If there is one thing you are planning on learning this year, please consider making it saying no.
One of my friends calls herself a prisoner of her own politeness. It is funny and cute, until one realizes how much this little name entails. And then one realizes that most of us are, in fact, prisoners to our own politeness. Stubbornness. Prior plans. Perfectionism. Peer pressure. Need to belong. Need to feel different. Stress. Laziness.
Ourselves and the world around us.
Here on my blog I talk a lot about freedom and choices, and how much it matters for us to be the agents of our own lives. Which, of course, always comes with not-very-predefined consequences too, as all magic has its own price tag (yes, even bunnies). There are many many ways to achieve this level of freedom, sometimes, but saying no opens doors that no other word is capable of.
Why can’t everything just be a yes?
I wish my life was a series of yeses.
I wish no one ever expected me to do anything I am uncomfortable with.
I wish I enjoyed the things I do not enjoy now.
I wish I had infinite time to provide for everyone and me, to fulfill all of our desires.
Finally, I wish I never pushed myself to unreasonable standards and beat myself up over things outside my control.
A life full of yes after yes after yes could be peachy – if all of my wishes came through, and a few other ones on top of that too. But that is not going to happen, is it? Even if suddenly the whole world let me do as I please, I guarantee you, my perfectionism wouldn’t let go without a fight.
Saying no means paying a price for rejecting an idea. But saying yes also comes with a price, sometimes an even greater one. There are little, painful yeses, like saying you would drive to pick up someone’s grandmother from the airport even though you were meant to go on a date that night, but your friend is too lazy to do it themselves and needs to get to the next LoL league anyway. Yet there are also big, very painful yeses like letting someone hit you over and over again, because it is just less scary than being alone again.
Now, please note that I do not believe all domestic violence victims are staying with their partners because of a fear of being alone. That is just an example.
I know people who live a life of only yeses, and, trust me, you would not want to be in their shoes.
But saying no hurts
And it won’t stop.
I have read so many pieces on how learning to say no will liberate you and make your life beautiful. Well, yes. But it will make your life miserable first, and will make you lose something too.
There are consequences attached to all of our actions, and saying no isn’t an exception. Sometimes the price to pay for our little rebellion will be very, very steep. Don’t kid yourself over this. Certain nos may haunt you for life and you will have to find a way to live with them. Yet, this will be your way, not anyone else’s, and there is something very reassuring in knowing that.
But some nos only seem to carry a big burden. Look, if you tell your mother this year you will not be able to come over for Easter because your cat just died, chances are she is going to understand. I get it, some mothers are crazy, so take this advice with a grain of salt and consult your past experiences to confirm she will not just end up calling you every fifteen minutes till you change your mind. But in the grand scheme of things not coming home for Easter, unless it is an extreme situation of someone going to die and so on, is actually not that much of a deal.
People change. Plans change too. Change can be good sometimes.
Why would I inconvenience anyone but myself?
If my friend is mostly a prisoner of her own politeness, I am most definitely a prisoner of trying my best not to inconvenience anyone.
Something in me firmly believes that it is perfectly ok to expect unreasonable levels of sacrifice from myself yet it is outrageous to ask someone to move their backpack one centimeter over so that I can fit mine just next to it. It is not healthy. I know it is not healthy. Do not be me.
Truth is, we are all kind of wired to be selfish, but at the same time kind of wired to underplay our sacrifices and achievements and overplay other people’s ones. That is why narcissists thrive so well amongst us. No matter our age we all fall for the playing the victim trick like the little children we never grew out of being.
But we do matter. Our time matters. Our energy matters. Our happiness matters. Putting yourself first is not always the best solution, but at least putting yourself into the equation is something we should strive to do on a day to day basis,
Saying no to oneself
The hardest no is the one we reserve for ourselves.
There are two sides to it, and I feel like in general most of us pretty much mastered the first side – refusing temptations. You know, the tenth bar of chocolate or a new dress we cannot afford. Saying no to things we like is somehow so much easier than saying no to things we detest.
Things like the endless little tests we need to pass to feel like we accept ourselves for who we are.
Refusing to let ourselves rest, feel sad or unwell.
Trying to keep up with standards that matter only in our heads.
Staying around people, places, hobbies, jobs we detest only because we believe they may be good for us in the long run.
Fearing getting to know ourselves.
You think you did great saying no to an aunt forcing you into babysitting her spoilt three year old? Well, you probably did. But try saying no to yourself when something inside of you insists you need to keep living someone else’s life to feel accepted.
So often we end up the biggest enemies of ourselves just because the alternative is too scary of painful to go through with. The only people who can stop this circle of self-abuse are us.
So… is there a trick to it?
I wish I could tell you how to teach yourself to say no. I really do. Even more I wish I always knew how to say no. I do not. And most likely I never will.
This is not a grand battle we need to win once and for all. This level of… understanding of ourselves does not happen overnight nor does it just stay and hang around. It is a continuous process that hardly ever reaches a satisfying conclusion.
At the end of the day I doubt anyone really understands how any of this works. Sure, there are some techniques and tricks that may help you gain confidence and such, but saying no is not always about confidence, is it? I find it hard to believe in magical formulae that can just, you know, patch us up.
Saying no is all about work we put into understanding ourselves. A continuous, bloody process of learning over and over again what it means to be me and how much it matters. It is a balance between healthy assertiveness and being selfish.
I may not know how to get there, true, but I do know why it is important. And that is the best first step I can imagine.