Fair warning, this post is a little “Dr. Phil-like” and contains advice from me, Lindsay, who is most definitely not a professional, but maybe you can relate to a point or two.
Saying no can be hard. Especially if you’re a known ‘people-pleaser’ like myself. No comes off as such a negative word. It feels like if you say it you’re automatically 100% against something and you completely hate the idea but in reality no can be a very positive word, you just have to be confident enough to see it.
For as long as I can remember, anytime someone would ask me to do something for them, I would say yes without giving it a second thought. I wouldn’t stop and think, “Do I have the time, energy, or money? Do I even want to do it?” I would just say yes and rearrange my life or schedule to help that person. Most people would tell me, “You’re so thoughtful,” or “thank you, whenever you need something just let me know!” or “You love taking care of people don’t you?” Truth is none of those are really all that true. Yes I am thoughtful, for everyone but myself. Sure they offer to help me, but when the time comes and I ask for help, time and time again, nothing. And of course I love taking care of people, the people who deserve my time and energy, and believe me that list is short. So here I am, selfish, expecting something in return, and unwilling to waste my time on others. Guess what, they are all true, but not as harsh as they sound.
For so long I gave and gave without anything in return. It’s not that I always expected it. It just started to become very apparent that I was giving and it wasn’t doing anything for me. Does changing my schedule to help a coworker make me feel better? Maybe at first when they are thanking you over and over again, but the next month when you need to switch and they won’t even respond to a text, that doesn’t feel good or help me. When you take an entire week off work, use your vacation time, to help a friend move and two years later you ask for them to help over one weekend and they can’t be bothered. That doesn’t feel great either. When you come home from a work all night, stay up to take your kiddo to school, then clean the house, do the laundry, and put a meal in the fridge for dinner and your husband comes home and watches TV all night without a word said. That also doesn’t feel great.
At some point I stopped, and thought, it’s time to say no. Not because I’m selfish, mean, or bitter, but because I’m important too. My happiness, my family, and my time are important too. It’s not my coworkers fault that I say yes all the time and then expect them to as well. It’s not my friends fault that I picked the busiest weekend of the year for them to choose to move. It’s also not my husbands fault that I expect something from him that he isn’t willing to give (that’s a whole other conversation). My happiness and my life are on me. I finally figured out I need to think of me first, like many others around me do. I need to start saying NO. Many of my friends and coworkers have no problem saying no. I used to take it to heart but I finally realized they aren’t saying “no” to ME, they are saying yes to themselves, putting their family first. I never get upset when they say no, so if I start saying no, they shouldn’t be upset. It may come off as completely selfish, but really, if you spend your life pleasing everyone else, the only person who isn’t pleased is you. Why do I only tell myself no?
Breaking the ‘people-pleaser’ mentality is hard, like really hard. Once you finally have the courage to say no you then are hit with the overwhelming guilt of saying no. You instantly think, oh my gosh they’re going to be so upset and you then have to give a big long explanation of why you said no. Blah, blah, blah, excuse after excuse. You sit and think what excuse can I give to make them understand? When in reality, your friends (real friends) don’t need an explanation or excuse. They know you aren’t being rude or mean, you are just being honest like they would. Wanting to spend your entire day sitting on a park bench watching the grass grow is a good enough reason to say no, especially if that’s what you want to do.
Now on the flip side, helping people is a rewarding, amazing thing, but it can’t come before taking care of you and your responsibilities. Stretching yourself too thin and never putting yourself first will get old quick. It finally caught up to me. I wish I had started saying no sooner. Would have saved me a lot of time, energy, worrying, and making up lame excuses of why I was busy or why I couldn’t help. Saying no doesn’t mean you say no to everything. I still say yes often. I do care about the people around me and I do love taking care of people and feeling needed, but now I make sure to take care of me as well. I’ve lost a few ‘friends’ and even lost a husband, but what I gained was worth it. Thinking of myself and my daughter first has made life much simpler. I help when I can and say no when I can’t, easy as that. No excuses, and no guilt. On the plus side, when you truly WANT to be there and want to help, it will show. Your time with your friends and family will be that much better when you’re a willing participant not guilted into saying yes.
Start saying yes to yourself first and the rest will follow.