When we talk about being healthy, one of the first things that comes to my mind is learning healthy boundaries. I am a people-pleaser! I’ll admit that right up front. There is nothing wrong with being a people-pleaser, as long as you have healthy boundaries. This means learning to say “No”. Now, to many of you that may sound simple. You just say it, “No!!” But to someone who wants to help and please others, saying no is a little harder than that. There is this thing called GUILT. Yep, Guilt with a capital G.
In my mind, guilt is a naughty word. I see only one real purpose for guilt, and that is if you do something wrong, like sin. When you do something wrong, that little word can help you realize maybe there is something that needs to be fixed. Other than that one purpose, guilt is demoralizing.
Guilt decays the soul. Guilt reaches the weakest parts of us and sneaks into our decision-making, sometimes leading to bad decisions. It will leave you feeling overwhelmed.
Someone asks you to watch their kids. You don’t really have time to watch their kids as you have a busy day, but they watched your kids last week….guilt.
Your brother asks you for some money and finances are pretty tight right now. Plus, the last time you gave him money, he didn’t pay it back. But…he’s your brother!! Guilt.
Your church group asked you to help with the youth. You are struggling with your kids and you are already feeling overwhelmed. But, they really need you. Plus, it is for a good cause. Guilt.
There are so many different versions and forms of guilt. I am not saying we shouldn’t sacrifice for good causes. I am not saying that we don’t help others out. I am not even saying that we have to say no.
But we can.
I have learned that when I have too much on my plate my church group may not suffer, my work may not suffer, my friends may not suffer, but I DO. And my family is then affected by me. When that happens, it is time to say “No”.
Now, learning to say “No” is an art.
You don’t have to be mean to have boundaries. You don’t have to be rude. Saying “No” nicely and at the right time takes practice.
As a certified people-pleaser, and having some experience in human behavior, here are six tips to help you say “No” at the right time and for the right reasons:
1. Can I get back to you? A small piece of advice I can give to someone who struggles with saying “No” is this: Say yes slowly. Taking a moment to consider and evaluate what you are able to do can save you a lot of grief in the end. Remember, if you say “Yes” and then can’t follow through, guilt will tag you there!
Take a deep breath before responding. Perhaps you can help, but think about what you are taking on before committing. Often, we feel so pressured to say yes, that we forget to think about what we really need and want.
2. Don’t wait until you are overwhelmed and angry to say NO. Admit it; we all know those people that will take advantage of you as long as you let them. I have had experience with a few in my life. If you want to maintain a relationship with someone like this, say “No” early on. Make it clear that you have limits on your time and means, while still allowing that you care and want a give/take relationship.
If you wait too long to say “No”, you will find that the relationship will suffer, and it is more difficult to make amends. Part of maintaining healthy relationships is setting boundaries early.
3. Don’t compare yourself to others. Here comes the guilt monster again.
“But so-and-so is always helping out our neighbors, and she works full-time.”
“They seem to be able to do it all, and I can barely keep up with the laundry.”
Remember, we are each different beings. I know that I am an introvert, and a little bit compulsive about “my” time. Because of that, I have to limit the amount of time I give to social situations. That is just a part of me. I cannot compare myself to so-and-so in the neighborhood who thrives on social interaction. Plus, I don’t truly know what it is like to live in her shoes. Maybe she is crying herself to sleep at night in exhaustion. Remember, we truly don’t know what is going on in someone else’s life. Comparing is guilt-producing and pointless.
4. If someone gets angry when you say NO, remember that is more their problem than yours. People-pleasers tend to take others’ responsibility onto themselves. If another person gets their feelings hurt, it isn’t ALL your problem. Now, if you were angry and aggressive, then maybe you hold some responsibility. But, if you said “No” graciously and someone is still upset at you, remember that they choose their response, just as you choose yours.
Because we live in a self-centered world, others may get upset when they don’t get what they want. But, that isn’t your problem to fix. Learning to accept no is also a skill. We cannot and do not get all we want all the time.
5. Just say “No, I can’t” as graciously as you can muster. No explanation. No excuses Often we feel that we have to give an explanation as an excuse, instead of just saying “No” because we don’t want to.
You: “I’m sorry. I don’t have a sitter for the kids.”
Them: “Oh, I can watch your kids.”
You: “I have a pretty busy week.”
Them: “Well, we could do it next week.”
Learning to say no graciously, without an explanation, is a skill and takes practice. If you truly don’t want to do something, don’t give an excuse. Just be polite, gracious and say, “I’m sorry. I can’t.” Smile. And move onto another topic.
6. Practice, practice, practice. It is so important to continue to practice when you want to improve. If you are worried about a certain person in your life that you have difficulty saying no to, practice beforehand. Play different situations out in your head and practice how you would respond.
Learning to say no also means learning to say yes to yourself. Much of the reason we often say “Yes” when we shouldn’t is because we aren’t listening to ourselves.
You will find that the better you get at saying no appropriately, the less guilt you will feel. You will find greater peace and happiness.
The trick is finding the balance between yes and no. I know I am still working on it!!