The Price of Not Saying ‘No’

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I never thought that I had a problem putting my foot down (most people would equate me with an aggressive personality type…one not afraid to say what she thinks).  But recently, I have become overwhelmingly aware that I actually have a problem with drawing a line in the sand…for myself.  I’m not sure whether it is a need to do everything, or more a fear of not doing everything, but either way, I have a problem saying ‘No’.  And as a result, this has started to manifest itself in an extreme amount of stress on my psychological wellbeing.  Luckily, there haven’t been any major physical reactions…yet.

Although one could argue that this is a positive realization, it is at the same time devastating.  I am the type of person who is happiest when I’m busy and don’t have enough time in the day.  I thrive on trying new and exciting things, taking on new challenges and being as involved as I can.  My philosophy?  Life is just too short to not take full advantage of everything the world has to offer.  And, as a result, this epiphany that I can’t say ‘No’ implies that I need to do something I hate: sacrifice.

My overly ‘eager beaver’ attitude comes with a price.  And for that matter, a price that, if not kept in check, can be extremely high. Not having the ability to say ‘No’ can result in physical health issues, mental health issues or what I feel to be even worse, failing.  Unless you are a superhero (and let’s face it, Wonder Woman and Superman were great role models but we know they don’t really exist), it is impossible to do everything.

So, in order to prevent a stress-related breakdown, physical illness or failure, something has to give.  From a personal perspective, this is just not in my make-up and the idea of it is highly distasteful.  It means I have to give up something that I don’t want to give up.  It means making choices instead of having choices.  It means admitting that, indeed, I’m incapable, physically and emotionally, of doing it all.  How very disappointing.

So why am I burdening you with my issues?  Because, I can’t help but wonder how many of us suffer from the very same thing.  How many of us are trying to do it all and end up feeling stretched so thin, that the idea of flying off to some distant land to escape from all of the built up pressure, doesn’t seem like the best idea we’ve ever had?

Do you feel that you stretch yourself too thin?  Do you have a hard time saying no?  If so, what drives you to continually say ‘yes’?

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  • http://www.whymassagetherapy.com jodi

    It seems that being a “yes” or “no” person will always backfire depending on your situation, so you have to stay strong for yourself and keep your own selfworth in mind.

    I was labeled as “difficult and disrespectful” by a boss who had no sense of boundaries, was rude, disrespectful and vulgar – she loved using the “c – - t” word around staff, and it was a woman of my mother’s age. Needless to say, I found that difficult to deal with. She was also lazy, and I suspect she had a touch of dementia due to her “forgetfulness” and her ability to fly into a rage in about 10 seconds flat.

    Within the first 2 weeks of my employment at that company, I was asked to go way above and beyond my contractual obligations by taking on Accounts Payable (I was Assistant Director of Education at a private college). When I said I would do it for a pay raise, I was refused the increase so I said I would not be able to do it. I was accused of “jumping down her throat” by saying no. This was only the beginning of 2 miserable years at the college, which culminated in getting laid off from my job as Registrar because “my skill set was no longer relevant” (ironically, this was the same week the I had managed to finish cleaning up about $300,000.00 of accounts receivable, which, btw, wasn’t in my contract to do) When I took the position as Registrar, I didn’t realize that I was the 5th person in a 13 month period in that job … high staff turnover says a lot (negative) about a company.

    I have since realized a few very important things that every person should know – 1) if a person is weak and insecure, s/he will feel threatened by someone with brains and potential, and will do everything to undermine them – they will always find fault with what you do, 2) there is no such thing as job security, all you can do is your best job while actively looking for something else, 3)No employment obligation should ever supersede your rights as a human being to dignity and respect. 4) If you do your best to be pleasant and do a good job, then if someone doesn’t like you, it probably isn’t your fault. It’s their problem, and you don’t have to deal with it (see points 1,2,3)

    I am in a much better place now, and realize that I prolonged my own misery by not cutting and running sooner. But hey, at least I got a pathetic severance cheque, which was better than nothing.

  • Chandra

    I used to be the “fixer”, the “Yes, I’ll-do-it-right-away woman”, and everyone’s savior who solved people’s problems, babysat for free, did people’s laundry, cleaned their houses, loaned money and property out and anything else I was asked getting little or nothing in return because people would guilt me and call me things like “stingy”,”miserly”, ” a b*tch”, “selfish”, and “not nice” if I didn’t, anmd it made me feel guilty. Now? I don’t care if people say things, they can do it themselves and if they don’t like it, tough. Life’s too short to be a pushover, and this is probably why most of my so-called friends aren’t my friends anymore. No big deal.

  • http://www.accidentalbitch.com Kaya Cassan

    I use to have trouble with saying “No.” But, now I say it freely because I love myself. I use to do everything for everyone and nothing for myself. And, one day I realized it. It hit me. Now, if I can manage to help out with something. I will but if not. I decline and don’t feel bad about it.

    -Kaya Cassan

  • LJ

    It’s so interesting when you do start to say ‘no’, you’ve got to try it. One little friend of mine always needed help, to move in for a while, a ride here or there, a loan of money, etc. I was so surprised one time when she asked for a loan that I couldn’t make at the time. I felt terrible even tho she was sleeping at my house and eating well, you can’t imagine how badly I felt that I couldn’t loan her the money. I was sooooo concerned and told her how sorry I was more than once. Finally she told me to stop worrying about it, that it was OK, and I said “what do you mean, I thought you really needed it”.. She replied, “well, I do, but I’ll just call the next person on the list, stop worrying about it!” Whew, did I learn a lot or what? Try it folks!

  • James

    Brett: I’ve often lamented: Something’s got to give, and this is one thing among many which has…

    As usual, a great an insightful article that’s provoking me how to fit things in better as well as prioritize.

  • learning to be mean

    Learning to say know is important because in the end people judge you on what you have, not what you do. For example, If you take on other people’s projects and neglect your own health or work. You may lose your job or get sick. Sometimes when bad things happen, people like to blame the victim. So then that becomes “ Why is it taking you so long to find a job? What’s wrong with you?” Or “ How did you let yourself so sick. Didn’t you know to see a doctor earlier?” Your life state becomes a reflection of you. If your life is bad, you must be bad to have done something to cause it. No one ever thinks about the role they may have played in your problems. Then they worry that what is wrong with you might rub off on them. If you take care of yourself and your happy and prosperous people will assume you doing something right and want to be around you.

  • Chorse99

    I’ve had problems saying no in my life.

    I believe the root causes of the inability to say no to others lies in self-esteem issues (the lack of), and issues with inability in creating boundaries in one’s life. I feel that this is something that is learned at a very young age, either from examples set by parenting styles and/or directly being taught to a child and how to manage life issues that extend into the adult years.

    Most of the time, I’ve only had problems saying no to others in the workplace. I think I felt this way mostly out of fear, and a lack of experience in the working world, and also never being taught how to be assertive and standing up for myself in a non-angry or defensive manner. This took a toll on my work history throughout my younger years, and as a result lead to some very serious problems maintaining a working lifestyle as I aged. I did learn a bit about being more assertive in the process over those years, but it seemed to become more and more stressful for me to manage on any job I had as time passed. As a result, I had what would be called in layperon’s terms, a nervous breakdown at age 37, and became emotionally drained and barely able to function or continue on with life. It lead to severe problems with depression and anxiety that I still am combating to this day.

    Now, I’m not saying that every person who overextends will have this same outcome in their life, but if you’re predispositioned in any way to mental health issues, this behavior can contribute in very negative ways and can have detrimental effects on future interactions and relationships.

    However, I haven’t had many problems saying no to people in my personal interactions in life. With family and friends, I will be there to help in emergency situations, but if I feel that it’s something a person can do on their own and they’re just being lazy or pushing the envelope, I have no problem making pat excuses or simply saying, “Let me check on that…” and then leaving the ball in their court. Usually, if it’s not an emergency, people like that will give up, and as other’s have said, move on to someone who is availble to help them (or enough of a sucker, imo).

    I mostly see the problem of saying no to family and friends occurring with men I’ve been in relationships with. At least 2 of them have had problems with this, and in my observation, have often been used by others as a result, and end up be treated like doormats. I myself am much more cautious about the freeloaders and users in the world, and am much more cynical about people than it seems the men I’ve been with are.

    Oddly enough, these men I’ve known have no problem saying NO to me when I need help, so I therefore have gotten very used to being as autonomous as I possibly can be, and rarely ask others for help. Why someone would say yes to casual friends or strangers, but no to their own partner has illustrated to me that the incapcity to say no to others is often a deep seated need for acceptance and to boost a low self esteem by feeling needed by anonymous aquaintances.

    One good example of this I can think of, is several years back receiving a phone call from my husband’s step brother, whom I’d never even met, and someone who hadn’t contacted my husband for several years. He called asking to borrow 1500$ from us. After a long conversation, my husband hung up the phone, and actually turned to me asking if we should “loan” him the money. I was appalled and my mouth dropped as I said, “Are you kidding me?? Who is this person calling? I don’t know him and I don’t care if he’s your step brother, that is an unreasonable request.” In fact, I acutally laughed at my husband internally for even considering “loaning” him the money (which in my book, would have acutally been throwing 1500 bucks down the drain).

    What puzzles me is the fact that my husband can’t see the folly in this type of request, yet when I make a simple “please take out the garbage” request it’s like pulling teeth from him to get it done.

    I hope this helps the people who have problems saying no, to realise how this type of behavior can escalate into sometimes serious life issues and problems, and can hurt those who are sincerely close to you and may need help, but get overlooked.

  • http://yahoo.com Missy TA{

    I saw only one post where someone mentioned a family members feelings of “hay what about us”. The immediate family members of a do-it-aller have to deal with always being last in your line of to do’s.

    I too used to be a do-it-aller, and got so stressed out that I became cranky all the time, and yes got sick. I knew my issues were related to my inability to say no, but did not know how to stop. Then someone challenged me to change my knee jerk response of “sure I can do that” to “Let me check my calendar and I will get back to you”. I found that once I allowed myself time to think about the request made of me, I was able to ask myself “do I really want to do this?”, “do I really need to be doing this for this person?” (should the person asking for help be doing this for themselves?). In the case of work, asking your boss to prioritize your to do list is a professional and responsible way of saying “lets check what I have on my plate now”. Once I got just a little bit used to doing this something very interesting began to happen. Those people that I was feeling a little used by, fell away, because all they really wanted was for me to do things for them. When it came to a relationship based on us taking care of ourselves, they weren’t interested, and so they moved on and found someone else “who could better serve them” (yes someone actually said that to me). This same thing is true of families the do-it-aller is not just in the work place. The “can you help mer’s” were forced to do it for themselves. And yes a lot of the time they really made a mess of things. But guess what, the next time they had to do for themselves they did better. They began to grow as independent person. Families who turn to one person for advise, to help out, or to fix something, are taking advantage of that person and robbing them of their own full and authentic life. Those who are not willing to make their own choices and mistakes, and learn their own life lessons are half of the equations, having the strength to say now and let them grow is the other half.

    In my case I let go of being a do-it-aller and found a better life that included better and deeper relationships with my family and real friends, that included real quality time filled with laughter, and joy, stress and guilt free. Can you imagine???

    When I found myself in a relationship with a ….. yep, a do-it-aller. The relationship did not work, and ended because there was never any time for us that did not include “just doing this one thing for that other person”, or taking a phone call from a family member who was used to 24/7 access to the “fixer”. Our Valentines day dinner was interrupted by a family member who wanted to talk, at length, about a security system because she had begun feeling less secure in her home. Really???? She had to make the call on an evening she knew we were at dinner trying disparately to have some “quality time together”. Now the fact that my then partner took the call is only an indicator of how deeply seeded the problem was. And after several similar situations, I had to admit there was a serious problem and drew a line. Unfortunately the behavior did not change and the relationship ended. Had it not been for this one issue the relationship would have been the one. Sad!

    So to those of you who can’t seem to say no, stop for a minute and look at what you are doing to the people who REALLY need you. Your immediate family. Wife, husband, partners, and children. Let me be the one to tell you that if you don’t stop and focus on yourself and your immediate, family you WILL loose them. Maybe not because they leave you, but relationships will be for ever damaged. If your significant other, and or children are last on your list, because you have filled all of your time exploring new things, or helping others, you are pushing them away. You are choosing your need to do-it-all over them.

    Change can only happen when you want to change. Choosing not to change is a choice too! Get professional help if you have to. What ever you do, slow down, and focus on yourself and loved ones, all the rest is filler, and in the scheme of things irrelevant.

    Live, Laugh, and Love

  • Annie

    I have to try to prioritize the real requests for help in my life. I have so many people right now that aren’t necessarily even asking for help, but that really need it due to the economy. They come before the people that are not in a real emergency situation. That means I have to face that saying no to unreasonable hours in my job, for the first time, could easily end it. And that also means that I am making people that used to really take advantage of me realize they are not at the top of my list of priorities. That makes them mad that they cannot keep using me instead of thankfull for the extra I have always done. (For instance, free babysitting for my wealthy sister to go out vs. free babysitting so my best friend can work late. I said no to the sister, for the first time, and helped the friend. The sister hasn’t called since.) I have compromised some of my family and work relationships, but I have to prioritize the people in real emergencies that would do the same for me, right? It’s so hard to let people down, and it’s super hard to feel their upset when I do. But I feel like I messed up in letting so many people feel like I owed them from the beginning.

  • LJ

    This used to be me. I discovered that saying no has given me time to do what I want to do. Before, I would just do what others wanted to please them. It is very freeing to saying no; it gives you time for yourself.

  • Angela

    May 26, 2009

    I have actually begun to say no in more areas that I used to always say yes and ever so giving. My yeses to people that were and are close to me was never out of my weaknesses, that I remember when I use to always ask then for favors, etc., they said yes to me more than the no’s, that now since I have became stronger and more independent of always asking them for favors, I have seen a change in their attitudes, especially an ex-boy friend who keeps popping in and out of my life whenever he feels like it and coming to my place always empty-handed looking for what he can get out of me, that he has no good intentions of wanting anything more out of me other than a roll between the sheets, playing me for a fool, that just the other evening he caled me up asking me to borrow some money for gas and cigaretts until he gets paid the following week, that I knew he was only attempting to use me and spending no time with me, while he’s been keeping other company at his place in another Town.He must have thought I was going to continue to be his dam fool, that he could not handle when I repeatedly was asking him questions about what was going on, on his end since I had not been hearing from him and now asking me to borrow some money, that he then wanted to come over my place and get busy, that I knew his motives why, and I told him no, not to come over because of his unresolved issues that I could not resolve for him. He then hung the phone up on me. This guy has got 2 long time 2 jobs. Then he needs to better manage his money for his gas in his car and take care of his own smoking habits.

  • AB

    I do agree.Learning to say no saves one a lot of stress.Setting out your priorities,at times you find people doing jobs they really don’t like because they can’t say no to their ego and they end up stressed out and unhappy and they age faster.If only we can learn to say no and listen to that inner voice,get the confidence to say no even to ourselves,life will be sweeter!

  • Chris

    I say no all the time. Thats probably why I only have one or two friends.

  • marie

    im going thru the same thing because i didnt say ‘no’ to my peers and school mates and as a result i failed in one of my subjects in school.i also find it difficult to say ‘no’ to myself and procastinate on the important things that needs to be done. i have noticed that i waste my time alot and at the end of the day, i dont remember anything related to school.i dont know…maybe it’s just me, but i really need help in saying ‘no’ to my friends and saying yes to my studies!!

  • Lisa

    I agree with you Lyndon, I stopped being helpful to people about a 2 years ago and it was the best decision I ever made. People will take advantage of someone’s kindness and treat it as a weakness. I thought long and hard before I finally just said “NO” for the first time. I contribute it now to coming close to turning 40, I have come into my own world now and I can live for me, do things for me and not worry about others. I am very cautious now, much more than I have ever been.

    Great article!

  • Lyndon

    It will cause medical problems. I ‘m having them now. I stopped helping others a while back. I still help but on my terms only. I don’t have a problems saying NO now at all. I come first and if I have time, I will help others out. I found the 12 step program helpful years ago. Everyone one needs time alone to re-group and think.