All the giving-in, all the compromising in her relationship with Tom came from Jane. Pretty soon, no matter how absurd Tom’s whims, or how uncomfortable for her, Jane was saying “yes” to everything. Her fear that he’d walk out made her want to buy his loyalty with silence and acquiescence.
In other words, since Jane felt insecure in her relationship with Tom, her actions ensured her own insecurity in the relationship. Because she was not speaking up for herself.
Larry was so worried his co-workers wouldn’t like and trust him that he decided to be the “go to” guy for any and all requests. He’d be sure everything got done and he’d take things off other people’s plates until his was so jammed that he was miserable. He was already overworked and soon his job reviews suffered. There was no way he could do it all, despite his good intentions. Not knowing how to say “NO” made him seem like the ideal guy to those around him, but he crashed and burned. Worth it? I don’t think so.
When Tammy, a caretaker by nature, became a mother, she lost sight of her own boundaries. In taking care of the needs of her family, she forgot her own. She did not think it was okay to say, “I can’t bake cookies with you right now because I am going to have coffee with my friends.” Or, “I was planning on a quiet weekend and catching up on my reading, so no sleepover with your 6 best friends this time.” Because she thought that saying “yes” is equal to making people happy, and she wanted her family to be happy, she forgot about “no.”
For each of these people, and for millions more, the truth is inside them. The truth they are not accessing is this: “I am worthy. I deserve to take care of my own needs. My value is not dependent on the approval of others.” They don’t live that truth if they do not speak up for themselves.
We are all born knowing how to ask for—and get—what we want. No newborn in the world will hesitate to cry if his tummy is empty or his diaper full. He’s not thinking, “Well what if they don’t like me?” But even a young child can learn quickly how NOT to speak up for himself if his needs are not met, or not met regularly enough, or met only resentfully. We need to unlearn whatever it is that we have learned that deafens us to the truth inside of us—that we are deserving.
If you or someone close to you does not know how to speak up, there are several reasons that may be so.
- Parental example—not to be underestimated. If you grew up seeing one of your parents (typically but not always the one who shares your gender) having trouble speaking up for him/herself, you learned from your first and best teacher
- People pleasing—like Larry, we want others to like and accept us
- Fear of negative responses—like Tammy, many would rather avoid the reaction our “no” might elicit
- Fear of abandonment—Jane was so afraid of losing Tom that she bent over backward, at her own expense
- Feelings of unworthiness—this is usually at the root of all of the above. Fragile self-esteem is not a lifetime curse. Check out my blog on this subject – How to Improve Your Self-Esteem. But this is for real: when you know how worthy you are, you will find that it becomes easier to speak your truth out loud.
So what happens when we don’t speak up for ourselves? When our boundaries are constantly breached due to our inability to be clear about what they are?
When we just need time/space/anything to ourselves for a little while and we have forgotten how to ask for it? Here are some options:
- Resentment. Ah, resentment is like acid to a relationship. It eats away with sarcastic remarks, bitter grudges, and martyred feelings. The consequences of an honest truth are far less dangerous than resentment.
- Anger. Do you find you, or your partner, are freaking out over… well, nothing much? These sudden outbursts, like unforeseen volcanoes spewing hot ash all over you both, come from somewhere. The unspoken truth goes underground and when it erupts, watch out.
- Negative self-talk. If you think about the effects over time of suppressing your own truth, you’ll see that what can happen is a genuine erosion of your belief in yourself, as well as your belief in a hopeful future. You feel trapped inside a prison of your own making and you will continue the cycle by telling yourself lies such as, “I’m a loser” or “I don’t deserve better” or “This is the best it will be” and so forth. What we tell ourselves every day creates our entire being—and our actions, which then confirm that very belief. Vicious cycle.
- Stress. All of the above is terribly unhealthy. The stress of living under that kind of volcanic pressure day in and day out has very real consequences on your health. This cannot be overstated. Learning how to speak up for yourself could mean the difference between joyful longevity and declining health. (10 Health Problems Related to Stress That You Can Fix)
- Depression. One of the biggest health risks to someone whose personal feelings and actions are out of alignment—aka someone who is not speaking up for him or herself—is depression. Not to be messed with. And certainly not what you deserve. You deserve to live your life joyfully and attuned to your highest good.
I don’t want to scare you, and here’s why you should feel encouraged, not worried: there are solutions and you can get control over this situation!
When are you at most risk of saying yes? (When your husband wants to choose the vacation spot yet again? (But it matters to him SO MUCH.) When your boss says, “It won’t be much more work, I swear?” (But what if she fires me?) When your kids demand you drive them 45 miles at midnight to get the next issue of their favorite book series? (It’s so great that they love to read!)
Okay, got it? Now that you know where you are most likely to default to YES, SAY NO. Just once. At first. Try it on for size.
So if you need more incentive than that, take a minute to decide what is in your best interest. Take the time you need to face the truth within you: your needs are legitimate.
And practice saying no. Rehearse if it helps. And then just go for it.
- “We can go to Reykjavik to hike the glaciers next year. This year: Paris. Okay, honey?”
- “I am not contractually obligated to write Fred’s reports for him. I am happy to help him out when I have time, but right now my plate is full and I won’t be able to take that on.”
- “I am so happy that you are excited about volume 13 of that awesome sci-fi series, but we can get it on Monday, or feel free to order it on-line. I need my sleep.”
This is all about setting boundaries. Remember they keep you healthy and they are also good for everyone else too. If spouse/boss/offspring know what your boundaries are, they’ll be more comfortable too. Believe me, this is true.
Telling someone what you want to do, where you want to go, what you expect or desire or long for—when you are unused to doing so—will be uncomfortable. At first. Saying no when you’ve said yes a million times might feel scary, but you can do it. And it gets easier with practice.
Expect some resistance at first. But stay firm, and calm. What are the consequences if your needs aren’t met? Knowing those, though you may not ever have to speak them aloud, will keep you on track.
When your needs are met, your boundaries firm, and your expectations clear, you will be a stronger, healthier you, able to genuinely support others from a place of love and genuine desire, not obligation, guilt, or fear.