How many of us were raised to know our place, to be polite, to do what we were told? Parents, teachers, even siblings, laid down the rules of behaviour for us at an early age. There is no doubt that the belief systems we were born into and have acquired throughout our lives are deeply entrenched in who we are. Yet as we get older and build lives of our own, these rules may no longer be in our best interests.
Being raised in a family where answering back, or even discussing, wasn’t allowed, I learned to accept everything and to go with the flow. Disturbing the peace had repercussions that I preferred to avoid. One of the side-effects of this was that I became a ‘people-pleaser’; not only did I always agree with the crowd but I also buried my own personality, my well-being and my self-esteem deep inside. My voice didn’t count, not even to myself.
Terrified of rocking the boat I became a timid mouse who didn’t have a voice or an opinion. I went along with everyone else, silently, though often reluctantly. When volunteers were asked for, up went my hand. When friends needed help, I was there. It didn’t matter what was going on in my own life, how over-extended I was, how exhausted, how depressed, I was there every time someone asked. It is amazing how many people ask when you wear the energy of a ‘people-pleaser’, a ‘yes’ person. Being empathic made it even worse, every time I ignored my own needs for someone else’s I took a hit energetically; it was as if a piece of me left. I remember driving long distances for clients because they said they needed me even though I was physically running on empty. Money and a sense of being of value did nothing to recharge my batteries despite momentarily feeling good for sacrificing myself.
The first time I said ‘No’ was unbelievably hard. Being needed feels good but it isn’t always nurturing for myself. That day I agonized all day, battled with guilt; my inner voice was harsh and critical, you know the one: ‘Too lazy. You should be there helping. How will they manage without you?’ Over and over and over. But what happened is that as I learned to say ‘No, not today. How about next week?’ my clients, my friends and my family started to respect me more. My clients valued it when I didn’t drop everything to be there and those who couldn’t handle it left; I was better off without them.
Over time I’ve not only learned to say ‘No’, I’ve learned to feel good about my decision. Sometimes I will explain why I’m saying ‘No’, other times a simple ‘No’ suffices. Sometimes I will ask for a delay, sometimes it is best to walk away from the situation. Putting the needs of others ahead of our own can be brutally hard on us; we have to nurture ourselves first and foremost. When we care about ourselves then we can objectively look at every request made of us, evaluate it for what it is rather than from our need to help, and make a decision based on the impact on ourselves as well as on the other person.
Start with saying No to the small requests, the easy ones. Listen to your inner voice and change it to one of deep caring for yourself. Say No and celebrate the step you’ve just taken, self-recriminations not allowed! As you get better at saying No to the small things move onto the bigger things. Feel the impact of that tiny word on your life. Take back your power. Stand strong. You are worth it and others will agree.