One Word That Changed My Life

My ‘No’ Problem

Yes. Sure. I will try. No problem. Of course. Why not. And the list goes on.

These were some of my standard responses to requests and demands made on my time and energy. Even as I could feel myself cringe inside and knew I should refuse, the anticipation of hurt feelings, anger, possible rejection and isolation kept me stuck in this pattern for the first thirty years of my life. My life choices were governed by keeping others happy.

My happiness? Oh, I thought the formula was to simply keep others happy!

I was like a snake biting my own tail

The outcome? My self-worth was at rock-bottom. I was full of guilt – trying to fulfill everyone and pleasing no one. I knew I had reached my breaking point when I experienced a meltdown in a personal development workshop I was attending. This was to be the turning point for me.

My concerned counselor on hearing my anguish made an observation that shifted my perspective instantly. He said, “It seems to me that you have a strong need to take care of other people.

Nothing dramatic. Nothing rocket-science. But so powerfully liberating.

The veil lifted – “Wait a second”, I said looking up at him through my tears, “that doesn’t sound like an uncaring, selfish person, it sounds like someone compassionate and kind”.

For perhaps the first time in years, I felt good about myself. I liked this woman I saw in the mirror – she had her heart in the right place!

I began to see that trying to keep others happy is much like a snake biting its own tail. Gradually the understanding dawned on me that we are all responsible for our own happiness in this world. I am responsible for mine and you are responsible for yours.

My journey from ‘Yes’ to ‘No’…

But this was just the beginning of a long journey, there was a lot more work to be done. Staying true and authentic to myself meant I needed to learn a new skill—the art of saying ‘No’ and the mindfulness to …

  • Give myself permission to put my own needs first without feeling like I had committed a crime.
  •  Draw appropriate boundaries and maintain them gracefully yet assertively.
  • Delve within and face my fear of conflicts this seemingly harmless two letter word could trigger.
  • Build up an inner reservoir of self-worth and self-belief that would be unshaken in the storm that may follow my ‘No’.
  • Be patient with myself while I learnt to discern— when to say ‘Yes’, when to say ‘No’ and when to work towards a mutual compromise.

In short, it meant learning a whole new language for life. A language that finally put me in the driver’s seat of my life!

Do you find it easy to say ‘No’? What holds you back? 

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