By Joyce Alexander, RNP (retired)
I guess I am making a “confession” here of being a wimp, or maybe an enabler, for the majority of my life. But when people would ask me for a “favor,” I would almost always do it, even if it meant that I had to cancel plans of my own that I would much rather have done. In other words, by saying “yes” to my friends and family, I was saying “no” to myself.
Shopping on Mondays
After my husband died I cared for my stepfather during his long battle with cancer. In fact, I cancelled my “life” and my own grieving for my husband to voluntarily be there for him. I wanted to be there for him. However, after his death and a reasonable period of time, I realized that I had put my own business interests on hold to take care of him and my egg donor, and because of that, I had lost value in several large assets that I needed to take care of before they deteriorated more and became totally valueless.
The egg donor had a habit of wanting to go to town on Monday, for no particular reason except that was the day she had always gone to town since her retirement. One Sunday, I spoke to her because I had something very important to do on the following Monday and wouldn’t be available to take her to town to grocery shop on Monday, but could take her on Tuesday. I went to her house to tell her how I had neglected my own business interests over the last 18 months and now it was time for me to get cracking and take care of these interests and that I might not be available when she wanted to go to town, unless it was an emergency of course, and then I would cancel any plans, and that I would take her anywhere she wanted to go, but we’d work around my schedule of business.
She looked at me like I had asked her to jump off the roof, and she said, “But what if I WANT TO GO TO TOWN ON MONDAY?” I was a bit taken back by the tone of her voice and the look in her eye, but I patiently re-explained that it really didn’t matter if she went to town on Monday or not, that any day was okay to grocery shop. Still she looked at me wide-eyed, that I would dare put my needs before her desires.
That was a totally unsuccessful attempt to set some boundaries and actually caused her to become so angry that she immediately started the devalue and discarding, finding the Trojan Horse Psychopath and my psychopathic daughter-in-law to do her bidding and “jump when she said frog.” Because I had said “no” to her, she would punish me and replace me.
Wanting to help
Setting boundaries with others, especially “family and close friends,” has been a challenge my entire life. But I didn’t realize it, because I didn’t even know what a “boundary” was. I lived in the expectation that I was supposed to drop everything I had planned and meet the needs of my friends and family and if they were unhappy, it was my job to “make them happy.” If I did something for myself instead of doing something for others then I was being “selfish.” Saying “yes” to the demands of others was what I was put on this earth to do.
Was I tired? Were they hungry? Well, of course I’d get up and get them something to eat, no problem. Did they need a babysitter so they could go out on the town? Well, so what if I had worked hard all week and come home to my own house full of toddlers or teenagers, I’d cancel my plans and sit for their kids … no problem.
There are times when we want to cancel our plans to do something to take care of the need of someone we love, such as when my beloved stepfather got cancer. I didn’t even hesitate to cancel my “life” to be there for him. I moved across the pasture into the spare room in my parents’ home so I would be available in case he needed me during the night (he frequently did). I “closed down” my kitchen and told my son, our hired hand, and my husband that they could come to my parents’ house to eat, and they did. I was there for every doctor’s visit with my Daddy … and was glad to be. It was not an imposition at all. I also had household help for cleaning, a hospice aide for help with his personal care, and the neighbors and the church brought in enough food to feed an army, so I actually had to do little cooking. I was also able to take the breaks needed by caregivers to “just get away,” so it was, given the nature of the situation, ideal. When he finally passed away, he was ready to go and we were also ready to let him go, we did our grieving together.
So there are instances when we completely shut down our own lives to give care to another and that is perfectly okay. But when we are asked to do something though and we do not want to do it, we resent doing it, then we need to ask ourselves if saying “yes” to someone else means saying “no” to ourselves.
When we give time, effort or money to someone and we resent doing it … when someone comes to “borrow” money and you know they will never repay it, and you want to say “no” but you are afraid of hurting their feelings or you feel trapped one way or another into “having” to “loan” them the money, then you are saying “NO” to yourself.
Even if the “cause” is good, such as a charity, but you don’t want to donate, yet you feel guilty for not donating, then you are “saying yes to others, and no to yourself.”
Someone said once that “No” is a complete sentence. That’s actually pretty profound if you think about it. We are all adults, and we know how to say the word “no,” but many times we won’t say it for fear of hurting someone else’s feelings, or feeling guilty for saying it.
Some people seem to know how to push your buttons to get you to do things for them, give them things, or allow them to literally walk on your back and you keep saying “yes” to them when you really want to scream “NO!” Sometimes we say “yes” many times and the resentment builds up (as it always will when you want to say “no” and instead say “yes.”) and eventually the resentment builds so high that one day they demand that you do such and such and you “explode!” You give them the tongue lashing that you’ve wanted to give them ever since you said “Yes” the last 15 or 20 times when you wanted to say “No” instead.
Saying “yes” when you want to say “no” is a form of what many people will call enabling, doing for others what they should be doing for themselves. Taking responsibility for others’ needs when they are perfectly capable and able to meet these needs themselves. That kind of saying “yes” causes resentment. Me saying “yes, I’ll take care of you” to my stepfather didn’t cause resentment because I loved him, and I knew that he could not meet those needs himself. I was glad to provide them. Taking the egg donor to town every Monday, and ONLY on Monday when it wasn’t necessary and when she could have hired a driver, when I had serious business to transact, that would have been enabling.
I’m learning to say “no” to people now when I want to say “no,” and “yes” when I don’t mind saying “yes.” It takes practice and patience with ourselves but it makes life so much more peaceful when you have the courage and ability to say “no” and know that by doing so, if the person you say “no” to gets upset, you don’t care. It is okay for someone to be upset with you. It is perfectly okay to say, “No, I’d rather not do that, but thank you for asking.”