‘No' Is A Complete SentenceSusan Andrews

One of the most used words in the English language is ‘No’. In fact, it’s so popular that it holds a place as one of the top 100 most used words. It’s easy to spell, easy to pronounce and easy to understand.

For a two-letter word, ‘No’ certainly holds a lot of power. I don’t know any other two-letter word that can be a complete sentence, a declaration and an exercise in standing up for myself. So why is it so hard for me to say it?

I’m known to go out of my way for my friends and family, probably sometimes to a fault. When someone asks me for a favor I can’t help but say ‘Yes’. I feel great being trusted and needed. If someone asks for my help, I want to be there.

I didn’t mind that much because I was helping someone. I guess it was instilled in me at an early age to always be helpful whenever possible. But as I got older, I wondered, where do I draw the line?

Over the years it became increasingly difficult for me to carve out a life and a career for myself when I had so many requests for favors coming in. And most of the time these requests were from fair-weather friends.

Before I knew it, my weekend plans were filled with helping people move, running errands for elderly neighbors or seeing a movie with someone just because they didn’t want to see it alone. Then these requests turned into more time-consuming activities, like driving an hour and a half to my mother’s friend’s house to wallpaper a bedroom. And I hate to wallpaper.

It was hard to tell the difference between a sincere need for help and what was simply an easy solution for them to get free labor. If they threw in a little guilt and a story of hardship, they had me hook, line and sinker.

And the worst part? I was missing out on things I really wanted to do. Those things that recharged my batteries were swept aside each time I said ‘Yes’ to helping out one of those fair-weather friends. “Of course I’ll help you if it makes your life easier. I can just TiVo the Emmys and iron my work clothes after midnight when I get home. No problem.”

After feeling burnt out from being everyone’s go-to helper, I realized I had a problem setting my own priorities, making boundaries and taking time for myself.

After years of being the ‘Yes’ person, I was disgruntled. I didn’t want to spend my whole Saturday driving an hour away to visit someone out of obligation. Nor did I want to help a cousin clean her house when she could easily do it herself or simply hire a cleaning service.

But what was it that really kept me doing all those things that I didn’t want to do? The answer is simple: guilt. When someone asked for a favor I had this unrelenting sense of guilt if I even thought of turning them down.

After all, what was I going to do this Saturday that was more important? Just watch a movie I’ve been looking forward to seeing, try out that new recipe or polish my toes. You know what I finally realized? Guilt is a waste of energy.

It’s okay to say ‘No’ just because I want to stay home and take a bubble bath. I’m not the only person who can help out in a situation. And I shouldn’t be expected to just drop my plans every time. Of course I’m not talking about an emergency. When my friend cut her finger in a brave attempt at deboning a fish, I was there in a heartbeat to drive her to the ER. If you’re in real trouble, I’m your gal.

I admit I felt guilty when I first started saying ‘No’. This exercise in freedom was tough. But I discovered when I said ‘No,’ the world didn’t come to an end.

What did happen was that I started to enjoy my weekends a lot more. I took time to relax and just be. I allowed myself time to replenish before Monday rolled around. And those people, most of whom were not my really good friends, just went to the next sucker seeking their help. Half the time I wondered why they couldn’t just do the work themselves and spare everyone time and energy.

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  1. I’ve been learning this lesson more and more over the past year. It’s so hard to say no, especially when you’ve spent so ,long saying yes. But, it’s so necessary for my own sanity. Thanks for posting this! It’s great to find someone else who feels this way. :)

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  3. I’ve felt like this a couple of times… Especially at work. I’ve learned to say no more often, but I still feel bad about it and feel like what I want to do (watch my favourite shows that I miss during the week due to working late, doing my laundry, drawing) isn’t important… :( I am glad other people feel like this too…

    BTW, for me the worst was highschool: If someone wanted something from me (homework, help cleaning the classroom) I simply never could say no. And the ultimate horror for me was when I’d have a fight with someone and would finally say my opinion, and afterwards that person would be mad at me – I simply couldn’t stand that and would end up apologising even if what we were fighting about wasn’t my fault! (I’ve since learned not to do that every time, but still feel awful if someone is mad at me or doesn’t like me and I don’t know how to fix it / why they are.)

  4. It felt like I was reading something I had written about myself and had forgotten about. I am in the process of feeling better about saying no now. That guilt is a harsh, deep-seeded thing, but it feels so nice realizing that saying ‘no’ is not the end of the world–feels real nice.

    Great post.

  5. I used to be a “yes” person and I grew to resent the demands on my time. So I turned into a “no” person. What amazed me was the number of people who expected me to justify my refusal! People I met clubbing, friends of friends, people to whom I owed nothing! I resented that even more and I got madder and madder until instead of saying “no” I started saying “NO!” Now I’m “that b***h” to them.

    But my health is bad (open heart surgery and severe respiratory problems) and moderate to severe depression, all of that exacerbated by my lack of time for myself. None of these “friends” couldn’t even be bothered to drive me home from the hospital (5 mile round trip). I ended up having to stay an extra night in the hospital, the doctor wouldn’t release me unless I had someone picking me up. So I figure I just don’t owe them a da. . . .rn thing.

  6. Susan, I absolutely loved this article! Goodness, how I can relate—is it guilt? Yes, most certainly. I can tell you that, at 31, I’m in a similar situation and burned out describes it exactly–it ranges from tackling extra assignments at work to logging extra hours on the phone or the road and what begins as a burst of energy and willingness, usually ends, (a few months down the road, with me sick, exhausted, and generally in a bad mood). Do you think we women have more trouble with this, not just from guilt, but because for some reason we’re finding too much or our worth in sacrificing for others to such a degree that we ignore ourselves? Who knows, but either way, thank you for this article. It was exactly what I needed today. So, YES to you!