I used to be the ultimate people pleaser and struggled so much with saying ‘no’. Growing up in a huge family that was very close knit, we were raised with the idea that the right thing to do was to always help people and be compassionate, forgiving and always see the good in others.
Very hard blanket rules that we learn to adhere to without flexibility make for some serious issues down the line in our adult life. At one point I absolutely dreaded saying ‘no’. The word would come with a huge boulder of guilt that lay heavy on my shoulders. As a result of this, I often found myself in awkward situations or helping people I didn’t want to ,or giving up time I didn’t have to others.
Saying ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no’ is a terrible habit. On every level. It leads you away from your natural path of life and often can leave you feeling used, bitter and resentful.
For example: “Hey Roxy, can you please give me a lift to work?” My thoughts : ‘Well actually, I have an appointment in 20 mins and you are going in the other direction so I don’t really have time for that cause I will be late. Me out loud: “Yeh ok” accompanied with a smile. Obviously my friend gets dropped off and I miss my appointment and my natural thought pattern goes to : ‘Fuck! why did she have to ask me…now I’ve missed my appointment because of her… grrr…’ – And there it is, Resentment. Underserved because I couldn’t say ‘no’. This situation is entirely my fault. What I should have said “Actually, I have an appointment in 20 mins, so I won’t be able to this time, sorry”. Seems pretty simple right? Well under a boulder of ‘no’ guilt, sometimes its impossible.
Cousin chops off my left foot (bear with me). Said cousin asks me to go out for a coffee. Me thinking: ‘No I don’t like you’. Me out loud “Yeh sure”. The following experience is awkward and unpleasant and I pretend to be happy – yes people, now I’ve resorted to lying. What should have happened: Cousin “Hey you wanna go for coffee?” Me “No, not really”. Cousin “Come on, why?” Me “Bitch you cut off my left foot and I don’t like you!”…yes it’s a bit abrupt but at least its the truth.
So in the years of saying ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’, I became a contradiction. I realised that I had made myself a dishonest and two-faced person. These scary ‘no’s’ had turned me into an awful version of myself. Surely this was much worse than turning down a few people.
And so one day I decided I was done with that. That I would push through the guilt and be forward about how I felt about things. It really made me feel like a grown up to be able to openly own my emotions like that and very quickly I fizzled out the ‘users’ that were constantly in my world. I avoided putting myself in awkward situations, I felt no resentment and in communicating better, I started to create more meaningful relationships with the right people around me.
The hardest part is to separate your emotional reaction to a situation and look at it logically. We must remember that emotions are subjective and logic is objective. The same emotional reaction to a certain situation will not necessarily be shared by the individuals in that scenario. But the logical reality generally remains consistent.
We all have a different catalogue of memories which we often call back to when navigating the world. Take myself as an example, I went to an all-girl catholic private high school growing up. We wore a bright red uniform everyday, red and white school dress, red pullover, red blazer and even red hair tie. Today you would never catch me in anything red. I can’t put it on me without feeling yuck. Now, it’s not that it looks bad on me or its a bad colour, but it reminds me of sitting at school with no freedoms and being bored as fuck. To anyone else, it’s just a colour and some people even love it (probably because of another type of emotional memory). But if I really had to wear red for a particular reason, I would deal with my hang up by understanding where the emotional reaction comes from, clarifying the difference between my memory catalogue and the current situation and debunking the negative block.
It’s the same with saying ‘no’. If we recognise the emotional reaction and put it aside, we can think about the logical reasoning for saying ‘no’ thus making it an acceptable response. Communicating the reason why also reduces the chance for bad assumptions so that’s a good idea too.
The word ‘no’, although literally meaning ‘negative’, does not need to be judged in that way. Saying ‘no’ is just leaving us time and energy to say ‘yes’ somewhere else. Sometimes you have to look after yourself before you can help others. In an airplane safety video, you are asked to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others fit theirs. This is simply because If you are in a better position, you are better equipped to help others. It’s not a selfish act if it’s a logical one.
So my big advice for today is to master the art of ‘no’. Use it appropriately and take responsibility for your own opinions and feelings. Never say ‘maybe’ when you actually mean ‘no’. It does not soften the blow. We live in a world with way too much assumption, censoring and political correctness. If the world started being more direct and honest with each other, we would speed up the process of finding the right kind of friends and developing better relationships; both personal and in business. And the fakers of the world would be exposed very quickly. Imagine a world of honest people. It’s a big ask but small steps may one day lead us there. In the meanwhile, master your ‘nos’ and own those feelings. You will be a much better person for it.
Finally I’m really interested to know if anyone shares the ‘no’ guilt issue or has struggled with this in their life. If so, what do you think were the factors that contributed/s in conditioning you to feel this way, and how do/did you cope with it?
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