So often when we talk about boundary setting, we talk about the ability to tell people “No”. It is something that many of us have a hard time with and we often regret the things we agree to.
I completely understand this issue. I remember trying to coach one of my co-workers on how to decline an invitation to attend a friend’s bridal shower. The friend did not live in the area and she would have had the expense of flying out in addition to having to take time off work. It wasn’t like she hadn’t already committed to go to the wedding itself. The fear of having the conversation with her friend loomed over her head for days and completely drained her. She ended up taking a mental health day from work to re-energize, before she found the courage to tell her friend “No”. I definitely get that conversations like this, especially with friends, can be hard this way.
But what if you are a person like me, who has no problem saying “No”? You should hear my co-workers talk about my sandwich eating habits for lunch breaks. Why do they know about my sandwiches? Because every time they ask me, whether I would want to go out with them for lunch, my answers is no. I must decline in a nice way, because once in a while I am still asked, but for the most part I am not.
Sometimes my “No skills” come in very handy. As a parent, for example, I have no problem telling my daughter “No”. Not even if I know that it will result in screams, and dramatic collapses that end with fits pounding the floor. I am so accustomed to not letting the emotions of “No” get to me that I am able to stand in its midst for the short period of time that the frustration of a “No” lasts.
This might sound like a dream to reluctant “No sayers”. At first I was convinced that I had discovered the jackpot with my ability to deny requests that would be arduous and/or inconvenient to fulfill. Over the years, I have perfected the art of saying no.
“Do you want to get together next week?”
“No, sorry I am completely booked… [with nothing in particular, but hey that’s a minor detail]”
“We really need some volunteers for our parent event”
“I am sorry, it is really busy at work right now [might or might not be the truth]”
“Mommy, can I have a playdate?”
“No, this weekend is not a good idea.”
There might be the initial disappointment on the side of the person asking, but that usually doesn’t last as long as me dreading that I have to engage in a way that might feel uncomfortable for me, if I say yes.
To be completely honest here, saying “No” most of the time has brought me to a place that is no better than the one I would probably find myself in, had I said yes one too many times.
Instead of the “Yes Sayers”, who need embrace their boundaries to stop draining themselves, I -as the constant “No -Sayer”- have built a fortress around myself, with no drawbridge to cross the moat and get anywhere close to me.
My shield against not being taken advantage of or finding myself in an uncomfortable situation I wouldn’t be able to get out of, started to turn people away from asking me in the first place. And when you are the one saying “No” all the time, you start expecting others to do so as well.
I used to pride myself on being the friend that would be there for someone else in a heartbeat. Got locked out of a parking garage in the middle of the night? Just hold on and I will be there to pick you up. But these kind of adventures subside, when you never say yes. Over time saying no to others led to me developing the sense that I should/could go my distance alone and wouldn’t need to ask anyone to support me. And so I didn’t.
Unfortunately, when you don’t reach out to others to support you in your journey, they have no way of knowing when you need their help. And so you will end up going the distance alone.
It took a life changing event with no one left around, and too much pride to ask for help, to understand the set up I had created for myself.
I am taking baby steps in allowing “yes” back into my life. But I can tell you that “YES” I am committed to working on that change.
My biggest advice to both the yes and the no sayers in this world:
- Find balance between yes and no
- Offer help where it is truly needed and doesn’t extend you beyond your capacity
- Accept help, even though it can be hard to admit that you need it
- And especially for me:
- “Have the courage to say more often “YES” and grow in its discomfort