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  • SuePattonThoele

Saying Yes but Feeling No

Ever come away from the phone after having said yes to making a zillion decorated cookies for a school party or working extra hours even though they conflicted with personal plans and you felt exhausted merely contemplating the task?

Afterward you dislike both yourself and the person to whom you said yes. Wishing you could turn back the clock, put steel in your spaghetti backbone, and firmly decline means you’ve just given yourself away.

Saying “yes” when we feel “no” probably means we’ve been “should-ing” on ourselves. We’re afraid that we aren’t being nice enough when we say no or that people will dislike us for letting them down. Yet I’ve discovered that when I’m convinced I have a right to say no and say it firmly, people accept it. They seem to get the message in direct proportion to how staunchly I hold the conviction. Replace draining “shoulds” with empowering words like can, want to, choose to, or will. For instance, “I choose to work late tonight” or “I choose not to work late today” is much more empowering than “I should work late” or “I have to work late tonight.” “Shoulds” enslave us. “Choice” words help free and empower us.

A key method for having your “no” heard is to choose one statement and stick with it:

you: I’m not able to chair this particular committee. I’m sorry.

they: Oh, please! I don’t have anyone else I can call.

you: I know that’s hard, but I’m not able to do it at this time of year.

they: I don’t know what I’ll do. I’m desperate.

you: It really is hard to organize this stuff, isn’t it? I’m really sorry I’m not able to help you

right now.

Notice that “You” stuck to the statement “I’m not able to,” thereby honoring her limits and boundaries while expressing compassion for the other person’s problem. “You” did not give herself away.

Before you say yes, take several deep breaths. Ask yourself if you are saying yes out of habit, guilt, or fear. Reassure yourself that you have the right to choose. Pause. Stop. If you feel unsure and need time to consider your alternatives, take it, and return the phone call later. You don’t have to let yourself be terrorized by your own or other people’s expectations of you.

Excerpted from The Courage to Be Yourself by Sue Patton Thoele. Available on Mango and Amazon.

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