Journey to Faith

Journey to Faith
Follow your own path

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Problem with "No"

Is it hard for you to turn down requests for your time, money, or attention? Do you struggle with feelings of guilt or shame when you can't meet someone's expectations? Do you say "yes" to activities, behaviors, or people and then regret it? If so, this post is for you.

Setting and experiencing boundaries is a skill many of us need to learn and to practice. Most of us want to be helpful and meet the needs of others, but there has to be a healthy balance and we who fall into the people-pleaser category have an even tougher time keeping this balance. This post is about setting boundaries and dealing with people who don't have any.

It's taken me years to learn to say that powerful two-letter word "No". In fact, I used to carry a laminated card around me with the word printed on it large red letters to remind me that my default answer should be "NO", not "Yes". I was always saying "Yes" to requests, people, and relationships that were not good for me. I was what they call "a people pleaser". This caused a lot of stress in my life. Stress, then guilt, then remorse. Perhaps you can relate.

And then I learned to use the N word. It wasn't overnight, mind you. It was a long process I got to practice over and over again. It took quite a while before I could say the N word easily. But it happened. Now it's become part of my nature. It's easier with people who are not so close to me. It's more difficult with those I really care about like my mom, my sons, and my close friends. But these relationships are opportunities to practice this skill as well. Relatives are just people who happen to be related to us. They are human beings the same as other people in my life. The good thing is that as I am learning, they are learning as well. Well, maybe not my mom. Setting boundaries is a skill most of us need to learn over time. There is, however, a small problem with saying no to some people. They don't like it.

Last week, for example, I called a friend to touch base about some weekend plans we had made. I left her a message and stated when I would and would not be available that evening so she would know when she had a better chance of catching me. I was going to be unavailable for thirty minutes, but the rest of the evening I was free. Well. She calls during the thirty minute time frame I was unavailable. When I called her back, she was miffed. In fact, she called during that half hour which was most likely an attempt to avoid actually speaking to me in person. This is known as passive-aggressive behavior. Now why would someone act like that, I wondered.

The answer came today. People who don't have boundaries or who aren't comfortable using them, don't like it when someone else sets boundaries with them. They get defensive or play the blame and shame game to make you feel like you have done something wrong. It is still a struggle, I admit, to not let these feelings bother me, but something tells me that now that I know what is going on and why, I won't allow these feelings to settle in.

I feel liberated. The monkey is off my back, as they say. If other people don't like it when I tell them no, set a limit, or otherwise push back from what they want, it is not my problem, it is theirs. Healthy people are able to deal with boundaries. Here's another example.

A good friend called recently and offered a free ticket to a dance production in DC. I thanked her for the invite and explained that I really didn't enjoy that type of performance and suggested she ask someone who might enjoy it more. A few days later, I asked if she would like to attend a musical performance, and she politely explained that "it's not my cup of tea". This is how people with healthy boundaries operate. Healthy people are able to say and receive NO without getting defensive, feeling rejected, or making the other person feel badly.

How comfortable are you at saying and receiving NO? Is your default response "YES"? How often do you find yourself feeling guilty, overly tired or put upon? These may be signs your NO muscle needs a bit of a workout. I'd love to hear your feedback on this post. Feel free to comment here or on Facebook.

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Until next time, keep looking up!