Saying Yes When I Mean No


March 18, 2020 | View PDF

Most of us were raised to be respectful, to offer help in times of need, to make ourselves useful, and to say yes when someone asked a favor. We were taught to do what we could to help and assist someone when asked or needed, and to try hard not to hurt anyone’s feelings.

I’ve decided I’ve mixed up a few of those directives along the path of life. I know that when people ask me to do something or they want a favor of one sort or another, I have mistakenly decided somewhere or other along the way that to say no would upset them, put them at a disadvantage, cause them problems, or leave them in a true bind.

This leaves me with the excruciating option of saying ‘yes’ when most of the time I really want to say ‘no’. I put myself out, and I cause problems in my own life because I say yes when I really need to say no. I find myself doing favors for someone, staying late at work or coming in early, giving up my own plans, and having to rearrange my own life schedule because I have this terrible inability to say NO.

This unfortunate state of affairs then spills over into other aspects of my life. I end up staying at a job, or performing some sort of volunteer work long after the thrill of the situation disappears and turns into drudgery or just another have-to-but really-don’t-want-to situation. However, I continue to sit on committees because no one else steps forward. I stay at a job long after I need to leave because help is hard to find. I accept changed schedules, additional tasks, and no end of other inconveniences for myself just because I cannot say no with any authority. A sad look, a sigh of despair, a comment that someone really will be totally at a loss if I cannot help them out in a particular situation will generally bring out my feelings of guilt or sympathy. So, I grit my teeth, agree to one more day or one more week or one more whatever it is that someone else seems to need or want in order to better their own predicament.

As an example, an acquaintance asked me last month if I could help him out on a project for a few days a week during May and early June. I do not want to assist in this endeavor, as it truly does not interest me. Did I say that? Of course not, I waffled, even though I definitely know I do NOT want to do it. I prevaricated, told him that I wasn’t sure yet what I was doing this summer or what my schedule would be. We left it at that, but if he asks again, I already know I can use a conflicting schedule and other obligations as an excuse. But why do I feel the need to have an excuse? Why can’t I just say, “no thank you, that is not for me, but thanks for asking”?

I realize we are in good part a result of our upbringing, but temperament plays a role as well. It is very difficult for me to disappoint or upset anyone, and that leads to my downfall. It is not only the agreeing to do something, but the trying to gracefully extricate myself from a situation that started out well but has deteriorated over time due to multiple reasons. I find it especially difficult trying to tell a friend that I need to stop doing what I am doing when I know if I stop, it will inconvenience her in many ways.

In short, I put my own life and desires on hold in order to help someone else out, all because I have this difficulty with saying the word NO.

You would think a two-letter word would be simple to pronounce and use when needed, but apparently this is not true in my case.

This sad state of affairs caused me to miss out on summer last year. I have done a lot of thinking about this situation, and I have decided that this summer I will muster enough backbone to make some changes that will benefit me. I would really like to see the inside of my new greenhouse more than three times this summer. I want to have a garden. I’d love to put the new four-wheel drive self-propelled push lawnmower that we bought last fall to good use this season, as I do enjoy cutting grass. I want to help my husband cut, split, and stack wood for next winter. I plan to take my dog on long walks, sit and enjoy an adult beverage with the neighbors, and I expect to float the Madison this summer. I have a trip planned to visit my sister in the spring, I expect we will meet in the fall for our annual sister trip, and the list of adventures and goals for myself continues to grow. These desires and plans require that I change direction, spend less time working for others and more time working for me, and of course that entails that I for the most part say NO when people ask for long term help or for favors that require enormous amounts of time and energy. I cannot obligate myself by saying yes when I desperately want and need to say no.

I have worked all my life. I have held multiple part time jobs since I retired, and although most of those part time jobs are fun, in combination they do add up in hours each day. I expect to continue working some of these jobs as they stimulate my brain, keep me interested and give me a feeling of accomplishment. However, it is time to work less outside the home and work more at home for me, myself, and I. Sounds selfish in a way, but it truly is not. I have reached the point where I need to look after myself more than I need to look after others.


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