Honoring ourselves — our wants, needs, capacities, desires — is often at the bottom of the list of things we do from our codependent framework. We say yes when we want to say no because we want to keep people happy. You can shift out of those unhelpful habits. You can live an intentional and deeply radically honest life, you can live from your integrity, and can retrain your mindbody so that saying no when you mean it feels as easy as saying “yes” does now.
Why we say yes when we don’t want to:
From our codependent thought habits, we don’t believe in our inherent worth until someone else says “good girl” to us. We want others to validate us so we say yes for that momentary ping of external approval.
We are so used to putting ourselves last that it feels normal and easier and frankly safer in our mindbody than having our own backs so of course we say yes to being the room parent while working a full time job and rescuing six puppies. Of course we do! Others need us! And we forget in those moments that we need us too. It’s like we think we have endless capacity because it feels safer to our inner children to assume that. We forget that we’re humans that need to eat, drink water and rest so we just say yes to everything and everyone. We keep strengthening that neural groove in our minds that says “my needs come last — always.”
We also believe that it’s our job to manage everyone else’s feels for them, which is a paternalistic worldview we don’t see as such because it’s been so conflated with being nice.
From our perfectionist and codependent thought habits, we want to look like we can do everything always and be all things to all people. We subconsciously fear what we imagine others will think of us if we are actual mortal humans who are not capable of doing it all. As always, what belies perfectionist thinking is the fear that we will judge us for being humans, that’s the real fear, while fear what others will think of us is the coverup thought.
We are scared of letting others down, of disappointing them, and we deeply fear conflict because we generally don’t trust ourselves to have our own backs and to prioritize ourselves when the risk is someone not being pleased with us.
We would rather avoid potential conflict by not being truthful or honest by saying no, instead we say yes when asked because we know that no one is pleased to say no.
We believe it’s our job to keep others happy, so we go along to get along and then the day of we’re like “actually…. I can’t make it!” Or some other excuse. But see how you didn’t even say no though? It’s sneaky! And we don’t even realize we’re doing it!
Remember, when I talk about people pleasing and that internal driver that says “I want people to like me” I am never saying that that is a bad thing! Cause it’s not, it’s a very human thing. We are pack animals after all and have the survival mechanism built in of wanting to be liked because it makes us feel safer when the lions come to devour the village.
The question to ask yourself is if you’re valuing other people liking you over you liking you. If the answer is yes, then that’s something to look at. You can learn how to break out of that painful people pleasing cycle.
We also expect people to live their lives the same way we do: prioritizing people pleasing over pleasing ourselves. We want others to put themselves out because we put ourselves out. Because the inner story goes “they don’t love me if they say no to this request,” we expect ourselves to say yes when we don’t want to because that’s our framework for living — constantly acting from obligation not actual desire (and of course we get resentful on the back end, right?).
So we say yes from this subconscious desire for other people to put themselves out for us.
It’s like this unwritten, unspoken internal psychic tug of war that leaves us exhausted, annoyed, put out and resentful when we’re operating from the mental cassette tapes of our socialization, conditioning and survival skills, especially as humans socialized as women.
We’re taught that we’re valuable, good girls who are helpful and worthy when we put ourselves last, when we do what our families want versus what we want. If we prioritize ourselves we’re selfish, and what could be worse in the patriarchy than a woman who has a real sense of self and values herself, right?
Finally, it’s challenging to say no when honest, self-loving living wasn’t modelled for us.
When we grew up in a family structure with a family blueprint where obligation, codependent thinking, people pleasing and being liked by others were prioritized over being direct and saying what’s real for you.
You get to bring compassion and care in for the parts of you that may be saying “I don’t know how to do this” or that it’s scary. It’s okay for those parts to be scared! You get to give them love and care and you get to reparent those inner children. To decide that it’s truly okay for you to take care of yourself, and to say yes and no when you want to. You get to feel that ping of fear in your belly and you get to decide to take care of you anyway, to take action anyway.
I’m not saying we don’t do things for others or don’t show up for our family, friends and community, I’m never about that.
I’m about healing ourselves for ourselves and so we can come correct to our communities. To that end, I’m saying that the thoughts and feelings we bring into that moment of saying yes or no is so important.
Honoring your yes and no is vital community care.
It is not loving towards your family, friends, activist circle, colleagues to say yes when you don’t mean it and to then show up in annoyance, in frustration, grumpy you’re at the party, unhappy to be wherever you knee-jerk said you would be when you didn’t want to actually go to there, to resent the people you love or care about.
Not kind. Not loving.
Sure, it might look nice or polite on the surface. But it’s not truly an act of kindness or community love to do what you don’t want to do and to have grumpers feels about it that you direct towards a person who did nothing more than ask you if you were available to do something. It’s also not a loving choice to chronically say yes all the time until you burnout and are then of service to no one and nothing.
Let’s get practical
It’s so common to not know what you want after a lifetime of denying your wants! Totally normal. So when you’re not sure if you want to say yes or say no, you can start by feeling into your body. Take a beat if you need to.
If someone asks you to do something you can say, “I’ll get back to you,” or you can excuse yourself to the bathroom, or whatever you need to do to create some space to be with yourself. You can start to feel into your body if that’s safe and available for you. You can scan your body for tension, for holding, you can try on the different decisions and can listen in to your body’s wisdom. It’s a practice to be able to hear ourselves, and this is a great way to get started. Before you get frustrated with yourself, you might do these exercises and hear nothing, and that’s okay, I’ll invite you to keep tuning in — you’re worth it.
- Do I want to do this thing or would I be doing it for another reason — like to control how others think about me aka people pleasing?
- What am I saying no to in my own life by saying yes to this?
- How much energy do I have and will saying yes fill my cup or not?
- What’s my self care been like today and this week? Am I tired or hungry or sad or lonely or otherwise not fully in myself and present?
- Is this offering in alignment with who I am and want to be in the world — my values, goals, beliefs?
Once you know you want to say no, remind yourself there is nothing to feel guilty about when you’re choosing to take care of yourself.
You can say no in a loving, gentle, kind way, and don’t need to excuse or explain your no. You simply get to state it, trusting that you’re doing so from self love and care for others. Remember, clear boundaries and limits are resentment prevention, and saying no up front is a deep act of kindness for yourself and the people in your life. Remember to be clear: “umm, I dunno maybe?” is not a loving answer, “no thank you,” is.
What does it look like to say a kind and loving nope?
- Thank you for the invite, I’m not available.
- I’m not joining any more book clubs right now.
- That’s not going to work for me, thanks.
- I’m unable to help with that project.
- I’m not taking on new projects right now.
When the person asking is beloved, it can feel like we need to explain, justify or excuse or no. While you don’t need to do that, you can remember that as challenging as it is for you to say no, it can be challenging for others to ask for help. I like to pause for empathy and compassion and I remind myself, being asked to be of service is a gift. I’m always grateful for it, even when I’m not available for it. Instead of feeling bad for saying no, I can focus on the gratitude — thanks for asking! I’m delighted you thought of me! It’s lovely you’d like my thoughts on your resume! I’m honored you’d like me to participate…. and I’m not available.
Finally, you can always offer what you are available for if you do want to be supportive in a way that works for you and prevents post facto resentment:
- I can’t stay over to help you the whole weekend but I could come Friday night until Saturday at noon.
- I’m not taking on new clients right now and can’t make an exception for your cousin, but my colleague Molly is — want her info?
- I’m not available to help with your move, and my neighbor’s teenagers were looking for some gig-work — want me to connect you with them?
- Helping you rewrite your website doesn’t fit into my schedule right now, and I would be happy to look over your homepage if you can get it to my end of day on Friday.
In all these statements you’re having your own back, you’re stating what you are and aren’t available for, and you’re being kind to yourself and the people you love. That is a beautiful thing, my tender pumpkin ravioli!
In closing, I want to remind you that it’s totally okay for you to say no — it really is. Truly.
It doesn’t mean you’re a bad or selfish person, or that you’re not generous or loving — just the opposite really.
I want to remind you that when you say yes to something you don’t want to do, you’re actually saying no to something you do want to do.
I think we forget that. When you’re making cupcakes for the whole third grade class, you’re not exercising, you’re not journaling, you’re not resting, you’re not recharging in silence or by talking to a friend. You’re actually saying no to you when you say yes to something you don’t want to do. If there is anything we need to focus on in our journey of overcoming codependency, it’s learning what we actually want, for ourselves, and learning to honor our wants and needs. When our desires matter to us, we can show up as our most loving selves with ourselves and the people in our lives.