I’ve been struggling with this one forever.
I’ve been taught that love means sacrifice. Love means being there whatever. Putting others before yourself.
So when I find myself unpacking the dishwasher for the umpteenth time this week, in a time when I’m not only working three client jobs, taking evening calls and trying to deliver a charity project I volunteered for, the shine from my halo ratchets my indignation up to point 8.9.
Before I go for my usual snide comments, early jabs, cold shoulder treatments, no-one appreciates me diatribe, a small voice pipes up:
“No-one asked you to.”
In the case of the dishwasher, you too would like to eat your cereal with an actual spoon and not a fork. In the other cases, you shouldn’t have volunteered or said no.
So why didn’t you?
Playing the martyr is a difficult place to be. I’ve known it well. Without proper boundaries you can get trapped there betraying yourself time and again, secretly expecting something in return for your suffering.
Learning to say no is one of the best places to start.
It’s important to look at why it’s so difficult. What does saying no mean to you? A simple way to explore is just writing it down under the heading “Saying no means…”
Saying no means I don’t care. You’re not important. I’m more important. I don’t love you. I’m missing out. I’m not capable. I’m not enough. I’ve failed in some way. I’m a bad person. I’m being difficult. I’m being aggressive. You might hate me. You won’t hear me anyway…
Whoa. Where did that come from? Does the same apply to someone who says no to me? Does that impact how I deal with rejection? Something to think on.
It was clear to me I need to reclaim some personal power and a re-frame was needed. Findings from the journal of consumer research suggested looking at the language of my self talk. Changing “I can’t” to “I don’t”.
They use the example of a person tempted on a diet. “Would you like ice cream?”
Those that answered “I can’t eat ice cream,” were more likely to give in under pressure than those who said “I don’t eat ice cream,” as they were exerting their own choice.
In the same way, if some one asks you “Can you help me with with the shop this weekend?” You could, but it’s not about ‘could’, but ‘should’ most of the time. Answering; Sorry I don’t work on weekends or don’t work when I’m on a project or when the kids are home, is more likely to stick.
I’m a work in progress with this technique, although I’m definitely changing my internal dialogue, I decided more drastic action was needed.
If I can’t set sustainable expectations then I’m not going to be able to meet them.
The thing I’m agreeing to almost always takes more time and energy than I first anticipate. Eventually I will drop the ball. I will let someone down.
Saying ‘yes’ makes me feel good. I like being someone who always tries to help where they can. Who wouldn’t. The fact that by saying yes I might be causing more harm than good, wasn’t a comfortable place to be.
Was going back on my word worse than saying no in the first place? Hell yes.
In the recruitment industry, like many, integrity is key and not common place. It is something I’ve wrapped around myself like a cloak of personal vanity.
In order to move forward something had to give.
I recently had an exploratory conversation with a potential client. It was a piece of work I could do, but didn’t want to take on board at this particular time. They were a referral. I felt I would be letting two parties down; them and the individual who had recommended me. Double whammy. I had tried to say no in a washy washy I’m busy, I’ll see what I can do kind of way, but had completely collapsed by the end of the call agreeing initially in principle.
Normally I would have just got it done. Sucked it up. Sacrificed myself, my time, my kid’s time.
I broke the pattern. I called them back and told them no. That I was sorry, but after consideration, it wasn’t something I could commit to. I backed out.
It was physically painful. I felt sick. I never ever want to do it again. You know the drill, you’ve let me down, you’ve let the team down and worst of all you’ve let yourself down.
I got back up. Of course the intention was that this would help me say no first time round, but, it was also important to know that the world still revolved. I wasn’t irreplaceable.They found someone else and I found a new resilience I never knew I had.
Maybe I could put the halo away after all?
One boundary up. Several more to go…
Image altered but original: Photo Credit