I can’t say no to things. I’ve always been that way. There are lots of things I want to do. I want to go to all of my friends social events, I want to host my own, I want to help with projects, I want to take on more responsibility at work, I want to help my coworkers succeed, I want to travel near and far, I want to see movies and plays and read books and take a class. But most importantly, I just want to be there for everyone.
I used to think people that struggled with going out and doing things were introverts, and since I am an extrovert I will never struggle with keeping up with everything. I would be fueled by it. But about two years ago I started feeling, to put it simply, tired. I had been seeing my partner for several months at this point, and I was trying to see him as often as I could and go have as much fun with him as possible. I was also trying to keep up with my single girl social life and give everything I was giving before to my girl friends. I started a new job that was much more fast paced than anything I had experienced before and had a steep learning curve. I was burning out and I didn’t even realize it.
It was a weekend in Vegas that did me in. Two nights in Vegas doing the Vegas thing, and a few days later I am sitting on my partners bed crying. And I have no idea why I am crying. I just know that I am crying and I don’t know how to stop it. My partner very tenderly looked me in the eye and said, very simply, “You’re tired”. And it all just clicked.
I was trying to do everything and be everything for every one. Turns out I can do that for six months before a mental breakdown. And I have spent the last two years trying to figure out how to say no to things more often. I plan nothing weekends. Literally plan. It goes on the calendar. No plans are allowed this weekend. And I do my best to not even leave my home the whole weekend. I try to keep at least one evening during the week where I come home and do nothing. No gym, no social events, no counseling. Just come home. I do my best to keep these nothing plans, but to be honest, more often than not, I cave and say yes to something.
It’s been a hard balance to strike. One that I am still working hard to figure out. I feel very fortunate to have a very supportive partner and very supportive friends. When I start to double book myself, my partner will remind me that is our nothing evening, and encourage me to honor that plan. Others in my life haven’t been as gracious in supporting my need to say no from time to time, making that balance harder to find. I realized I tend to give soft No’s, rather than hard No’s. And there are definitely people in my life who challenge my soft No’s, and once challenged I usually end up saying an unenthusiastic yes.
For such a tiny word, No looms larger in our consciousness. We don’t like saying it, we don’t like hearing it. But it is such an important boundary we must learn to wield.
So why don’t we say no?
We have plenty of reasons not to say No. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, we don’t like confrontation, we want to be polite and helpful, we actually want to be able to say yes. And so we say yes, and almost instantly we regret it.
So why do we keep saying Yes when we really want to say No?
-You follow the Golden Rule: Do unto others. You give and give and give, and agree to everything, because if the situation were reversed you would want them to do the same.
-You’re a person of your word. You said yes, so you’re going to do it. You’d rather put yourself out than be flaky.
-You’re a caregiver-type. People always come to you with their fires, and you want to take care of them.
-You fear the conflict it will create. You don’t want to upset the people you care about, you don’t want to face a guilt trip, you don’t want to deal with an argument.
-You fear that you will lose that person if you say No. You don’t want to face their wrath or abandonment.
Do any of these sound familiar? Do all of these sound familiar?
When we are in a vulnerable position, put on the spot, face to face with someone else, we often fail to be straightforward about our personal boundaries. We jump into fix-it mode, we do everything we can to appease the person and smooth things over. We often don’t set boundaries and let people do things that are not okay and then we become resentful. We associate boundaries with being rude or pushy. But being compassionate doesn’t mean being a pushover or a doormat for other people.
It boils down to setting a personal policy, implementing it, and communicating it to others. Setting boundaries that uphold your values and allow you to practice self-care is a self-compassionate act. The alternative is resentment and unstable relationships. When we have poor boundaries we overextend ourselves and allow people to keep taking from us with no respect for our own well being. Poor boundaries teaches others to disrespect you. Love and respect begin with self-love and self-respect.
A big lesson I have learned is that if telling someone No creates conflict, that is not my problem but theirs. If setting a simple and reasonable boundary leads to tension and escalation, I have found all the more reason to say No. I’m realizing I have spent most of my life feeling like I couldn’t say No without conflict, and how harmful that has been to my well being for decades now.
But more so than that, I have learned that the people who value and respect me, encourage my No. If I need to change plans or say No altogether, I am met with kindness and understanding. And the more intentional I am about my relationships, the more fulfilling they are. When I focus on people who treat me the way I want to be treated, I find I am less drained and that there is a lot less conflict in my life.
My theme for 2019 is Love Better. And part of that is going to be saying No more often.