My “no” is broken

I’m learning to say no. And mean it.

I’m learning to say no to others so I can say yes to myself. On the surface, this sounds selfish. But really, it’s not.

I’ve learned the hard way that I need to take care of myself before I can take care of others. This is why I wake up at 5am and haul myself off to bootcamp. The first thing I do each day is take care of myself.

My energy is precious and I’m learning to protect it with boundaries and discipline. There are Energy Vampires who want to take, take, take. I can choose to let them suck me dry or I can choose to take care of myself.

Why don’t I say no more often? I don’t say no because:

  1. If I say no, they might not like me.
  2. I don’t want to offend anyone.
  3. I’m scared that my self-worth is measured by my productivity so I’m always trying to do more.
  4. Since everyone is over-committed, maybe that’s what I’m supposed to do, too?

I am learning that just because someone expects something from me doesn’t mean I have to give it. It is so difficult for me to say no in certain situations that I’ve learned my best option is to entirely remove myself from that situation.

It’s like being on a diet in a house full of cookie jars. Maybe I can say “no” the first 20 times I pass by the cookie jar, but eventually, I give in. It’s better for me to live in a house with ZERO cookie jars. Or maybe just empty ones.

There is nothing selfish or wrong about taking care of myself. I have legitimate needs. I don’t begrudge others their needs, why do I put my own needs last?

Two months ago I finally said no to laundry. There are seven people in my family. I could not keep up. I wanted to keep up. I’ve been trying and trying to keep up. But something had to give. I simply could not write a book and keep up with laundry for seven people.

I hired someone to help me with laundry.

That has been the best gift I have ever given myself.

I’m learning to say no so that I can say yes.

  • jen

    I would totally hire someone to help me with laundry. Good for you!

    I also only have one kid and this is an intentional move. My son was a preemie, is autistic, and has a number of special needs issues. I get told on occasion that I’m being selfish by not giving my son a sibling. OK.. let’s think about this. My son was born at 29 weeks because I went severely pre-eclamptic. Any future pregnancies would have me on 9 months of bedrest because I am now SUPER high-risk Did I mention that I’m my son’s primary caregiver? Yeah… not a good situation. Then there’s the fact that newborns require lots of care which would take time away from my son… who kind of needs me more than the average toddler. I would be overtired, probably sick, and my fibromyalgia would probably have me in bed when I’d really need to be up and taking care of my new baby and my son. If this is selfishness, I will gladly bear the title. Saying “no” to kids in the near future is the best move for my family and I will not apologize for this.

    • KatR

      I’m always amazed when people try to pressure women into having children that they themselves won’t have to a) give birth to or b) raise, but in your case I’m ESPECIALLY amazed.

  • crazymom13

    It would be good practice to not even bother explaining here that saying “no” isn’t selfish. Peel off and leave behind the need to explain yourself…go ahead, give it a shot. People don’t need to know why a “no” is a “no”.

    I was so proud of my daughter, she is only 16 and coping with the profound loss of her father…her loopy aunt approached her with a dumb idea that was intended to honor her dad but was (in the end) a dumb idea. When the aunt pitched the idea to my daughter her answer to everyone’s surprise (without me even there to coach her ) was “no, don’t do that”…I just LOVE that girl!!

  • Debra Neufeld

    Did you read Boundaries? Love that book and those authors. They’ve totally transformed my church. Can you imagine a church where saying “no” is healthy and expected? It’s lovely.

    • Nancy

      That is a great book, and has a lot to say about good boundaries in relationships!

  • irws

    When I started to attend daily mass I noticed that saying “no” to others got a lot easier eh!!

  • Dani Kelley

    I’m trying to learn how to say no, too. And to stop saying, “I’m sorry” all the time. You know how sometimes it’s really good for people to apologize because some of them just never do? Not me. At all. I apologize for everything – from having a migraine, having a panic attack, not wanting to do something, throwing up, having PCOS, existing…anything that inconveniences someone or makes them uncomfortable. I either say yes to make them happy, or apologize as a pre-emptive self-defense just in case something about me (actions or my being) might be offensive to them. Somehow, taking care of everyone else’s emotional needs is hard-wired into me – along with the thought that taking care of myself is selfish and shallow. It’s really hard when that’s what you’re taught your entire life to do, to make everyone else happy no matter what it does to you emotionally.

    You hiring someone to do your laundry made me smile. The first apartment my husband and I had together, there wasn’t a dishwasher. And our BIGGEST fights those first few months were over dishes (well, they were over deeper things, but dishes were the catalyst). So when we moved, it was absolutely non-negotiable for me that our new place have a dishwasher. I didn’t care how much it added to rent, I wasn’t willing for DISHES to be the determining factor of my mental and emotional stability. So I say, you rock! :)

  • Kansas Bob

    Your blog posts show such a vulnerability and transparency. Way to go Elizabeth!

  • Nancy

    Love this, EE!! You go, girl! Thought I’d share two easy “tools” for saying “no” for people who struggle with this:
    1.) When asked to do something, DELAY the answer to buy yourself time to make the decision freely. You could say, “Can I get back to you about that?” Or “I have to check our family calendar before I can give you an answer.” Then you don’t feel pressure in the moment to say yes, and can compose your answer (if you’re a newbie to the power of “no”). You don’t *owe* anyone an immediate answer. :o)
    2.) Come up with a phrase that sounds “nicer” to your ears, but still is an unequivocal “no”: “That’s not going to work for me this month.” “I won’t be able to squeeze in another activity and do it justice.” Or whatever sounds good to your particular ears.

  • the Blah Blah Blahger

    Learning to say no is hard, but vitally important! Good for you!

  • Tara S

    That’s wonderful! :-)

  • Handsfull

    You go, girl! I’m getting much better at saying no, but have noticed that other people who can’t say no, make me feel guilty for saying no… guess I’ve still got a way to go.

  • Tanya

    I so LOVE this post. I still struggle with saying, “no” and “sorry.” However, the times that I assert my “no” as a response, I feel a ton of weight lifted from my already over burdened shoulders. I hope we as women can move from being people pleasers at a cost to ourselves. Kudos to you for learning to say no so you can say yes!

  • Christy Karnatz

    Love this Liz!