Let’s talk about saying No. This is something that comes up quite often with my clients, friends, and family. This is something I’m talking about at a symposium tomorrow and I wanted to share my thoughts with you. To begin, I’m going to be talking mainly about saying no, but the underlying assumption is that if you say no, you will actually have time to rest.
I see it in the world around me on social media and I see it quite often in my own life. We are told to say no. That we need to say NO more often, that it’s ok to say no and that it is a complete sentence. Some of us have learned this, and some of us simply don’t believe it. What? Say No? You’ve got to be kidding me. Obviously you don’t know what is really going on in my life. (side bar- this is actually true. There are some things that we simply can’t say no to- my kids keep needing to be fed. I guess i could say no to feeding them, but that is not realistically going to happen. Also note, this is a thousand times more difficult for marginalized populations and for single parents raising kids on their own.)
So you have maybe heard that you need to say no, you are overwhelmed and exhausted and busy- but you don’t. Wy is it so stinking hard to say no? Turns out there are lots of reasons why it’s hard to say no. I used to think it was just a problem with me. That I just had a hard time with it and there was something wrong with me. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Let’s start with the zoomed out vision. First, let’s talk about how society views the role of individuals socialized as women. The patriarchal view is that women are in a supporting role. Women are supposed to help keep everything running smoothly, take care of the kids, be the woman behind the man. That role is designed to keep women in a supporting role and NOT in a leadership position. When women are kept small or in s supporting role, we don’t always get to step into our own personal genius. We are too busy supporting someone else’s genius to think of things differently, creatively, or with that divine feminist way we can. So that patriarchal vision of women as supporters, is a limiting societal perspective. And if we are supporters, how can we say no to other people?
Society also tells us that we should be productive- all people should be really productive. In fact, the more productive you are, the more WORTHY you are. We have linked hard work, productivity with our very own worth. This message is so ingrained that when we approach people we know and say, “How are you?”, the typical response is “Busy.” We internalize this so much so that if we try and stop and rest, we are then considered not worthy.
That perspective then influences communities as well as individuals. As young girls and women, there is a lot of emphasis placed on taking care of others. We see other women in nurturing roles and traditionally have had fewer role models in the more “male” dominated fields like science and technology. We see families operating in a certain way- my mother stayed home, my father was in academia and when he wanted to move up the ladder, we had to move (no matter if my mother wanted to or not). We implicitly and explicitly learn lessons that if we are not taking care of others then we are doing something wrong. The message is very clearly passed down that if we put our needs or wants first, we are being self-ish and uncaring, and we should really “review our priorities.” This can be seen at play when we are choosing a place to have dinner, within romantic relationships, friends, or even in the relationship with ourselves. If you say no to something, you are selfish, not productive (read: not worthy), and not doing your job as a support. UGH.
Add on top of that, there is perfectionism. Sigh, yes perfectionism. Most women have been given the society and individual message that we need to look, act, be a certain way and if we don’t measure up to that image, well, then there is something wrong with us. This is emphasized in social media as well as commercials and basically everywhere we look in America. There is a certain caliber that we are supposed to measure up to- even if it is NOT POSSIBLE.
In addition to that, we simply aren’t taught how to say no because well, there is all the societal pressure to do and be and support other people. You were not taught to say no because no one else was taught it was even an option to say no. We are all having to learn a new skill- as a society we need to learn this skill.
All of this society and familiar input then creates: ta-da! The critical voice in your head. We have been conditioned by society to beat ourselves up for all of these things. If you’ve ever noticed you have a voice in your head that provides all of these messages. It is harsh and unkind, and often wonders what is wrong with you and why you can’t be perfect like the instagram filters or like your neighbor who works full time, volunteers each week at the homeless shelter, and is a perfect mom, with gorgeous flowers in her yard?
Yep. The critical voice keeps in place all the other lessons we’ve been taught by our families, our society, and the patriarchy. I’ve read that at about 7 years old, we’ve internalized those messages and have become conditioned and so we just simply say YES to everything, even when we are doubled over in pain and only had 4 hours of sleep the night before. We start resolutions each month about self-care and then wonder WHY WHY WHY we can’t actually do those things?!
Ok. Big sigh. It’s so hard because it has been programmed in us. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we can do something about it.
The first thing is to start to change the relationship you have with yourself. At the beginning it can mean saying kind things to yourself. Self compassion is an amazing tool that builds the relationship you have with you. When I first started realizing that I was the one responsible (in a good way) of taking care of myself and that I really wanted this person who is me not to suffer, it became a lot easier to say no. And now I’ve become an expert in saying no. Part of this relationship building is to listen to the part of you that is suffering.
The other part of this relationship building is to listen to the body. Don’t wait until you are sick. If you are having aches and pains this is your body asking- no begging- for help. Start listening to your body. When your body is tired, take one minute, close your eyes, and just feel what it feels like to breathe. How does your body feel? Can you feel your body? Is there a place that is tight or hot? Listening is the first step to saying No because you will then know if you are off track! Compassion for the physical, mental, emotional, energetic and spiritual parts of you makes it a lot easier to say no, even when all of the societal pressures.
Begin setting up time for something you want to say YES to. There are many things that we might want to do in our lives, but the reality is that when we say no to something that is meh, we make space for ourselves and for what we really want. It could be that you are going to walk in the sunlight for 5 minutes every day. Physically put this on your calendar. I use a digital calendar so I put it on there as an appointment. Make a date with yourself. When you have those YES times in your life, you can look at your calendar and know that you can’t fill up that time. If there is another YES that you want to rearrange for, then that’s ok too.
Start practicing saying no in little tiny steps. Say no, I can’t hop on that call at 5:30, but I can tomorrow at 9:30. Even that might be too big. It might begin by saying No to a restaurant that doesn’t sound as good. It might be saying no to the ‘idea’ that you are supposed to wear a certain type of clothing. You can say No to societal norms. You can say no to helping bob from accounting today. Practice saying no, notice how you feel when you say no, and notice that you didn’t die (and neither did bob).
As you start practicing saying No, notice the emotions that arise. It can be really helpful bc I’ve learned that if you have the choice between feeling guilty and feeling resentful, always choose guilty. Guilty is that conditioned belief that we should be everything to everyone. It doesn’t mean it is true! As mentioned previously, I use my body as the tool to follow. When I listen to my body, I know when I need to say no, and when I need to rest. I also know when there is something that absolutely lights me up, and I want to do that thing, then I know I need to say yes. If I’m going back and forth, then it’s a no.
One last note about saying no- sometimes i find that i do actually say NO, only to turn around and find out that i’ve added something else or said yes to something else because the drive is SO STRONG to be productive, that i think if I’m saying NO to one thing and Yes to one thing, that’s 50% better right? Not always. Ultimately you are saying No in order to rest and to take care of yourself. It can be so hard to rest because that productivity drive is so hardwired. To rest, we have to say no and have white space on our calendar and in our lives.
Ok dear ones. I hope you keep practicing NO to help you take care of yourself and recover or even prevent burnout. If you need help saying no or resting, I’d love to invite you to my vibrant health chat. In this call, I can help you see what patterns are leading to burnout and how you can break free from burnout to find vibrant health. It’s a free call. We’ll just hop on zoom or a phone and come up with some ideas for you. Okay dear ones, please take good care of yourselves. I’ll talk to you next time.