Trying to make sure everyone liked me was my kryptonite for most of my life. I’m embarrassed to even admit that, but it’s true. I was being nice no matter how I was treated. I was smiling even when I wasn’t feeling happy. I was saying yes even when I didn’t want to. This is what most girls are taught so I didn’t even recognize what I was doing or realize this was optional. And until I learned the negative impact this was having on me, I didn’t realize the impact and power of saying no.
Once I reached my late 30’s I was saying yes to everything and everyone – even if I didn’t really want to. I was a teacher and when parents asked if they could have their kids come in an hour or more before school and stay late after school to get extra help and tutoring, I said yes. When I was asked to serve on the board for a local women’s group, I said yes. When I was asked to be a part of a mom’s group and rotate hosting the women, I said yes.
At first I felt good about being asked so of course I wanted to say yes. I felt like being asked to take on more responsibility and be a part of these things meant I had somehow made it. Being somewhat new in my small town I felt like it meant I was a part of my community and I was actually accepted.
(Now I realize that our primitive brain is hardwired to keep us safe. And one way it believes we’ll be safe is if we’re accepted into a community or group. If we aren’t a part of a community or group our brain believes we’re going to die, literally. So it’s natural for us to want to be accepted and say yes.)
The problem is that many of us are saying yes when we really want to say no. And we’re often saying yes to too many things out of fear of being honest, saying no, and having people judge us for declining. Many women would rather just say yes to avoid the discomfort and make anyone unhappy with them.
That’s exactly what I was doing. And I put on a good front and did it all really well until one day I couldn’t.
I remember waking up one day feeling terrible, having the worst pain ever in my neck and back. I remember struggling to get out of bed. I finally got out of bed and immediately scheduled a doctor’s appointment. After going to the doctor, I learned that I had shingles. Shingles? I couldn’t have shingles. I was only 37. Shingles was for people my grandparents’ age, I thought.
But worse than the fact that I had shingles was the conversation I had with my doctor who asked me what I had going on in my life. I rattled off the list of things I’d said yes to that I really didn’t want to be doing. But as I shared those things I also realized I had a few other really big things on my plate. We were living in our house while remodeling it, raising our 4 year old daughter, and I was in the middle of my coursework to get my master’s degree in counseling. I remember sitting in the room with tears streaming down my face as the list of things seemed to continue on.
As soon as I stopped rattling off my list of things he suggested I see a therapist. And then he suggested I take some things off my plate, which at that time sounded worse than having shingles. I remember crying again and telling him that there wasn’t anything I wanted to take off my plate. We were in the middle of remodeling. We couldn’t just stop and leave it unfinished. I was in the middle of my master’s coursework. I couldn’t just quit. I remember feeling like such a victim and thinking that my doctor couldn’t possibly understand what he was asking me to do.
Resource (blog post): The Power of No: Why Saying “No” Is Important
Over the next few days I started to feel better and the clarity came. He was right. I had to say no. I knew that the power of saying no to the things I didn’t really want to do was greater than the fear of what everyone would think about me. And if I’m being honest it felt like I had a really good excuse this time. So I got over myself and my fear and embarrassment of having to figure out how to say no. I decided how I wanted to let everyone know and I went one by one and told each person I’d no longer be a part of their group. It was in that process that I learned to create new boundaries for myself that have literally changed my life.
But here’s the truth. At that time I felt like I’d failed. I felt like everyone was judging me. And I wondered why I couldn’t do everything that most other women seemed to do so easily.
But little by little I learned to let the comparison go. I learned to peel back the layers shame and self judgment. I learned to listen to myself, honor my needs and desires, and truly begin to take care of myself. And I learned to reconnect with myself, love myself, say no unless it was a hell yes, and allow others to be disappointment in me. This is the power of saying no.
Now I feel like I’m a completely different woman.
Unmasked. Real. Authentic. Free. Honest. Self led. Self compassionate. Healthy. Me.
As girls we’re taught to say yes, be nice, smile, and be happy. As we become wives and moms we’re often taught that our role is to make sure everyone around us is taken care of and happy. What we aren’t taught is that…
If listening to yourself and honoring your boundaries is hard for you, I want you to know you’re not alone. But I also want you to know there’s another way. If you’re wanting to be honest with yourself and everyone else and you want to learn the power of saying no, I’ve created something just for you. Sign up below to grab your free guide to saying no without feeling guilty.
Leave a note