I am pretty terrible at saying no. That’s not a self-effacing brag, most of the time the thought of saying no borders on terrifying for me. Left to my own devices with a looming yes or no decision, I obsess for days and endlessly debate dozens of horrible outcomes, which of course will definitely transpire (all at once) if I turn it down. In the end, the mental stress becomes completely overwhelming, I hit the eject button and usually just end up saying yes. Can you relate to this? A quick Google search reveals that I am not alone in struggling with this issue. There are countless articles, blogs, self improvement sites and cries for help on Reddit, all dissecting this very topic.
So what makes saying no so difficult for some of us?
As I ease into the middle(ish) years of my life, I am starting to reflect more on what my priorities are and want to get real with myself around some of the stressors that I actually have the power to change. Why is it so important to please everyone to the point that I feel resentful and stressed out? How did I become a fully functioning adult without learning this skill?? Here is what I have come up with so far.
FOMO – Fear of missing out
The thought of saying no and later regretting it, or missing out on an amazing opportunity that I didn’t even know was just around the corner is a big driver of this for me.
I don’t want to let anyone down. Like ever. I certainly don’t want to make anyone feel like I am not supporting them, or that I am not there when they need me. I rationalize that I would much rather just say yes and deal with the stress and resentment internally, than disappoint someone else.
I think in a lot of cases women and mothers are naturally hard wired to be selfless, nurturing and generally take care of others. From the moment you get pregnant, you give up your body and then later on, 99.9% of your personal life for your kids. Plus, for me anyways, raising kids and having a successful marriage has always felt strongly underpinned in compromise and putting the needs of my family first. Rightly or wrongly, I think there is more pressure on women to do more, take care of others and be effective multi-taskers.
Fear of Conflict
I hate conflict, I avoid it like the plague. I don’t like to be angry, or think someone else may be angry at me. There is a lot of research out there that shows that at the end of the day, we just want to fit in and be liked by our peers. We want to be accepted by our friends, family and work colleagues. Maybe for some of us, it’s scary to think about saying no and rocking that boat.
An Identity Crisis?
Somewhere along the line, I think being there for people and equating that with never saying no, has gotten all tangled up in my own self identity. Maybe that two letter word feels so unthinkable, because if I am not the “go-to” person, who always comes through for everyone in my life, than who the heck I am?
People are going to ask for things, that’s just life. It’s up to you to be brave and set your own boundaries. This is all definitely still a work in progress, therefore I am trying to get comfortable with being uncomfortable sometimes. And you know what? The more I practice, the less scary saying no is becoming. I’m challenging myself in new ways and practicing being a little kinder to my inner self. It feels pretty good.
What I have learned
I still have a LOOONG way to go, and regularly tumble back into post-traumatic feelings of doing too much and saying yes too often. But in those moments, I tell myself it’s ok to disappoint people sometimes. Besides “we yes” people are probably getting way more worked up about it than the very people we are saying no to… It’s also ok to create the space and time you need to think about whether a situation or opportunity should be a yes. In fact, it’s empowering.
In the end, I just have to be true to myself and try my best to be honest about what I really want and decide when saying no will actually help me get there.
Do you struggle with saying no like I do? What are some of the things you have trouble saying no to? Let me know your experiences with this in the comments. We’re all in this together!