Learning to Say No....

I’m an ultimate people pleaser. I don’t like upsetting people, I don’t like conflict. I often try too hard to make sure people “like” me. It borders on absolute avoidance, really! It takes practice to let go of worry or fear of whether or not people like you, but I also notice it comes with age. Now that I’m 30 and extremely wise, I’ve learned that being a people pleaser makes me live my life inauthentically. I stop being me, and I start becoming somebody else, and I’m not very good at being anybody other than me!

I also love saying yes! Often times it’s because I’m genuinely excited about a new opportunity, or I love helping others so I don’t want to miss a chance to do so. New workshop? Absolutely! New learning or teaching opportunity? Wouldn’t miss it! Other times it’s out of fear of upsetting someone, like a client who I am afraid to disappoint so I squeeze them in when I should be unwinding and eating lunch.

The topic of “saying no” (or “setting boundaries” as it goes in therapy) comes up in therapy a lot. It’s also come up in my own personal work far too often in the past year (who am I kidding? This is a life long skill for me to develop).

When we approach situations from the standpoint of “not wanting to hurt anybody’s feelings” or “not make them upset”, at first it sounds like we are being really selfless. It’s honorable to make choices and take action in a way that puts others first. But at closer inspection, it’s more about fear. Fear of: conflict, losing a relationship, the wrath of somebody being upset, potentially pushing somebody away with our boundary. Yoga philosophy teaches us that when we take action out of fear, we are setting ourselves up for failure. Every aspect of that situation will have fear as an underlying construct. If you plant a seed in bad soil, it’s not going to grow the way it would in good soil. Making decisions out of fear is like planting seeds in bad soil!

We grow up with these beliefs for many reasons. For my therapy clients, it tends to be a difficult childhood where saying yes was the only way to escape abuse, or where children were forced to be adults and care for the family at far too young of an age. It could be because someone was bullied and they are afraid of being in that situation again. The reasons why it happens are completely valid, but the impact is harmful regardless of the reasons.

This is what happens when I say yes all the time…. I have to wake up way earlier than I can handle and have a jam packed day, running around to appointments. I get home late, cranky, exhausted. I eat at least two meals while driving, and I probably pick up Taco Bell or fast food (judging by my tax deductions!). I get home and I’m crabby, and I bring that energy to my wonderful husband and adorable dog who don’t deserve it. I get a little bit bitter about the obligations on my plate, and a bit resentful towards anything and everything that puts a hiccup in my schedule and puts me behind. On really bad days, I wake up and hope I have a sore throat so I can stay in bed all day! Who does that help? Nobody! It doesn’t help anybody when I’m running on fumes. It doesn’t help me feel like my best self, it doesn’t make me a good therapist, wife, dog mom, friend etc.

How do we avoid the trap of feeling like we have to say “yes” to everything or everyone?

Like every other middle age White girl, I started reading Girl Wash your Face by Rachel Hollis, and she says something along the lines of… when you say yes to everyone else, you cancel on yourself. If you flaked out on work or friends or family as much as you do to yourself when you say yes to everyone else, which cancels the plans you made for yourself to (insert self-care or other interest here), that wouldn’t be ok. So why is it ok to do that to yourself?

That was a powerful shift in thinking for me! It turned the situation from feeling guilty for wanting time to myself, to feeling protective and guarded over the few precious hours I have each day to unwind, relax, socialize, enjoy nature, or spend time with my husband and dog. It helped me prioritize all of the things that I get bombarded with, and I’ve been able to show up for myself in key ways when in the past I said yes to someone else and lost that time I needed.

Some situations aren’t this simple. Depending on the demands you face, you may need a few more tools to access, and you may even need therapy if it’s a really prickly situation.

The goals I’ve been wanting to do, like clearing out closets, journaling, reading- I have time for them! I had been extremely self-critical about my ability to make those things happen, but it turns out I was continually sabotaging all my goals because I kept saying “yes” when I needed to say “no”.

As a disclaimer, I don’t have children. And many of the moms I encounter give a slight eye roll or sigh that lets me know I just don’t get it because I’m not a mom. I don’t claim to know what it’s like to have small humans needing you every moment of every day, but I do know that moms need time to themselves more than anybody else! We are all better versions of ourselves when we make time for the things that bring us joy and vitality. And if you’re giving your energy to your family all day, every day and not filling up your cup, you’re going to end up on my couch or yoga mat in my office one day :)

Alright, so what is the point of all of this? Start reviewing your daily/weekly/monthly to-do lists and identify the things you have been saying yes to that no longer serve you. Things you keep agreeing to that bring you no joy and take away your vitality and prevent you from spending time on the goals and activities that really matter.

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Happy Hound Dog!

These are the moments I miss when I say yes to everyone other than myself. What are things you can start saying “no” to so that more of your day is filled with things that bring you joy?