Studio 5 Family & Relationship Contributor Dr. Liz Hale educates us on the art of saying no.
When we struggle with the “disease to please,” our very health is literally on the line. The emotional build-up of not saying “No” increases adrenaline, causing a faster heart beat, higher blood pressure, and a narrowing of blood vessels. And these particular conditions have been linked to stroke, cancer, and heart attacks. When we are unable to set limits we are unable to regulate our own lives and maintain a physically and emotionally healthy life. And here is the good news: we are to blame and thus we are to tame this disease.
We teach others how to treat us. Our beliefs and thoughts shape our behaviors and our behaviors shape our relationships with our self and others. I am currently working with a couple who have been married for almost 20 years. When they were engaged and about to get married, this woman’s mother, who is mentally-ill, said to her adult daughter, “Well, your husband is certainly getting the short-end of the stick, isn’t he?!” My client’s history is flooded with such barbs from her mother, sadly. As if on automatic pilot, she set out to prove her worth in marriage. She denied her feelings and own wants for those of her husband, she would go out of her way to re-adjust the car seat for him before she got out of the car; she would re-adjusted the shower head in the shower so he wouldn’t have to bother; and she lifted up the toilet seat so he would never know she had been there. She would even try and hold her breath in bed to not make disturbing noises so that he could fall asleep first. You get the idea…her behavior was extreme in order to prove her mother wrong; in order to prove her own worth and value.
And how do you think her husband responded? As the luckiest guy in the world to have someone so accommodating? Heavens no! He treated her terribly! It’s almost as if she taught him to undervalue, under-acknowledge, and under-appreciate the amazing human being that she was. While nice and thoughtful gestures have their place, when we use them to show the world how “good” we are, and that “you don’t treat me as well as I treat you,” we become the martyr and the victim. At first glance, my client looked like an emotionally battered women married to a complete jerk. Everyone could see it at first glance…but when you look closer, she was part of the equation that kept the cycle going by over-compensating for her feelings of a negative self-worth.
Enjoy the Freedom of “No”
Have you ever seen a toddler who just learned the power of the word, “No!” Saying “No” established their individuality; their separation from Mother. “No” is the most powerful word in the English language. Saying “no” is a potential lifesaver. It’s about respecting yourself – your needs, values, time and energy.
This isn’t about saying “no” to other people as much as it is saying “Yes” to yourself. We often hear that “time is money.” I believe that “time is life.” When we give time away, we give away heartbeats. If we contemplate going to dinner with someone for 3 hours, that is 13,000 heartbeats. Is that going to be of value to me? Am I going to leave the restaurant saying, “that was wonderful; great food; stimulating conversation…or am I going to walk out and say, “Gee, I wish I had staying in and prepared for tomorrow’s presentation.” That’s going to war with yourself.
Honesty is the only way out of the trap. Since time is life, and you don’t feel like you can spend the time going to dinner, speak up and be truthful with a friend. “I really hope you understand that when I say “no” to dinner that it’s not about you – it’s about taking care of me and giving myself a quite night at home that I so desperately need. Thank you for understanding!”
Yield to Yearning “Yes” List
To help you determine your true priorities, create a Yearning Yes List! This list is about determining what’s most important for yourself, using your time in the way you most value. Ask yourself this question: “What or who needs my attention at this time?” Think if terms of the next 3 months. What needs your attention: your child, marriage, career, health, finances? What are the most pressing needs right now? Perhaps you have let important friendships fall by the way side and you want to re-commit to connecting with dear friends. Set a time in your calendar every other week or once a month that you reserve for “friend shipping.” Choose the top 5 priorities as you see them today, remembering to pout yourself first (which is so hard to do.) However, ask yourself, “How am I going to take care of others if I am burnt out, feeling angry and resentful?” Remember, this is your yearning yes list!
Practice Powerful Phrases
Before responding to someone’s request, buy yourself some time to weigh the pro’s and con’s by saying, “Let me give that some thought, please. I’ll get back to you by Friday.” Or, “I’m in the middle of another project right now, when my hands are freed let me check my schedule and call you back.” Or, if you know the request is not a possibility, say it straight up: “I wish I could help you out….I have to say “No” this time. I am so sorry.” Or, “I’ll have to decline this time, but thank you for thinking of me, or trusting me with that request.” To set a boundary with an angry person, say “You may not yell at me. If you continue, I will leave the room.” Oftentimes, less is more. Excuses only paint us into a corner and raise anxiety and often give the other party something to argue about.
Guilt is a Good Sign
I say this a little tongue-in-cheek because too often we as women feel guilty caring for ourselves, or taking a class or going on vacation without the kids. Guilt is a sign that you are heading in the right direction! To overcome guilt, face it head-on. If you have made a mistake or errored in someway, make amends; make things right, of course. But if notice you feel guilt doing over something you are doing for yourself, keep going! (Even if that means you tell everyone how guilty you feel to make yourself feel better. Feel the guilt and do it anyway.)
Build Boundaries Not Barriers
Setting boundaries actually allows us to build bridges in our relationships. Instead of stewing and chewing on cheese and crackers (my favorite comfort food!) because I have said “Yes” to something I wish I had said “no” to, saying “No” upfront allows me the peace of mind to assess what I could say “Yes” to instead. The other night I called someone to ask about their interest in spearheading a large volunteer community project for next fall. I loved and respected her response: “Oh, Liz, I’d really like to be involved somehow. Because of my personal demands, however, I won’t be able to lead this one but I can certainly offer a few hours to help on the day of the event.”
Even though boundaries were set, bridges were built.
“The Nice Factor: The Art of Saying “No!” by Jo Ellen Grzyh and Robin Chandler
“What Happy Women Know,” by Dan Baker, Ph.D.