Saying NO is a biggie for some people. It is for me, but not nearly as big or scary as it once was.
Saying No was always a problem for me. I suffered from the problem a lot of people have—wanting people to like me, worrying about getting people upset/angry with me, and/or quite often adopting a great big “should” when people ask for something or ask me to do something.
So then a few years ago I finally decided that it’s OK to say No. I realized that if somebody likes me, they’ll still like me after I define my limitations. If they stop liking me because I can’t do or give something, maybe they’re really not a friend in the sense of having mutual respect of each other’s lives and preferences. If they get upset or angry with me because I can’t meet their needs or demands, that’s their stuff, not my stuff. I own my reactions, and they own theirs.
I think the mistake I used to make was thinking that meeting the needs and requests of other people was a kind of “doing good works” thing. Being raised a Catholic, one is taught not to be “selfish”. But finally I get it—not saying No is not being genuine or kind or good. It’s a form of dishonesty, in the sense of not being my real self. It’s detracting from my relationship with that other person, as all forms of dishonesty do. Worse, it’s developing negative aspects of the relationship— expectations, resentments, guilt, and any number of other relationship qualities that come from being dishonest.
I always try to do my best for people, but I’ve learned that this intention needs a strong qualifier: I must respect myself and my needs as much as the needs of others. I get it now—giving and doing things I don’t want to give and do plants a seed of resentment. If I keep doing things I really didn’t want to do for or with another person, that seed grows and eventually blossoms into a lack of respect and love for the other person. What kind of friendship is that? Seems to me that to nuture a sense of mutual respect between people, the kindest thing is to define our own boundaries and to respect theirs.
I say Yes when it’s something I really want to do or give. I’m also willing to grow by doing things that are harder to say Yes to. Saying Yes when it’s a hard thing to do, IF I know it’s something that will really help the other person be the best they can be, will turn an inclination toward “No” into a happy-I-said-Yes.
If the other person absolutely knows this about me, they will never feel like they’re putting me out or asking too much. They’ll know I can meet some of their needs but not others. They’ll know that when I say Yes, I’m truly happy to do/give that thing. They will then be able to completely enjoy receiving everything I do for or give to them. There will be no expectation (in either of our minds) that they have to give something back in exchange.
Recently, in my ongoing work about aging, I’ve come to accept that my life is shorter than it once was. I no longer want to spend time doing things I don’t want to do. Often, I do want to give of myself, of my time, of my skills and talents, etc., and that’s OK. For some things, though, I have to honor myself and say No because I no longer want to waste any of the precious minutes left in my life.
Say Yes. Or say No. Whatever it is, make sure it’s honest. Make sure the decision involves respect for both yourself and the other person.