Saying No to Say Yes to Ourselves




If you are like me, you find yourself consistently saying yes to things you really should say no to. In fact, my first response is (almost) always yes.

Can you take on this extra task at work? Yes. Can you teach during the break week because one else wants to? Sure. Can you drive us to the mall? Of course…. And the yeses have just become part of my daily vocabulary. Even when in my head, I’m prepared to say no, I end up saying yes. So why in the world do I keep saying something I don’t mean?


I tell myself that the other person needs me, wants my help, and that I am valuable to them or they wouldn’t ask me. The thing is, saying yes blows by every boundary I set for myself and ultimately ends up with me being resentful. Brene Brown in her book, Atlas of the Heart, talks about how when we are experiencing resentment, we are actually envious! Mind BLOWN. Yes! I’m envious of how it seems like everyone else has time to spend on doing hobbies, reading, or doing whatever it is that makes them feel calm and rested. Like many high-achieving women out there, every aspect of my life demands me to take care of others, or so at least that is what I tell myself. As a social worker and professor, I listen to my student's struggles and provide guidance. As a therapist, I work with people to find their voice, all the while knowing I too struggle to care for myself. I find myself over and over again saying yes to what others need, or at the very least, what I perceive they need. I am really good at perceiving. The problem is, I’m not always right and I trade my needs for what I think I should do for others.


I’ll give my latest example, and these happen weekly if not daily.

All week long I was looking forward to Friday night. After a super busy work week and shuttling three kids to multiple sporting events, Friday night was going to be my night to snuggle on the couch with whichever child wanted. I was excited to watch a movie I have wanted to see for the past three months. My hubby was headed out for a drink with the guys when my daughter comes home from volleyball and asks if I can take her and her new friend to the football game. As a fresh(wo) man who has struggled to make friends through the years, I felt that pang of wanting to help her. Ok, I agreed to drive them. Easy enough. Still time for the movie with my other two kiddos, right? Wrong. My middle child comes home from football announcing the whole team wants to go to the game to support the older team. And, parents need to stay. At this, my youngest asks if he could bring a friend too. So, while every fiber of my being wanted to say no and stay home in my fuzzy pj pants, I gave in. I said yes. I put what they wanted ahead of what I needed.

I’m going to write that again. I put what they WANTED ahead of what I NEEDED. How many times a week or even a day do we do that as parents? And I spent my Friday night freezing at the local high school watching a sport I’m not really interested in. All because my kids asked. And I felt guilty. Guilty that my daughter hasn’t had a lot of luck with friendships and this was an opportunity to change that. Guilty that my kids wanted to do something and I didn’t. I gave into FOMO on their behalf. I wanted to say no, planned on saying no, and even talked with my hubby about how to say no, and then I said yes. Can you relate?


How often do you say yes when you want to say no? Do you know why you do this?

Without going into a lot of detail, it stems from our need to be liked. Wanted. Validated. From our lack of boundaries to protect what we want and need. Being a parent constantly puts us in a position to take care of others, but does it have to be at the expense of ourselves? Sometimes it sure feels like there’s no option. But, there is. Understanding why we say yes when we want to say no is the first step in creating room for ourselves when we otherwise wouldn’t.


Saying no when we mean yes comes down to attachment. The battle we must fight is one of attachment vs authenticity. Gabor Mate has an incredible YouTube video that describes the underlying principles that I’ll do my best to describe here.


As children, we have two needs, attachment & authenticity. When our authenticity threatens attachment, attachment wins. The thing is, we need to attach to our caregivers to survive. We learn to sacrifice authenticity for connection. For the most part, we aren’t even aware we do it. Our mind and body recognize that if we are our full, vibrant, feeling self, we’ll lose the attachment to our parents, that they will disapprove not just of what we feel but of who we are and they will not love us. The part that gets me here is that we internalize they disapprove of who we are, at our core. This can truly hurt one’s sense of self, creativity, intuition, and trust of one’s inner knowing.


If we feel like our authentic feelings and selves are not going to be accepted or are unsafe, we suppress how we feel. We work to portray behaviors that appease our parents’ idea of how we should be. Our wild, goofy, emotional, expressive, imaginative, honest impulses are squashed, and shame for how we feel becomes a feeling we can’t escape. We give up our authentic self at that moment to be approved of and through this subtle agreement, we convince ourselves that our parents love us, we fit in with others, don’t cause conflict, and relationship(s) are stable.


Over time, giving up our inner knowing leads to ignoring our impulses and the sensations in our body telling us we are feeling angry, sad, guilty, or even joyful to attach to other people. Using our adaptive survival response, choosing to tune into what we think others want and expect of us, we say yes to others at the expense of ourselves and our feelings. Many women fight their own authentic voice and want because they will be labeled needy, selfish, unreasonable, or even the B-word. Instead, we become quiet, and small, and forget our inner truth.


We ignore our intuition and over time come to believe we aren’t worthy, loveable, or good enough. We say yes to others to make them like and love us. We never stop to ask if we like them. Or allow ourselves to ask what are we feeling at that moment and then rely on that as our truth. What would happen if we honored the sensations in our bodies and used them as a roadmap to answer when we are asked to do things? Is it possible that saying no can help us feel better? Sometimes I know need to say no. It can cause conflict, but a lot of the them, I am surprised. No one gets upset or if they do, it passes quickly. I am not any less for having said no. And here’s another mind-blowing message a dear friend reminded me of the other day. You don’t need a reason to say no. No is just a no. A complete sentence. No.


Saying no doesn’t mean I am not loved. It doesn’t mean I am not good enough. It means at this moment, I’m saying no to something I don’t want to do. That I am choosing the authenticity of my feelings and what I need. I’m all for connection and we can have connection without being at the expense of authenticity.


Now, choosing authenticity isn’t easy. If it was, I wouldn’t need to be writing this. There are steps you can take to help you tune into yourself and really get to know her. All the feelings, sensations, deep wants, grief, and passion you have been suppressing for a long, long time-- get in touch with those. They are all in you. Allow the possibility that you are worth saying no to others to say yes to yourself. The first step is recognizing your pattern of wanting to say no, but keep saying yes. Next, it’s understanding why you say yes even when you want to say no. In that moment, valuing attachment instead of authenticity, you aren’t valuing yourself.

How will you choose you today?


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