I really hate to say no to people when they want me to do things. This means that I either wind up doing things I really don’t want to do (in which case I tend to let my unhappiness show in horribly passive-aggressive ways that I invariably later regret) or I say an honest no only to wind up spending huge amounts of time in self-flagellation (of the psychological sort) for having had the audacity for being so selfish as to refuse to meet someone else’s request.
I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember, and it’s a pattern that really doesn’t serve me very well. It’s not serving those around me very well either even when I do what they want. It’s one of the (many) patterns that I’m working on changing.
The first step for me has been doing a better job at even knowing when I wanted to say no. I’ve spent so much of my life as a people-pleaser that tend to be much more aware of the feelings, wants, and needs of those around me than I am of my own. I’m learning more and more to take enough time before making a decision to detach from all those others and decide what I really even want (or need) in a situation. I’m slowly getting better at this identification of what is me and what is not me in this area, although I still have room to grow.
Once I know that I want to say no, then I have to deal with the deluge of guilt that comes with that. Somewhere along the line I became convinced that saying no to someone else’s wishes was selfish on my part, as if their wishes carry more weight in this world than my own. However, the more I’ve become aware of my passive-aggressive acting out on the occasions when I make this “unselfish” choice to make someone else’s wishes more important than my own makes it safe to say that even that is a considerably less than generous choice on my part.
Yes, there are times when it is appropriate to do things for other people that we would not necessarily choose on our own (like taking care of a sick family member) when it is better to work on my attitude to be able to do what is needed in the spirit in which it needs to be done rather than figuring out how to say no. These kinds of cases are not what I am talking about here (even though I recognize the challenges sometimes in differentiating this kind of situation from the non-urgent ones).
I’m talking more about the kinds of social invitations, small favors, and event opportunities that come up all the time. The things which are purely a manner of preferences and do not involve contractual agreements (of a stated or unstated nature), promises made, or other mitigating obligations of any sort. At worst, they may involve someone else’s expectations of me that I may need to disappoint.
It’s these things that I find inordinately hard to say no to. The simple stand of saying no can send me on guilt trips that can last for days or weeks, and this is where my current challenge lies. As I get better at discerning my own wants and needs in situations, I will likely be saying no more often than I used to. This means that I am going to have more practice in finding ways to do so without torturing myself with guilt.
In the meantime, I keep reminding myself that an honest no serves everyone better than my dishonest yes, even if the other person can’t see that in the moment. I also keep reminding myself that my wants and needs carry the same weight as everyone else’s, and I am not obligated to sacrifice mine in order to meet theirs and more than they are obligated to sacrifice theirs to meet mine. There are plenty of other people in the world who can meet someone else’s needs with an honest yes; it’s not my job.
I suspect I’m going to be reminding myself a lot of these things in the near future. In fact, this whole exploration is in preparation of having to say no to someone now (with a referral to someone else who would be happy to say yes to the request). I know this is the right thing to do, I know it will ultimately serve everyone involved best, and I still feel guilty. But I’m going to do what’s right anyway, and with practice, it will get easier. It has to.
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