I think we associate 'No' with negative as in negative feelings and negative consequences. I know I used to. As a child, being told 'No" was usually accompanied by a look or a tone. As a result, I think I grew up thinking No was just 'bad.' As a further extension of this, I avoided saying it - ever. I would go so far as to end relationships in secrecy so I wouldn't have to say No. I don't know what I thought would happen - that the world would end?
I was a chronic "Yes" person and have been recovering for a little over 4 years. Now I am not talking about in the office place necessarily. I am talking about in relationships; Personal relationships. A friend asks me to help her move on a Saturday and I say "Yes" without hesitating. Another friend asks if anyone would help her paint her house and I say "Yes" although I had plans of my own. Another time a friend asks if I would go out for a late night of fun with her. Although I had a mild surgery scheduled at 8:00am the next morning I said - that's right - 'Yes'.
See. I would say "Yes" without thinking of myself or my life or plans. For me it was almost a disorder. Chronic disorder. It became commonplace for other friends to say, "I can't. Ask Digits. She'll say yes." I am like Mikey except I didn't eat anything; I Yes-sed anything. It was really quite debilitating.
So yesterday, when my friend relays her husband never knew of the lump sum of money she loaned to her relative and she expressed annoyance and feelings of victimization over losing that money that will never get repayed - she is confident now - I began thinking back to when I realized I had a problem with 'Yes' myself and how I came to work on the recovering from it.
First of all, "Yes" is only a problem when I say "Yes" and then have that bad feeling in my stomach after. And because I said "Yes" when I genuinely wanted to and when I genuinely didn't want to, I had that feeling in my stomach quite a lot. My personal life suffered. My other relationships suffered. My own goals and projects suffered. But I guess the good news is that people always knew they could rely on me. The bad news, also, is that people always knew they could rely on me.
I'm all for realness in a relationship. I believe friends are put here to help each other. And it's not as if I was a giver only. I am a taker too. But when my newest mentor would ask me a question and before she could get the words out I am "Yes"-ing her, she began to sense there may be a problem.
"Why don't you take some time to think about that?" she asked.
"Oh no. I don't need to." I responded.
"Well, I'll call you back tomorrow and ask for your answer again. Feel free to change your mind." she said.
"Okay." I said.
So when later that night my Mom reminded me she was coming into town and would I still be meeting her at the airport at the same time I had already "committed" to being somewhere with my mentor, I breathed a sigh of relief and realized that had my mentor not understood I had this problem, I would be back peddling plans I'd made with my Mother months prior. This wouldn't have been copacetic!
So I called my mentor as soon as I hung up with my Mom and begrudgingly confessed I already had plans I waited for her to "Told you so" or something like that. She never did. If I remember correctly, her words were something along the lines of, "Okay. Well good. I am glad you took that time to think about it and let me know." I laughed. She laughed. Then she lovingly suggested,
"I suggest that from now on when someone asks you a question that involves a commitment, even if you are confident you can make that commitment, that you always respond, 'Can I think about that and get back to you?'"
I will not claim I am perfect at this these days but I will claim that I have gotten better. I write this article to remind me of the benefits I have sustained since responding in the above fashion and not say "Yes" as a gut reaction.
- Feeling empowered as to the direction of my life.
- When I do say Yes I feel as if I really mean it.
- The friend I have asked to think about it to will almost always say okay!
- If I do say Yes to the friend I have asked for time, she knows that I mean it and value the commitment I am making.
- If I do say No to the friend I have asked for time, she knows she was worth my thinking about even though the answer is No.
- I feel as if I always have a choice.
- I haven't had a need to gain a resentment by doing something I didn't want to do in the first place!
- I no longer feel guilty when I put my needs or goals first.
- People really do respect the person who says "Can I think about that?" rather than the "Yes" - person.
So back to my friend, where I originally started. I thought of the times after my mentor began working with me on this problem I had and how I loved how the Universe started testing me straight-away. In a three day succession, I would have people I know, call me and want to borrow money I couldn't feel comfortable "loaning" to them. I was so happy with my new "permission" to get back to them I felt in these instances I could simply say, "I'm sorry. I can't afford to lose that money. And our relationship is too valuable."
[Yes, my lesson 6 months prior had been to not loan money but to give it without the expectation I would ever see it again. So if I couldn't afford to give it away I should never "loan" it.]
All of those three relationships, I still have today and without resentments.
My poor friend yesterday said Yes and now she has a resentment. Made worse by the fact the borrower is a relative of hers. Had my friend said No initially, I wonder how differently things would have turned out for her and her relationship. She is now worried her husband may find out. She knows, now, she will never get the money back. Her relationship is strained with her relative. And she's angry and feeling victimized. On the plus side, though, maybe her relative will never ask to borrow money again.
As for my friend, though, I lovingly suggested that when anyone asks her a question - even if she feels like she can commit to it - to always respond, "Let me think about that and can I get back to you?"
And if necessary or you just want to, say No.
It may be the kindest thing you can do for yourself, your friend, or your relationships.