Saying No (Kindly) And Then Letting Go
Is it challenging for you to say no without feeling bad, anxious, and uncomfortable? If so, you may be taking unhealthy responsibility for others. Doing so exhausts you mentally, physically, and emotionally, and gets you stuck in depleting relationships with people who fail to take enough responsibility.
Unhealthy responsibility is not about being too loving or too giving. You can be very supportive and generous to others and still be responsibly healthy. Unhealthy responsibility for others comes into play when you start believing that you are responsible for controlling how other people react when you say ‘no.’
The ‘no’ could be something minor or something major. It could be your saying to your girlfriend ‘no, I don’t want to go out to dinner tonight,’ or saying to your child ‘no, you can’t have an iPhone,’ or saying to your mother, ‘no, we’re not coming at Christmas this year,’ or saying to your spouse, ‘no, I don’t want to be married to you anymore.’ These ‘no’s’ may bring a range of reactions, from ‘sure, no problem’, to ‘I hate you,’ to ‘if you divorce me I will make your life hell forever.’
But ask yourself: Does it make sense for you to be responsible for how others react to your ‘no’? Let’s explore this idea. Imagine if your neighbor knocked on your door and told you that he is so hurt and upset whenever you close your blinds that he is going to throw a rock through your window every time he sees the blinds are closed. What’s more, he says, it will be your fault for shutting him out like that.
If you agree with his logic, you are in a bind. You can leave your blinds open and feel uncomfortable and unsafe in your own home, or you can close your blinds and be the one to blame if you get rocks thrown through your window.
Ridiculous, isn’t it? But that is exactly the crazy distortion about responsibility that you might get pulled into within your relationships. Breaking your patterns of unhealthy responsibility means challenging those distortions and becoming clear about what is your job, and what is NOT your job:
It is your job to decide when to say no.
It is your job to say no when it reflects your careful consideration of your own needs and the needs of others. For example, your thoughts may be that ‘I don’t want to go to Christmas at my mother’s, and neither do my children, but my mother wants us there. This year I’ll say no, and then perhaps next year I’ll say yes.’