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Thursday, 20 February 2014

Why are we so afraid to say "no"?

I'm sweating, my heart is racing, each sharp breath is shallow and rasping and my chest feels tight. Firing out emails I'm in a race to get the latest project out at work which is delayed again.
I think back to that moment when a client told me - 'it needs to be ready by end Feb'. I knew in my gut this was too tight. I just knew it. But I didn't say anything. I said "ok". Why? My own misplaced desire to please people.
In the world of emotional eating, the word "no" can fill you with fear. Fear of rejection, fear of anger, fear of not delivering everything you think people expect of you. Fear of not being loved. So we say "yes". "Yes" to working late, "yes" to putting ourselves last, "yes" to a life of anxiety and worry at best, misery and depression at worst. Not to mention a bulging waistline.
Co-dependent behaviour like this is a coping mechanism many of us employ daily as a way of getting our needs for love, acceptance, and belonging met. But it's a harmful one we'd do better without.
Sound complicated? It is, kind of.
Simply put - if you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed or stretched too thin, it's probably because you (like me and many of us out there) are afraid of saying one little word that we ourselves load with meaning.

Just imagine it. Right now, picture saying "no" to your boss. "No" I can't work late, "no" I can't make that deadline... Or to your Mother perhaps? "no" I'm not coming round this weekend... "no" I'm not going to follow your advice... Or is it the idea of saying "no" to your boyfriend which makes you jumpy? How about "no" to a girlfriend? Even saying "no" to your child,  father,  sister, or the next door neighbour's gerbil can put the willies up some of us. 
So why is it that some people can seem to whistle through life unconcerned, or seemingly unaware, unbothered by the affect of their own actions on people? (I'm thinking of one of my good friends in particular as I type this). The good friend I refer to has his own agenda, his own needs, his own boundaries - and by gum he attends to them. He books a holiday when he wants, he travels where he wants, says he's too tired when he's too tired, says so when he simply doesn't want to go out, explains confidently and without abash when he is pissed off and always speaks his mind. 
If I did any of these things, I would be so worried about what everyone thought of me and how they were going to react that I would either just plain not do it, or I'd feel terrible if I did somehow summon up the courage. So why is it then that this man is my friend? If he was such an arsehole I would surely want to steer well clear. How is it that what I actually admire in this man (the ability to meet his own needs with such confidence) I simply cannot do without a shed load of guilt? I shall tell you why (or what I believe to be the reason) - thought patterns.

My friend's thought pattern: I want to go home because I am tired. 
My friend's behaviour: He goes home.
My friend is satisfied.

My thought pattern: I want to go home because I am tired (but I can't go home because all my work isn't done! Everyone will think I am a slacker! I don't deserve to go home! I am a worthless pile of crap!
My behaviour: I stay at work feeling tired and awful, or go home and feel guilty and moody (and take it out on my boyfriend to boot).
I am not satisfied, I'm tired, overworked, resentful and feel guilty.

It seems so simple, but most of the time these negative/irrational thought patterns are going on under the surface. All that we do notice are the harmful behaviours or nasty feelings as a result of this (staying late, feeling angry, anxious, stressed, overeating, alcoholism, smoking to name a few). 

The trick to overcoming these harmful behaviours is to understand the harmful thoughts we have going on underneath, and to learn ways to challenge them (and challenge them and challenge them) until eventually they go away for good. The more we can get to grips with what harmful crap we are telling ourselves about saying "no" to people, the sooner our lives become more like my beloved friend's life - confident, satisfied and free from co-dependent or harmful behaviours. 

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