Seriously, that’s the naughty word.
“Why is it so naughty?” you might be asking yourself. To me, it’s naughty because every time I’ve tried to use it or have successfully used it, I’ve experienced feelings akin to when I first learned colorful words that begin with ‘f’ and other “sentence enhancers” as Patrick Star calls them on Spongebob.
It’s hard to set boundaries; every time you do, you will upset someone.
It’s hard to be OK with putting yourself first when you’re a pleaser. The reason this is so hard is because much of my identity has been wrapped up in making others happy. Part of the reason has to do with the way I was raised and taught to be a child. My parents’ divorce and all of the mess that came with this time in my life led to an anxious, overly-needy kid who would do anything to be accepted or liked.
Somewhere along the way, I had an awakening and stopped caring what people thought. I was 17 or so at the time. Typical, right?
Over the last 14 years or so I’ve learned and re-learned how to say no to others.
Sometimes, I knock it out of the park.
Other times, however, I bow down to the people around me in service to their desires and wants. Nobody ever likes when we set boundaries, but if people care about us deeply, they will respect them.
I’ve struggled with using this little weapon lately.
It’s never easy for me to say no to others, but sometimes you just have to. Sometimes you don’t have it in the tank to give away.
Recently, I’ve turned down an invitation to speak in public to teens, told my pastor I didn’t think it was wise for me to continue to counsel at the church and forced myself to take a vacation from work. Turning down all of these situations has caused extreme anxiety for me. I had a panic attack after I told my teacher friend that I couldn’t speak to her classes, I probably sweat 10lbs while telling my pastor that I could not continue to counsel at the church, and had a student get upset with me when I decided to take a vacation just to rest and heal.
Some of the decisions that cause us to grow the most will also be some of the most difficult to make.
If you want comfort then you forfeit growth. Comfort makes you comfortable, not stronger, not more resilient, and definitely not a more well-rounded person. Comfort is just that–comfortable.
So what’s the takeaway?
“Do I have to say ‘no’ to every person who asks something of me?” you may wonder. Of course not. That would be selfish and silly. You only need to use this powerful weapon when you truly cannot be of service to someone, volunteer any extra energy, or give from empty reserves. It’s never good to give away your power and if you cannot say ‘no’ to some things that come your way then you might as well hand over the keys to your own happiness and vitality.
This isn’t an easy path to walk. You’ll be called selfish (among other more colorful and creative terms) but at the end of the day if you can look in the mirror and say to yourself “I did my best” this is all that matters.
A pastor that I listen to on a regular basis really put this in perspective for me with a recent sermon where he said the following, “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” Not only was this statement simple yet profound, it freed me from obligation and invited me to serve in more creative ways.
Instead of trying to feed all of the children in Africa, I try and be good to my mom who gets under my skin more than any other human being on this planet. I spiritually and personally invest in a dear friend with an ear, a smile, and a heart that wants to help him walk his spiritual journey. I don’t judge it, try to change it, or lead it any certain way. I just support it and him.
Can I do this for everyone? Of course not, but just because I can’t do it for everyone does not mean I can’t do it for one. I can do what I can which includes helping a few, who can then help a few, who can then help a few more; you get the picture.
It’s OK to say “yes” but I also encourage you to take your power and freedom back and respectfully decline what you cannot do. Learn to say “no” and do so respectfully.
It’s not easy. It’s about as easy as a camel walking through the eye of a sewing needle, but trust me–it’s worth it.
Love yourself and love others to the best of your ability, not society’s expectations.
If you’re like me: codependent, caring, compassionate, and find a sense of value from helping others then learning to say “no” could save your life.
Try it. Be willing to say “no” to those things you just cannot do right now.
But there’s one big thing to remember, if you can say no to someone, they can say no to you. It’s a 2-way street. Give people the chance to decline invitations and afford yourself that same opportunity.
You will experience greater peace in your life if you learn to set and honor your boundaries and the boundaries of others.
Be well my friends,