By Cristina Utti
Growing up as the oldest daughter in a big family, I learned from a young age how to take care of others.
Helping my parents and my younger siblings was the way I was raised. As I grew into maturity, I learned to help others in need also. Helping other people felt good, so whenever a friend asked me for a favor, or was in need of help, my answer was always yes.
Then along came my own children, five of them.
This was the beginning of the realization that I cannot always say ‘yes’ to everyone’s whims. Being a parent taught me about setting boundaries, but it was only the beginning. While I learned how to say no to my children when they asked for crazy things, (you know, ponies, puppies, trampolines, etc.) it was still difficult to say no to them when doing for them over extended my own well-being.
It is difficult to say no to a friend or family member because we love them, and we want the best for them. If we think that we can help them, we do. There have been times when I could not help a friend or get one of my children what they needed or wanted, and that feels terrible. No one wants to feel awful. This is why it is important to learn the power of saying ‘no’ when it is necessary, because always saying ‘yes’ can feel awful, too.
It was not until I got into recovery that I really started to learn about myself. The reason why I always said ‘yes’ to people at my jobs was mostly out of fear. I had fear that I would lose my job, fear that the people there would not like me; the list goes on. The reason why it was so difficult to say no to my friends was not only out of fear, but also because I was so used to saying ‘yes’ that it came naturally. I was a ‘yes’ person.
When someone is in recovery, every new day brings new clarity. Saying ‘no’ to people used to be very difficult. I would be ridden with guilt. I thought that every time someone asked anything of me, that I always had to answer yes. What I learned in sobriety is that always saying yes was causing me a lot of stress. I would take on extra tasks at work, do extra things for my children and constantly run around helping people. Living like that is exhausting. We cannot be everything for everyone all of the time, or we risk losing ourselves.
Here are the best ways that I have learned to say ‘no’ while still being okay with others and myself:
- Give yourself time to answer. If someone asks a favor, I have learned that instead of saying yes immediately, then having to back out because I have overextended myself, it works better for me to tell them that I will get back to them. This gives me time to think over if I really want to do what is being asked.
- Be honest. It is difficult to say ‘no’ to people we love, there is no doubt about that. One of the best gifts we can give to our loved ones is honesty. If it is too much to stop over to visit the parents every weekend, just say so. It is better to be honest than to keep doing things that we do not want to do, and be miserable.
- Say thank you. When people invite us to an event that we do not or cannot attend, always remember to thank them for thinking of you. The same concept works when people ask us for a favor. We can thank them for their trust in us, while letting them know that we cannot do whatever they are asking us to do.
Saying no is difficult. I had to learn how to say no to people to save my sanity and my family. It makes no sense to please other people if it makes us miserable. Life is too short. Get honest with yourself and others; it is the greatest gift in the world!