Why sometimes you need to say “no” to others (in order to say YES to yourself)

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(This post is the second one in a series of posts that I will be publishing over the next 8 weeks on the twin topics of self worth and self compassion. In the first post I had broached the subject of the perils of "doing it all" and the high price associated with it. You can read it HERE.)

We have all been taught to be there for others and take care of those who love and need our help and support. We also know that we need to take care and support each other in order to grow and thrive as a part of a family, community or country. As social animals, we have been hardwired over time during the course of our evolution to get along with each other since our very survival depended on it. Hence, it is very natural that we just the thought of saying no brings us physical discomfort and do not like to hurt or disappoint others. As a result, we often end up saying yes to avoid feeling guilty, uncomfortable and even to avoid the physical discomfort of saying no.

How many times have you said YES lately where you immediately regretted your decision?

(I have written about the positive aspects of being a part of a community in my earlier post, you can read it HERE)

What usually ends up happening in our busy, modern world as a result of this is that we are often overcommitted and overscheduled. Our instinct of saying yes when we really wanted to say no to a request or a task can often leave us resentful, frustrated and burnt out in the long run. If we are honest enough, being asked to help and do things for others also makes us feel good in many ways. However, these emotions can often interfere with our clarity.

As a result, we can end up regretting our acquiescense for days, months and years which can ultimately prevent us from achieving what had we set out to do in terms of our own goals. And it certainly takes a toll on our health if this becomes a way of life. But we need to keep in mind that for each of us not our energy, but rather the TIME that we have in this world is actually the most non renewable resource that we have in our lives.

Our time on this earth is the most valuable and non renewable resource that we have in our lives.

And once a second, minute or an hour is gone, it is lost forever never to come back. Our energy and other resources can be renewed with enough rest and planning but not our time. This means that in order to live a life where we feel that we are able to contribute, achieve our goals and at the same time enjoy our time with our friends and families, we need to be clear about setting limits and putting boundaries in place.

Healthy boundaries give us the freedom to be involved in activities and causes that are aligned with our purpose and give meaning to our lives. It helps us avoid burnout, frustration and stress to a large extent by avoiding overscheduling and overcommitment. It frees up our time to spend time with those who really matter to us and to pursue hobbies and interests that we are passionate about.

"Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others"

-Brene Brown

However, for any sensitive and caring individual, it takes courage to stand up and say no to others. Women are usually much more concerned about what others think of them and even have what is called the "good girl" (and even "good boy") syndrome and have a hard time saying "no". I have realised much later that I have been dealing with this ever since I was a child. And it has only been in the past few years that I have had to learn to say "no" at times as a part of my self-care so that I could do what was needed to be done for my family without feeling burnt out, frustrated or resentful.

Those of you who have read my earlier posts on self care or have been through my self care challenge that I did recently for my Facebook Group, know that I strongly believe that as primary caregivers of most families, a woman's primary responsibility is towards her own health and wellbeing.

Only when a woman takes care of herself lovingly and willingly can she do the same for others without feeling deprived, resentful or ultimately sacrificing her own health. I also believe that those of us who have daughters have an added responsibility and need to teach our daughters by setting an example of this by practising this ourselves and ending this legacy of deprivation and burnout.

How many times have you agreed to....

do something even though there was a distinct tension in what you felt was right and what someone was pressurising you to do?

be a part of something that you really didn't have time for but you felt that would make those people like you?

a request from a family member, coworker or a friend simply because you did not want to disappoint or anger them?

Every single day people make all kinds of decisions based on what others want even as they know that on some level they may be also committing an act of self betrayal. That they are forever playing the role of a "good girl" (or even "good boy") which is hard to let go of. But at what cost?

What would happen if you did start saying YES to yourself? 

There would most likely be some kind of fall out at the beginning, especially if you have been used to overgiving without setting healthy boundaries.  This would likely have trained people around you to expect you to be there for them whenever they may need you. It takes courage to be honest and open with yourself and to stand up for yourself.  Indeed, this is a critical component of self care. And while you may feel guilty and selfish for a while and face social awkwardness, boundaries are essential for your own mental and emotional well being as well as for the health of your relationships.

There are different ways of saying "no" gracefully and it starts with separating the person from the relationship that we have with them. In other words, when we say no to a request from a person, it does not mean that we are saying no to that person. Once we are clear on this, it becomes much easier to remain strong and at the same time communicate with others in a graceful manner. 

Here are some things to keep in mind when you say "no"-

Focus on what you are getting in return and remind yourself that setting certain boundaries are essential in self care

There are a variety of ways of saying no without using the word, For e.g. "I don't have the bandwidth right now", "I would like to, but I am overcommitted right now"

Give alternative suggestions and buy some time to respond to the request when possible

Check in with yourself and ask yourself  "On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do I really want to do this?" or "If I knew this person would not be angry or upset, would I still say no?"

Think about how this request would make YOU feel- would it bring joy, pleasure or satisfaction? Or is it only about fulfilling obligations and responsibilities?

Being first honest with yourself and then with the people in our lives in a compassionate and authentic manner prevents a sense of betrayal and guilt towards ourselves as well as others.  At the same time, being open in a warm and caring manner strengthens our relationships with others and makes them respect us in the long run. In any case, you simply cannot control how others will react if you disappoint them (which happens inevitably at times) while setting your boundaries. However, you can certainly control how you feel and how you choose to communicate.

At the end of the day, our boundaries reflect our sense of self worth. We practice both self care and self respect when we set healthy boundaries.

We are all unique individuals and healthy boundaries help us to maintain our uniqueness and protect our identities. Many women, in particular, find that somewhere along the way while taking care of their families and bringing up their children lose their sense of who they used to be and their voice. I see this in my Health Coaching practice. Most women who have various chronic health issues are a result of years and even decades of neglecting their own needs and wants.

We are rarely taught why we need to set healthy boundaries in all aspects of our lives. As a result, our sense of self worth gets eroded slowly over the years until we reach a stage where we can no longer tune in to what our body needs from us. At times, we need to do less and take proper rest but we can no longer heed the messages our bodies are constantly sending us. We simply choose to ignore the occasional headache, digestive troubles, constipation, tiredness which are merely symptoms of underlying imbalances. Until we can no longer ignore them.

In Functional Medicine we often say "a headache is a blessing" and it is true!

So the next time you are about to say "yes" to a request, check in with yourself. Remind yourself that you are much more than simply a mother, wife, daughter or employee. See how you feel about it and take your time in responding with grace and compassion in a clear and honest manner.

As Anne Taylor said so well

"Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious. You get to choose how you use it. You teach people how to treat you by deciding what you will and won't accept."

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