Because of this, I would pretty much say "yes" to any request for help -- be it at work, school, or even with strangers. The distress that came with the possibility of disappointing someone else and therefore losing their favor was too much for me to bear. It didn't even matter who it was. Even people I quite despised mattered to me in terms of whether they liked me or not.
Perhaps this is because, as a child, I desperately sought the approval and love of those who weren't always kind to me. They were sometimes abusive and neglectful -- yet I desperately wanted them to love, like, and protect me.
Three years into Dialectical Behavior Therapy, I've been coming into my own more and learning and implementing ways to live more authentically and with more self-respect and care. While I will sometimes still feel pressured by that little voice inside that says it is critical and detrimental if someone becomes disappointed - or, heaven forbid, rejects or abandons me because I say "no" to a request, I've found that it's much more in my interest to take the risk, see that it usually does NOT result in a negative outcome, and that even if it does, I can evaluate the meaning of it through Wise Mind and not let it destroy my day, mood, or sense of self.
I'll give you an example. I am a writer, and in addition to this blog and my two books on BPD and DBT, I have a very part-time small business that involves providing writing services of all sorts. In addition, I started graduate school in January, which is incredibly time consuming and also involves a great deal of writing. To top it off, I will be co-facilitating an online DBT group starting later this month.
In the past week, I've had two requests, one from a friend from high school (who I haven't seen in nearly two decades but am connected to via Facebook) and a family member to do some editing and writing. One was a resume, the other for a personal issue. Neither offered money for my time and seemed to assume that I would drop everything to take on their requests. While I often have done just that -- charged nothing and dropped everything to help those I care about -- I realized early on that this was not a smart business model, and I couldn't keep up with it.
I offered to the friend that I would do the resume for a reduced rate and set some boundaries up about how I would need to receive the file information and communicate with her. Immediately, I was overwhelmed with incredibly long emails and pressure to talk by phone, which I had already expressed was not comfortable for me at this time.
I ended up sending an email letting her know that I realized I was taking on more than I could handle right now and would be unable to help her. I took a risk that wouldn't have been possible years ago. I would have been terrified that this friend of the past would hate me and never talk to me again. Now, I see this boundary setting as a healthy limit that I had to set up in order to take care of myself, which is not a selfish thing! Spreading ourselves so thin that we can't even get our own needs met by taking on too much helps no one.
By the time the conversation came up with the family member, I didn't have to beat around the bush. I felt a sense of confidence in having practiced being assertive and was able to say, "I totally want to help you, but I just can't right now. " (Side note: the information that she wanted to share with me was potentially triggering.) She began to interrupt, "But let me just tell you what it is. So, basically..." I cut her off. In the past, I would feel plagued by guilt and fear that if I didn't let her finish, she would hate me. This time, I chose to take that risk, my Wise Mind knew it was very low, and choose self-care.
"I'm so sorry," I said. I know this must be hard for you, but I can't take on the project in this moment, and I can't hear this information right now. She said, "Will you please let me know when you are able to, then?" I told her yes. "Can I just send you the files now so you can look them over?" she pressed. "No, I'll let you know when I 'm ready, and you can send them then." "Okay." And, the conversation switched to something else.
Things may not always go that smoothly. Some people will not be as understanding and may be upset and completely thrown off my your response, especially if they are used to you saying "yes" to everything, even at the cost of self-sacrifice of your own time and health.
As you continue to practice the Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills of Interpersonal Effectiveness, you will grow stronger in your ability to interpret, prioritize, and cope with these situations.
My experience is evidence that it works!
Do you have a difficult time saying "no"? If so, why? What are the fears around this? What are you afraid will happen?
Talk about a time when you were assertive, how it worked out, and how felt.
Thanks for reading.
PS...If you continue to perceive yourself as being walked all over, you may build resentment, as I talk about in this post, "From Doormat to Bitch in 5 Seconds Flat." It's better to notice and cope with passiveness rather than let it build up.