Why saying no is the only way to choose yes

by Elliot Lyons

Until recently, I had a lot of trouble saying no. I’m naturally someone who wants to please people because I like being useful to others.

And that’s not a bad thing but it’s a problem when it becomes our entire identities, leaving us no choice but to lend a hand even when it’s not the best thing for us. 

We can say no and disappoint while still being supportive, but we can’t truly say yes until we know that saying no won’t be the end of the world. 

So, how did I get to a point where I could make saying no a true choice?

I had a relationship into which I put everything and it still fell apart in an instant. I was there for her whenever she needed it and did whatever I had to do to help her fight her eating disorder. It wasn’t until she decided to suddenly leave did I realize that I couldn’t make her better. A good deal of time after that I realized it didn’t end because of something I did wrong—no matter what I had done, it would have ended that way.

I was emotionally exhausted after that relationship, which made me focus on what I really needed because I had no choice. I was so torn down that I had to fight to function, to just get out of bed, eat, leave the apartment, to move.

I was in a position where I had to choose my emotional destiny if I wanted to recover. This meant excluding certain things, people, and things people asked me to do.  And it’s not that friends became enemies, it’s that I was learning to not focus on others at the expense of myself, something that’s a continuing process.

Balancing self-care with being a thoughtful, compassionate human being is difficult. What’s helped me become more comfortable saying no is something that may come across as counterintuitive: sometimes, in situations where I can easily do something, I say no.

I don’t do it because it’s okay to not do something because you don’t want to do it. Every time we say no, it doesn’t have to be a big, reasoned answer.

Saying no in these situations made it easier in general because the hardest thing for me to do was to say no in a situation where I could have easily said yes.

During the hard times where I have to choose between dealing with other people’s problems and giving myself a break, I have an easier time protecting myself because I’ve not only seen the alternative but I know what I do do is okay. And I know the only way I’ll be able to support anyone else is to give myself the attention I need.


For more on setting boundaries, check this out.  



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