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[While writing this newsletter, we learned of the horrific mass shooting of school children and teachers in Uvalde, Texas. We are profoundly saddened by this senseless tragedy. Insight Principles remains committed to sharing an understanding of the human mind to help the world find more mental clarity, insight, compassion, and love.]
Are you one of those people who can’t say no? Do you overcommit? Do you make promises you know you can’t keep? Are you afraid of disappointing others? You’re not alone. Read on to see what Sandy Krot has learned about saying no.
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I remember a conversation with my mother, who at the time, was in her early 80’s. She spent the week helping two acquaintances move from their home to an assisted living facility and was exhausted. “Why are you helping them?” I asked. “Because they are old and have no family,” she answered. (I’m not kidding, my 80-something mother referred to them as “old people”!)
My mother could not say “no”. Whether she was busy or tired, if someone needed her, she’d help. Whether she could afford to or not, if someone needed money, she’d give it. Saying no pained her more than overextending herself or losing money.
We had a number of conversations about this over the years. I’ve also had the same conversation with many of my clients. Why is saying “no” so difficult? Here’s what I realized:
Saying yes is not the same as not being able to say no.
When you say yes, especially when it’s a wholehearted yes, the accompanying feeling is positive. People often report feelings of goodwill, warmth, joy, and gratitude. Even when you agree to an obligation or commitment, you feel a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction about your good deed.
Not being able to say no is quite different. The word “should” comes up often. You feel compelled, required, burdened. If you say no, you may feel guilty or bad about yourself. These feelings are all clues. They hint that you are putting something between you and your wellbeing – that you have to act a certain way in order to feel good about yourself.
You have been crafting a sense of identity – a self image – your whole life. You have been deciding what it means to be a good person. Invisibly, this thinking becomes a reality in your mind. It looks true and it is running in the background all the time. These thoughts make up your ego or the thinking you have about yourself.
The fact that you have thinking about yourself is neither good nor bad. But when you become strongly attached to that thinking, you can become locked in a mental bind. Damned if you do (you overcommit your time and/or money) and damned if you don’t (you feel bad about yourself). If you get attached to thinking this way, you become someone who has a hard time saying “no”.
I am not saying you should say “no”. I am also not saying that you should never over-extend or feel obligated. I am simply reminding you that you live in the experience of your thinking, and this thinking is the sole determinant of your feelings about yourself. While you may not be able to lose your ego thinking, you can see the made-up nature of it. As you do, your ego thinking will become less powerful and you will take yourself less seriously.
So the next time you can’t say no, look inside. First, check your feeling state. Your feeling is an unerring indicator of what is happening inside your mind. Then ask yourself the question, “What does it say about me if I say no?” The answer might surprise you. You might discover some thinking that was previously invisible. It’s interesting to consider what might happen if you got more comfortable with “no”.