to get back to you," so you have a chance to think about whether you're comfortable committing. Pat yourself on the back every time you succeed.
As you begin to recognize your own worth and move away from your habitual "yes," determine the limits with which you are comfortable and enforce those limits more frequently with friends, family and coworkers. For example, if your cousin is constantly dropping off her kids to you for free babysitting, politely refuse her the next time she calls or shows up at your door. A simple, “I’m sorry, no. I have plans I can’t put off this afternoon,” lets her know that your time is valuable too. Alternatively, it’s OK to drive the carpool to work when others are chipping in toward gas or taking turns driving too, but if you’ve become the free shuttle service for the entire office, it’s time to enforce your limits. Stand your ground and let others know that kindness should be reciprocal. The first “no” might be the hardest to get out of the way, but it will slowly become easier over time.
Ditch the Guilt
Learn to say no without feeling guilty. While your previous self was a people-pleaser, the new, more assertive you will learn that others will not hate you when you stand your ground – you’re an individual with likes, preferences, responsibilities and limits of your own. Once you've said no, move on. Don’t obsess over theoretical catastrophic consequences if you aren’t able to organize every school fundraiser this year -- other parents will step up to help out. Instead, choose to leave the worry behind and get on with the things that are worthy of your attention.