Learning to Say No

Sometimes we have to use the “N” word.

And it’s OK to say it.

Because it’s easy to say yes, but sometimes you have to learn to say “no”.

We cannot always be all things to all people and still have a life of our own. Almost every day we’re asked by family and friends to do something for them. It may be something simple, innocuous, like picking up something for them when we’re already at the store. Watering a neighbor’s plants when they’re out of town. Filling in for someone who has a family emergency or taking nursery duty at church when someone fails to show up. Making dinner for a sick friend and their family.

That’s not what I’m referring to. Those things are part of being a good friend; a good neighbor. They don’t disrupt our plans, or if they do, it’s usually a one time event. Or, as I said, an emergency situation.

I’m referring to the times you’re coerced into doing things out of guilt, or a sense of misplaced obligation. You’re worried that if you say no, that person or organization will get upset with you and never ask again, regardless of the fact that you’ve never said no before. They count on you always being available, which isn’t fair to you.

Loving your family doesn’t mean you give up your life and plans every time someone asks you to do something. If it’s a family member who does this repeatedly, why are you always the one having to change plans; plans sometimes made weeks in advance, because suddenly there’s no one else to step in? Sure you love your family, but if this is happening constantly, you have to learn to say no. And let that no mean “NO”. Not “I’ll do it if no one else can,” because that’s still a big “yes” in their eyes.

If it’s an organization you’re a member of, and you’re constantly asked to do things you really don’t want to do any more, or don’t really have time to do, why do you keep saying “yes”? It doesn’t allow for anyone else involved to step up and show they’re just as capable as you are to do the task. AND, they sometimes have more time, and a lot more desire, to do it. On the other hand, if you’re continually told no one else will do it, that’s a problem in the organization itself, and it needs to be addressed. And not by you, unless you’re in leadership!

Maybe you’re single and have someone who’s interested in you, but you’re not interested in them. Not at all. And instead of telling that person how you feel, you continue talking to him/her and giving the impression that you might go out with them, because you don’t want to hurt their feelings. What about your own? You have to say NO. Or do you secretly like the attention because it makes you feel needed, not thinking about how much more hurt that person will become when he/she finally realizes no relationship will ever develop. And without meaning to, you’ve done the thing you most tried to avoid: hurt feelings.

Sometimes we get so caught up in doing other things for other people we neglect ourselves. We think every request someone makes of us has to be answered positively, even when it means giving up or putting off something we’d already planned well in advance. We feel resentful, but we justify it to ourselves by saying, “if I don’t do this, they’ll think I’m awful and not include me in anything again.” Or, “if I don’t do it, who will?”

If you weren’t available, if you didn’t rearrange everything to accommodate them, what would they do? Guess what…they’d find another solution.

Our family members many times make demands after demands (not requests…DEMANDS) on us, demands that we do from a sense of misplaced guilt; if we don’t do what they ask we think they’ll retaliate against us, or tell everyone we don’t care about them. Maybe they’ll actually truly believe we don’t care about them, and that’s even worse! Then after we give in, we’re too tired or have no time to do things for ourselves that we really need to do. We become exhausted and stressed, and even more resentful. And then we wonder why we never seem to have any free time; why we can never get ahead.

We have to have down time in our lives. We cannot go for weeks and weeks continually hopping here and there, doing what everyone asks us to do, without taking time for our own needs and wants. That’s not being selfish. It’s being realistic.

It’s fine to help others, don’t get me wrong. But when it comes at the expense of your own life, your own needs, then boundaries have to be set. And adhered to. And not moved around every time someone says, “Oh, but you have to do this! I don’t know who else to get! Just this once…!” Which turns into multiple times.

Moving those boundaries around simply means they weren’t really boundaries to begin with, but lines drawn in the sand; lines which can easily be erased and replaced with numerous other lines to accommodate what other people demand of you. So why waste time drawing boundaries you don’t intend to enforce?

The “N” word may be difficult to say at first, but once you practice it enough times, and really mean it, saying it becomes easier. And you’ll find yourself only doing the things you really want to do, and have time to do, rather than what everyone else thinks you have to do!

You won’t lose friends, not ones who were true friends. You won’t have family members hating you; they’ll respect you more for being honest. And you’ll have time to do the things you need to do, as well as free time to actually do fun things you’ve always had to put off because you never had the time.

So don’t be afraid to try it. It’s a lot easier than you think.

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