'I’m just a girl who cain’t say no’ sang Ado Annie in the musical, Oklahoma. As a psychologist I often quote the lyrics of this song to my clients, not so much to explore their sexual awakening (as in Ado Annie’s case) but how the inability to say ‘no’ can often contribute to burnout.
I couple this concept with an exploration of why it might be particularly difficult for somebody to say that little word ‘no’ to other people, work colleagues, partners or a child’s request.
I get a bit fed up with burnout articles talking about how pressured we are and how work is so demanding because they imply that our environment and other people are to blame for our burnout. I recently attended a one day conference dedicated to burnout prevention and recovery and no aspect of the presentations given considered how people might be instrumental in bringing about their own burnout because they find it so hard to say ‘No’ and subsequently find themselves overloaded, overburdened and overwhelmed.
People pleasers often come for therapy with burnout symptoms. An exploration of the early childhood of these clients can often find that they; grew up adopting the ‘peacemaker’ role within a turbulent household; grew up with strict parents with rules and regulations they had to follow regardless of their true feelings or beliefs; grew up with a parent with a mental health issue which meant they had to be ‘good’ and not create any trouble or added pressure for that parent, putting their own needs aside; or grew up with a sibling with a physical or developmental difficulty such as Asperger’s whose need for parental support was greater than the sibling without difficulties, hence the ‘well’ child grew up compliant recognising their needs were less important.
All these scenarios can contribute to a person’s inability to emotionally regulate themselves and a failure to attend to or even notice their own physical symptoms of burnout. The background and old dynamic of people whose needs were put aside can often repeat itself in the workplace as they put the emotions or needs of others before their own and fast-track themselves down the burnout road.
'So rather than hoping there’ll be a change in the system, the industry, your manager, the demanding general public or your workload, look inwards, understand the origins of your conflict, take back personal control over your wellbeing, return control to an internal locus than external…be empowered!'
The therapy I provide not only considers environmental factors as a contributor to burnout but also encourages clients to ask themselves how they might be contributing to their burnout, why they might struggle to assert their own needs and offers encouragement for them to begin to change old patterns which repeat themselves and stand their ground respectfully yet firmly and start to say ‘No’.
For people pleasers it is often easier to say ‘yes’ to a request rather than refuse and have to deal with the anxiety of disappointing somebody. If you take responsibility for yourself, try living with the unfamiliarity and manage the painful anxiety of prioritising yourself over another, burnout will be prevented.
So rather than hoping there’ll be a change in the system, the industry, your manager, the demanding general public or your workload, look inwards, understand the origins of your conflict, take back personal control over your wellbeing, return control to an internal locus than external…be empowered!
Self-care, self-respect is essential for self-preservation and preventing personal burnout.
Perhaps a more appropriate song we should be singing is Diva Donna Summer’s disco classic ‘Enough is enough!’
Julie is a Counselling Psychologist and Existential Psychotherapist who works privately in her clinic in Birmingham with individuals experiencing burnout, trauma, relationship breakdowns and midlife crises. Outside of work Julie likes to go running with her dog Rocky and watch old Stallone movies, but don’t tell anyone.