I saw the quote-photo on Facebook this morning. It made me smile, and remember, a therapist I saw years ago and the work I did with him around setting boundaries.
“It begins with honouring yourself, Louise,” he told me.
I protested and told him I did, honour myself.
“Do you overcommit? Do you say you’ll do things you don’t really want to do but feel you can’t say no?”
Well, yes. Sometimes. I mean, often, but that’s not about honouring myself, it’s about not wanting to let other people down. I protested even more vehemently.
Practice saying no, he told me. Say it and don’t explain.
Well, that seemed a little harsh to me. I don’t mind saying no, I told him but seriously, just no and no explanation?
He took me through an exercise.
Imagine you’re sitting under a tree on a hot summer’s day. You really want an ice cream. What kind of ice cream would you choose?
I thought for a moment and replied with my favourite, “Lemon gelato.”
“Why that one?” he asked.
“It’s my favourite?”
“Why?” he prodded.
I thought for a moment and said, hesitantly, ‘I really like lemon.’
Are you sure you don’t want strawberry or chocolate?
“I don’t think so.” I squirmed for a moment and then fessed up. “Well, lemon gelato doesn’t have as many calories as regular ice cream and I don’t usually eat it anyway because it’s so filled with cholesterol and sugar, so lemon gelato is sort of my default choice.”
He kept prodding.
I kept explaining until finally he threw up his hands and said, “Why do you have to tell me all of this? I just asked you what kind of ice cream you want. Not the history of your relationship with ice cream.”
“Well, you asked.” I replied.
“Just because I ask doesn’t mean you have to reply,” he told me.
And then, I got it.
My preference was lemon gelato. I didn’t need an explanation — nor did he. It was my choice and I had the right to my choices without having to defend or explain them.
That lesson had such a profound impact it has stuck with me for almost 20 years. Sure, I may have some of the conversation not exactly as it happened, but the gist of it still remains — I was justifying my choice, defending my preferences, not because of his questions, but rather, because I didn’t feel, or believe, that I had the right to simply want what I wanted to have or do, without rationalizing, justifying, defending myself to other people.
I wasn’t honouring me.
The same is true when someone asks me to get involved in something that is not what I really want to do. I struggle to give my ‘no’ without finding excuses to justify my no — but I am in recovery!
I am learning to decline opportunities to get involved in other people’s projects that don’t align with my vision for my life — for no other reason than, that is my choice.
It ain’t always easy.
I want people to like me and I fear they won’t if I say no.
I want to feel needed and I fear people won’t want me if I say no.
I want to be part of the action, and I fear missing out if I say no.
I want to feel important, and fear I won’t count if I say no.
There are 101 reasons why I say yes when I really mean no.
All the reasons in the world don’t really matter when my ‘yes’ is actually my ‘no’. Because when I say yes when I really mean ‘no’, the outcome is almost always 100% not good. Saying yes when I mean no almost always results in my feeling resentful, disengaged, stressed, under-pressure, rushed and a whole host of negative emotions. I say almost always because there are some happy mistakes where I get involved in something I hadn’t intended to and it turns out really well.
But the majority of times… yup. It leaves me feeling not so good, about myself, the effort I put into something, the results I’ve achieved. I end up avoiding, people, situations, phone calls, emails and engage in all sorts of self-defeating behaviours only because I didn’t have the courage to stand my ground and speak my truth.
And saying, “but they pressured me into getting involved” doesn’t cut it.
I am 100% responsible for my choices. Regardless of how much pressure is exerted upon me by someone else, I am the one who is responsible for my ‘yes’ and my ‘no’.
Next time you’re faced with a decision, choice or possibility, and are inclined to say yes because you fear saying ‘no’, practice your ‘no’. You can add, thank you. thanks. or any other one or two word softener you feel compelled to give — but do not give an explanation. Stand by your no and be strong!
Not only will you give the other person the gift of your truth, and the opportunity for them to find the person who will be really, really committed to what they are doing, in your honest ‘no’ you might just find your ‘yes’ to what makes your life, your heart and your dreams shine.