Thursday, August 14

Why are we afraid of no?

Yesterday, we talked about falling off the budget, trying to please other people. I felt like it warranted a follow-up look at why so many of us have trouble setting boundaries.

So here's the deal: You hate to say no. Why? Probably because you want to make others happy.

It's a natural response -- and the world is a better place for this instinct. The problem comes when other people's happiness continually overrides our own needs.

I have met so many people (but, I have to say, especially women) who think that their needs are less important. I doubt they consciously think, "Gosh I have needs but they're trivial." Nonetheless, when push comes to shove, well... They shove their needs back and make room for other people's.

It might sound like such an obvious mistake. But an awful lot of people do it pretty constantly, myself very much included. It's something I'm working on -- and have been working on for many years.

So I understand what I'm asking when I say that you have to set boundaries.

Why won't we stick up for ourselves?

We know we should. We do. But it just seems so... hard. Mean. Rude.

The women who sparked yesterday's post said
they don't like to disappoint others.

I'm sure that's part of it. But it goes deeper. What happens if you disappoint someone? Even someone you care about? Can't your friends and family survive a "no" once in awhile?

Sure, they can. But can we survive saying it?

I think many of us have been raised to think that the word "no" is much more soul-crushing than it is. I know for me, it's combination of my Type-A personality -- that I shouldn't have limits and should be able to do what anyone needs me to -- and fear -- that if I can't do everything for people, they won't have any use for me anymore.

And, yeah, when you say it out loud (or type it out) it sounds ridiculous. But I'm willing to bet it struck a chord with at least a few folks out there.

(I'm sure there are also slightly better-adjusted individuals who are simply afraid that if we turn down an invitation, the person will feel snubbed and hurt.)

So now what?

Okay, so we've figured out the underlying problem -- and how essentially silly it is, logically.

But that doesn't make it any easier to override.

Emotions aren't logical. They're instinctual and they have an annoyingly strong grip on your gut when you're trying to act against them.

So what can you do?

Well, first, when you feel like caving to others' needs, you have to ask why you're so afraid. You have to remember that, just maybe, you're overreacting.

Second, try to figure out a compromise so that you feel less guilty, but still are respecting your own needs. (Does anyone else ever get terrified by how New Age-y they sound when trying to be mentally healthy?)

These are really all you can do -- but I'll level with ya. This isn't something that will go away automatically. It takes work. And time. Lots of time.

Even so, it does get easier with practice.

Remember what's important

I know most of us want to put others first. But ask yourself, if you keep giving everyone everything you have, how can you keep it up? You have to reserve a bit of your time and energy for yourself. You need to be able to recharge, or you're no good to anyone.

And, if that rationale doesn't work... You may have more success sticking up for your budget than yourself. Your budget is important to you and to any partner or spouse you have. It's meaningful and it's your future. So if you can't do it for yourself, do it for your budget.

(It's not ideal, but whatever gets you to start forming that "N" and "O" is a good start.)

Letting others in

Here's another thing to chew on: When you say yes to everything, ignoring your own needs, obviously you're not being fair to yourself. But...

But did you ever stop to think that you're not being fair to your friends and family either?

These people care about you -- if they're worth associating with at all -- and so they care about your feelings. They want you to be happy. When you don't tell them how you feel, you're denying them a chance to be good friends/sisters/neighbors/etc.

Put another way, stop and picture you telling them that the last five or so times they invited you to a movie, you were put in a really awkward situation. Chances are, you're imagining these people being embarrassed or flustered -- apologizing and scolding you for not saying something sooner.

So if they obviously don't want to be forcing you into something, why would you let the situation arise?

Why I can say this

I have all the same impulses you do: Don't disappoint people, don't say no, avoid confrontation... I had, for years, deemed my needs to be less important than other people's.

And then, one day, I couldn't deny my fatigue problems any more. Suddenly, I couldn't put other people's needs ahead of my own -- though I certainly still tried. The results were pretty bad.

Finally, I had to accept that a Type-A personality isn't always healthy -- especially when you have health problems. So, little by little, I practiced saying, "No, I can't do that." And it was terrifying.

But the weirdest thing happened: Nothing.

The world didn't end; I didn't lose friends. If anything, they were eager to help. And when there were times that plans couldn't be changed, we would just agree to something at a later date.

I still don't get out as often as I would like, but that has more to do with my fatigue than friends unwilling to change plans.

I found out that "no" just isn't the huge monster I had built it up to be. It wasn't devastating. It wasn't even all that big a deal, truth be told. It's just two letters that let me keep my health (and sanity) from time to time.

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Blogger ModernGear TV said...

A wonderful post, Abby!

I don't know if I've ever found it too difficult to say no but it used to be harder than it is now. I don't have any problem with it these days, when each moment is precious to me. Sometimes I just don't want to do things with others, for others!

I do find that people come to me asking me to help them with things like web site/blog building, etc. and though I am the so-called expert in the family, I just have limited time resources so I try to help a bit at a time...

Sometimes no becomes "maybe later" but all in all, it's a healthy thing to do for yourself.

Thanks for visiting my site and signing up for the newsletter, by the way!

August 15, 2008 at 12:47 PM

Blogger Jeremiah Ware said...

Thanks for your comment on our blog, Abby! I am glad to read another woman's perspective (in your blog on saving pennies). -Kim

August 15, 2008 at 3:46 PM

Blogger Abby said...

Thank you guys for commenting! I'm glad you found some relevant content, ModernGearTV.

And if I may be allowed to shill for a moment, your site is really neat. So even though it's not quite a normal personal finance blog, I count it as one, since good information about products can help people save money!

Kim, thanks for checking out my website. It's always great to read other bloggers' posts and get ideas or just appreciate good strategies and writing!

August 15, 2008 at 3:50 PM

Blogger Claire said...

You're absolutely right - it's not going to devastate anyone if I have to say no, or offer an alternative to the spendy activity. Now the issue is putting it into practice...I'll probably have an opportunity sooner than I want!

August 16, 2008 at 4:13 PM

Blogger Abby said...


It takes practice. Sometimes literally.

A lot of what worked for me was practicing various situations in my head and it made it easier to put into practice.

August 16, 2008 at 5:05 PM


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