Have you ever had anyone speak to you in a tone that made you feel
uncomfortable? And yet, you said nothing. Have you ever done something for
someone or with someone that you really didn't want to do? And yet, you
did it anyway, only to become resentful later.
Every time you say nothing, every time you let it slide, every time you do
something for someone else that you don't want to do, you tell yourself
that the other person means more than you. In essence, you give yourself
(and others) the message that you don't matter.
How it begins
One of the first words we learn to say as infants is "no." We learn this
word partly because we hear it so frequently and it's an easy word to
pronounce. It becomes a popular word as we move into the toddler years.
Then we learn that it's not nice to say "no," that we need to do as we are
told. As children, this is how we learn right from wrong; it's how we
learn acceptable behavior.
As we grow, we allow people to convince us to do things that are not
congruent with the way we want to be. Somewhere along the way to
adulthood, our ability to say "no" gets lost. It becomes easier to tell
ourselves "no" than to say "no" to others, so we ignore our own feelings
and go with the flow. What matters is that we please others. So we take on
projects and additional responsibilities that we'd rather not do, and
after awhile we become proudly known for 'getting it done.' Over time, we
become resentful and unhappy. We continue to repeat the same messages we
were taught as children and nevër question whether they serve us as
Paying the price
Saying "yes" when you'd rather not means you're really saying "no" to
yourself. This undermines your self-esteem. You unwittingly tell yourself
that the other person's needs come before your own and you devalue
yourself. And, until you are ready to take responsibility for yourself, it
You may be accustomed to placing the needs of others before yourself. And
yet, can't you be just as caring when you care for yourself first?
When I met Susan, it was just before Christmas. She told me that 45 people
were coming over for Christmas dinner. She was excited to say that her
mother was coming, but her demeanor changed when she said her siblings
were coming with their spouses, children and grandchildren. She was
clearly not looking forward to this dinner; it was a lot of work and she
was expected to cook every year -- family members did not take turns,
although some of her sisters brought food. I asked her to tell me what the
perfect Christmas dinner would be like. She said it would just be the
seven of them -- her husband, her children, and her mother. So I asked her
what would happen if she told everyone that she was no longer going to
have Christmas dinner for everyone. Interestingly, she had not considered
it as a possibility. She just figured she'd be stuck having this dinner
every year, ad infinitum. She didn't realize that she could choose to do
something different; she just needed to give herself permission.
Just as she believes that it is her duty to have this dinner, it is
possible that her relatives attend out of a sense of duty. She might find
that once her true feelings are exposed that others share the same
feelings of obligatïon. Either way, she is entitled to spend Christmas
dinner in a way that brings her the most joy. Until she is honest with
herself and others, she will continue to suffer needlessly.
What things in your life do you continue to do over and over because
that's how it's always been? Not only is it all right, it is imperative
that you question the things you do and consciously choose how to spend
your time and energy. It's your life. You can live by design or by
default. Either way, you only live once.
Learn to follow your heart
How do you learn to say "no"? By practicing. Learn to pause before you
answer any request made of you, whether it's for your time, energy or
monëy, etc. Then search your heart for what you really want. How do you
feel to say "yes" to this request? How do you feel to say "no"? Which
feels better? Even if you're not sure why, go with your gut. Learning to
listen to your inner self is critical. Every time you say "no," you say
"yes" to you. This builds self-esteem, and as you honor yourself, you
reclaim your personal power.
Learning to say "no" to things you don't want means you're able to say
"yes" to things you do want. Eliminating things that you don't want in
your life, things that don't make you feel good, gives you the time,
energy and space to add things that you do enjoy. When you say "yes" to
meeting your own needs and wants, you validate yourself; this builds
confidence and inner strength. When you feel good, you're happier, more
productive and you have more fun!
You can say "no" with grace and love. As you say "no" to others, don't
make them wrong; simply state your Truth. And don't apologize! (You're
doing nothing wrong!) Simply state that you are unable to take on any more
projects and that you have stopped doing things that are not your
responsibility or not in your best interest. If you can, refer them to
someone who can help them or show them how to do it for themselves.
Do unto yourself as you would do unto others.
The highest level of respect you can give is the respect you show
yourself. People often say that you must give respect in order to get it;
in order to get it, you must give it to yourself. As you treat yourself
with compassion and love, you teach others how you expect to be treated,
and by raising your standards, you permit others to do the same.