Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Why Is It So Hard to Just Say No?



Of course.

It's fine.

Insert any stock phase routinely uttered by those of us who struggle to say no _____here______.

Why is it so hard to just say no?

Why is it taking a huge step of bravery to tell people that we can't, that we don't want to, that we have no interest in something, that we won't be doing whatever it is that they want us to do? Why?

This isn't exactly a question that is without answers, of course. For me personally, I know that the reasons are as layered and complicated as my own past. Part of it, inevitably, who I am as a person, who I was born to be. Part of it is almost certainly genetic, this aspect of ourselves. As humans we want to please others, we want to surround ourselves with people who want us, who need us, who are grateful for our presence.

You see it in infants and toddlers, too young to carry the burdens of a lifetime of experiences yet. Even they want to make those around them happy. We encourage it, we foster it...but at what cost?

A certain amount of helping, a certain amount of selflessness, a certain amount of giving is required for a society to truly function, of course. No man is an island and all that jazz.

The truth is, though, that there are many of us, myself included, who struggle to draw boundaries. Who can't turn down an opportunity to do something that someone asks us to without being internally conflicted about it.

My issues are complex, go back to family of origin stuff. Growing up, things weren't calm or peaceful often. I was expected to be older, more mature, more responsible than my age said I should be, and so I was. I was expected to do more, to take on more.

I was conditioned to deal with more, to put up with more, to take verbal abuses, to listen to the negative voices in my own head. Then to come back and do it again.

My parents were in conflict with each other, with issues in life, with family, with themselves. They each dealt with their own sets of problems, often pushing them onto me whether intentionally or not.

The rally cry of the dysfunctional parents everywhere: "Oh, but I tried..."

Uh huh. They tried.

I'm sure they tried.

I still paid the price.

In a lot of ways, I wouldn't fully pay the price for the the conditioning done as a child until I was well into adulthood. Then, the true damage of the conditioning would reveal itself, as I tortured myself trying to do everything I could to help my mother to the point that I was sacrificing my own sanity, and at times, the sanity and physical safety of my children.

I wasn't allowed to give up.

I had to do my best.

I had to do my duty.

I had to.

Until I stopped.

It wasn't until I was quite literally faced with the reality that I was damaging my own children that I stopped saying yes. I had to do the right thing for them. I had to be capable of stepping back, of realizing my powerlessness to help someone who didn't want it. I had to see not just the futility of my efforts, but the injuries I was inflicting on myself and those who relied on me most.

I was sacrificing too much at the altar of obligation. 

And I was doing it because it was what I had been taught to do, what I had been raised to do.

It's been a recurring theme for me. It wasn't just with my mother. Of course it wasn't just about my mother. It was almost everything. Even this. It was blogging too, with this here. I was so caught up in trying to meet everyone else's expectations that I'd forgotten why I started doing it in the first place. As it ended up, I was pretty terrible at making people happy regardless of what I did. I was always trying to keep up, read everything, share what I was supposed to, jump through the hoops people threw up in the air for me. Getting called out any time someone thought I'd done something wrong. Having my words twisted by people who believed I owed them something.

So I stopped. I just stopped.

I excused myself from the obligations, I backed away from the commitments, I stopped doing things because other people acted like I was supposed to.

Unlearning this has been a difficult process for me, I can't lie. It took hitting rock bottom a few times, the rapid decline of my own health, facing the truth that my kids had been harmed because I couldn't say no to my mother, that I'd started to hate writing because of the expectations.

Around the time I hit bottom.
Bottom doesn't actually look this nice in real life.
Trust me.
Then the guilt.

Oh, the guilt. That Catholic upbringing, sticks with you.

These days, after months of intense therapy, after years of self loathing, after being judged by just about anyone who thought they knew the whole story, after being disowned by many people who didn't understand, I am better about it. I'm better about it, even if I know that there are people who hate me for what they think I owed them and didn't deliver on.

I'm better about it.

I have to be, for my health. For my children.

I fear that the pendulum has swung too far, though. I fear now that I isolate myself too much. I do too little outside of this comfort zone. I don't reach out much to others anymore. I tread lightly outside of my bubble.

I learned to say no. Finally.

Maybe now I say it too much.

Maybe I'm okay with that.

Alright, fine....I'm working on being okay with it.


  1. Can you do me a favor? I need you to give yourself a hug from Me because I'm too far away to do it.

  2. so so so so good. boundaries and learning to respect them in myself and others was one of the hardest things I've ever had to learn. Still learning. NO. No is a huge step.

  3. I too have isolated a bit. It's a weird change. The guilt is definitely real!


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