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It’s Friday, 4:00 pm, I’m at work and I get a phone call from my 12-year-old nephew.
“Aunt Morg, can I stay over tonight?”
I’ve been running since 6:00 am, I am utterly exhausted and all I want to do is go home and stare into the oblivion (Netflix) with a glass of wine.
I have two children of my own and a husband. They need dinner, they need interaction, they need my attention. Then they need baths, pajamas, bedtime routines.
There is hardly a moment when someone doesn’t need something from me. I can barely catch my breath, and when I find myself with a few moments of calm, it seems gone too soon.
There is never, it seems, enough of me to go around.
Never enough time to spend alone with my thoughts.
I’m pretty much tapped out by noon, whether I’m working that day or not.
I adore my nephew, but there are times I just want to say ‘not this weekend, bud’- yet every single weekend without fail, I say yes.
It’s not just my nephew, of course. Typically, I don’t mind having him over on the weekends.
For the most part, anytime someone asks me to do something for them, or simply asks me to give them some of my time, I struggle so much with saying no when all I want to do is say “FUCK NO”.
Unless I have a solid, verifiable reason to give as to why I’m saying no, I find that I almost compulsively say ‘sure!’
Why? Because I’m a people pleaser.
I always have been. In high school, I was that girl who was ‘friends with everyone’, except I secretly hated almost everyone. I was just too concerned with being liked that I made myself into a chameleon so that I would fit in with every clique.
I was the floater, the invisible girl who everyone liked but no one remembered. I was friends with the cheerleaders, the jocks, the weird kids, the stoners and everyone in between.
I used to tell myself that I was just a good person, I was empathetic, accepting. Everyone liked me because I was, well, likable.
In reality, I was suppressing my personality and my opinions to fit in. I wanted so badly to ‘fit in’ with every single group, I pretended to be neutral and agreeable in every situation, so as not to upset anyone. I changed my opinion and my personality entirely based on who I was in proximity to.
I spent my entire life trying to make other people happy. I spent my entire life saying yes to things I wanted to say no to.
I dropped out of high school after I finished my junior year. I just couldn’t take it anymore, the politics of high school, the pressure of trying to fit in with a bunch of people I had nothing in common with.
I had been working part-time since I was 15, and by the time I was 17, I was living on my own and supporting myself. I said NO to my senior year, and got a GED that year instead.
That was the first time I had made a decision for myself, the first time I said ‘NO’ to something I just didn’t want to do.
At 17, it was easy to say ‘fuck this’ and bail. I was seventeen years old, and I knew everything there was to know about life.
I had no problem sitting in my principal’s office with my mother, officially signing myself out of high school for good.
Time, the thief that it is, changes you… It softens you in some ways, hardens you in others.
It has a way of showing you exactly who you are, for better or for worse.
Time will inevitably show it’s hand, whether you like it or not.
For me, the more time I spend with myself the more I realize: I cannot say no.
When someone asks me for something, whether directly or indirectly, I absolutely cannot say no.
It doesn’t matter if it’s inconvenient for me, it doesn’t matter if I have to rearrange my entire schedule to accommodate it.
I will find myself saying ‘yes, of course!’- regardless of how I feel about it or how it affects my life.
Why do I do this? How can I stop?
I think the real question is this: Why do I feel responsible for other people’s emotions when I know for sure that no one else is responsible for mine?
I would never expect someone else to go out of their way to accommodate me. Subsequently, if I had asked someone to do something for me and they said ‘no, I can’t’, I wouldn’t crucify them for saying no.
I can understand when someone tells me ‘sorry, no’, so why don’t I believe that those around me can do the same?
Do I subconsciously believe that everyone I know is less emotionally intelligent than I am? That everyone I know is so self-absorbed that they couldn’t possibly love me if I said no to them once in a while?
Yes, to all of the above.
So, how do I change? How do I start saying no to things I simply don’t want to do?
I think the answer lies in saying yes.
In my quest to understand why I can’t seem to say no, I’ve had to ask myself another hard question: if I’m so concerned about saying no to the things I don’t want to do, am I remembering to say yes to the things that bring me joy?
The answer, frankly, is no. I am not saying yes to the things I know will enhance my life.
I am so wrapped up in trying not to disappoint everyone else, I forget to impress myself.
Why am I so worried about other people that I forget about myself? Why do I put others before myself, to a fault?
I have a few theories, and they all center around the notion that I am ‘not good enough’.
My father left when I was a baby, so obviously, I wasn’t good enough for him.
My first boyfriend abused me, mentally and physically. I wasn’t good enough for him.
When I was 15, my older sister (16) had a baby and my mum was so preoccupied that she seemingly stopped caring what I was up to, good or bad. In my mind, I wasn’t important enough for her to care about.
Throughout my life, in every situation, I have found a way to ensure that I don’t feel good enough. I have found a way to twist the words and actions of those around me to fit my narrative: I am not good enough, and I will disappoint you, so I’ll bend over backward to make sure that you like and accept me, and I will pretend that that means you love me.
But here’s the thing: people can love you, even if you don’t believe that they can. Even if you say NO to them, even if they get upset with you for saying no.
Do not fear someone becoming upset with you for saying no, or standing up for yourself. In healthy relationships, we can get mad at one another because we trust that they will still love us after the fight is over.
It is never easy, and sometimes impossible, to express adverse feelings towards someone you don’t fully trust. Someone you don’t believe will love you through your hard feelings.
It is so much easier to lose your shit on someone you fully trust, someone you know will be there tomorrow when the dust settles.
The hardest part of saying no is worrying that the person on the receiving end will be upset.
But here’s the thing: you have a 50/50 chance. Saying no might upset someone, or it might not. Either way, you have to consider that it doesn’t matter either way.
If setting boundaries for yourself means upsetting someone else, then so be it. They will get over it, eventually.
What matters is that you learn to start putting your feelings first. You don’t have to say no to every single thing someone asks of you, but you do need to start listening carefully to your instincts.
Learn to say no without any explanation. A simple ‘I’m sorry, I can’t’ will suffice.
It’s going to feel uncomfortable at first, and it might cause you some anxiety at first. But keep practicing it, and remember to remind yourself that it’s more than okay to say no to things for any reason, or no reason at all.
It’s 2020, and we’re putting ourselves first this year.