Having Your “No” and Eating it Too

Do you ever find yourself in the position where a person asks or expects you to do something you do not want to do but you end up doing it anyway? If so, do you find yourself becoming resentful with that person? If you answered yes to these questions you need to learn how to say NO.

(1)   If you can’t say no you become resentful.

I used to work in an office. I became friendly with a co-worker and we started going to lunch every day. After a while I began to feel obligated to go to lunch with her. I felt like if I got up and went to lunch by myself I would somehow be insulting her or hurting her feelings. So for a long time I went along with this situation. It was easier just to maintain the pattern than it was to stand up for myself and say I did not want to do this. But over time I found myself becoming resentful. At first I noticed I was becoming annoyed with her. Little things she did like flicking her pen started to irritate me. Later on this developed into anger. At the time I did not make the connection between not being able to say no to her and this irritation that was developing.

(2)   If you learn to say no and “own it” you will notice a sudden release of tension.

Finally the resentment and the irritation reached a point where I just started going to lunch on my own. It felt wrong at first. I felt like an anti-social jerk. But after a while I noticed that I was becoming less annoyed and resentful with her. Gradually I began to make the connection that this resentment was directly related to my inability to say no to her. Even though my no at this point was sort of passive aggressive it allowed for the space for the tension to release.

(3)   If you can’t say no you will never be able to say yes.

From there, over time I began to feel more entitled to my right to say no to things I did not want to do. True, there are obligations in life and I am not advocating saying no to everything you do not want to do, but if you cannot say no at least some of the time you will never truly be able to say yes whole heartedly. You will only say yes grudgingly and with resentment. When you are able to say no and own it (i.e., feel entitled to say no without worrying so much about hurting someone’s feelings which comes with practice) then you will have the space to pick the things you really want to do and then say yes with your whole heart.

I think this is really important. On an airplane they instruct you to put on your own oxygen mask first before you put on the oxygen mask of a child. To someone who is afraid to say no, this instruction might strike them as selfish and wrong. But if you don’t take care of yourself first you may be able to take care of other people in the short run but not in the long run.

Saying no to something you do not want to do is like putting on your oxygen mask first. If you find yourself becoming annoyed and resentful of someone, I invite you to perform an experiment and say no to that person. Really try to feel entitled to that no. Don’t let yourself feel bad or at least be aware of this bad feeling. See if over time you become less resentful. If so, know that you have put on your oxygen mask. You will then be able to have your yes and put on their oxygen mask if need be.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Having Your “No” and Eating it Too

  1. The hardest word in the English language. Good insight on the emotional resonance. Thanks!

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