The Emotion Around Saying "No"
Do you have a tendency to immediately say “yes” to people who ask you for help, for your participation in a project or event or to do something you intuitively just know isn’t right for you, then upon reflection, you wished you'd said “no”?
I’ve struggled for most of my life around this issue. It took me longer than I'd like to admit, but I finally realized I was suffering from “chronic people-pleasing syndrome”.
Is that an actual medical condition?
No, but it should be, because it’s caused me, and a whole lot of other people on this planet, way more pain than any other medical condition I’ve ever experienced.
Have you noticed that there's an emotional response associated with declining an unwanted invitation which then leads to a physical reaction such as tightness in the chest, upset stomach, tension in the neck and shoulders or other maladies.
Depending on the situation and the person asking, your emotions might range from guilt to anger or shame to sadness. On any level, it just isn’t pleasant and I know I always wanted to avoid it.
I would pretty much do whatever I could to “keep the peace” and soldier on, ignoring the fact that it was slowing chipping away at my soul.
It simply never occurred to me, for the better part of my life, to slow down that acceptance/decision process.
I had never learned the skill of stepping back, checking-in with my mental calendar, assessing my energy and physical level and only then making a final decision based on the "Big Picture" at the time.
By Big Picture, I mean what I had already committed to in the coming hours, days or weeks ahead and whether I was already at the threshold of tolerance with my level of available energy, emotional and/or physical capacity.
The impulse to please always came from a loving place with good intentions because I wanted to make others happy, but I wasn’t allowing myself to also see the not-so-joyful repercussions it created in my own life over the long term.
I know I’m not alone in this experience. There are plenty of people-pleasing brothers and sisters out there on the planet sharing this conundrum. Maybe you’re one of them? Even if you aren’t, I bet you know someone who is.
You might ask, what could possibly be wrong with helping someone out, attending an extra social event per week or taking on another work project?
It comes down to a little thing called boundaries.
At first glance, boundaries appear to be limiting, but when put into perspective, they end up being quite freeing. Boundaries are healthy when they are set with the primary intent to protect, not limit, a person’s overall well-being.
None of us were made to operate at full throttle day in and day out, so think of a boundary in the context of a threshold or a safe-guard that is protecting you from exceeding personal capacity. Sort of like that red warning light that comes on when you’re getting low on gas in your car.
For example, we all have a pretty good idea of just how much work, play or activities we’re capable of handling in any given day.
When we consistently push past the boundaries of our energy or emotional reservoirs, it can compromise our immune systems, increase our stress levels, slow our cognitive processes and open ourselves up to illness.
That’s the old ‘Hit the Wall’ experience that chronic people-pleaser’s repeatedly face when their energy level can no longer support their calendar commitments because they just ‘didn’t want to let someone down’.
It would often take me weeks, or in some cases, even months to re-bound when I let things get out of control because I didn’t allow myself to acknowledge I wasn’t making the right choices.
But, beyond the physical health dangers, there was an even more troubling aspect of this “syndrome”.
After I peeled back the emotional curtain, I finally realized I was saying “yes” because I had been taught from childhood that it was how a person earned approval. Sacrificing my health and emotional well-being were just an accepted part of that process.
But, I had gotten it backwards. I was looking to others to give me the key to a sense of worthiness, when all the while, I had that key already within me.
I realized that little word “no” had a lot more power in it than I could ever have imagined. Saying “no” wasn’t being disrespectful or mean, it was simply a way to let others know I was at, or fast approaching, my threshold.
I started setting boundaries and communicating them in a clear and loving way to those around me. Big surprise! Most people were happy to honor them. They appreciated and supported that I was making my health a top priority.
And what about those that didn’t appreciate that I was no longer at their constant beck and call? Well, those relationships either faded away or moved on very quickly, which was for the best.
What was most interesting to me was that, as a result, when those individuals moved on, they took the majority of stress, chaos and its debilitating energy with them.
By creating healthy boundaries, I ended up experiencing broader freedom, because I was finally able to truly relax, appreciate and enjoy the activities, people and surroundings I loved without sacrificing myself in the process.
If you have experienced a little (or a lot) of the People Pleasing Syndrome in your life, I invite you to take a moment and ask yourself these questions.
Do you make decisions based on what you think others want or expect from you, rather than what is best for you?
Are you hesitant to say no because you feel you’ll let someone down or that they’ll judge you unfairly in some way?
Are you willing to incorporate more boundaries into your life to ensure you are living your best life without compromising your emotional and/or physical well-being?
Only you can make that choice. Just remember, saying “No” can be just as loving as saying “Yes” if you are speaking from the heart on who you are and what truly you need.
Be safe. Stay healthy. Stay strong.
If you think you need a little extra coaching help and support to get through issues like this, I now offer coaching sessions by phone to make help even more accessible.
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