I have a very good ‘friend’ who simply can’t say No to anything – be it going on a dinner date with people she can’t bear, being asked for the umpteenth time by a non- reciprocal friend to pick up her child from a team game or asked if she likes the sack-like garment her companion is wearing.
The fact of the matter is that she does it purely for altruistic motives – she doesn’t want to offend, in short, she wants to be liked. This is, I suspect true of a little bit of all of us. But, after years of this kind of behavior, she simply snapped and said No. And she found it so empowering that she said No again and again, and now no one asks her for anything, and she doesn’t have the worry of offending anyone.
But is this necessarily a good thing for her? Has the woman who for most of her life relied on others to ask her things to make her say Yes and be needed, now cut off her nose as life whirls on without her, and she is left feeling on the one hand empowered, but on the other hand disenfranchised.
We all do things out of duty. Let’s take an example. We are hurtling towards Christmas, the day where traditionally familial duty causes the most stressful period of the year. It is no coincidence that the bulk of divorce applications hit its annual peak in January. We may love our families, but all in one place on one day? And having to host disparate non life threatening culinary requirements – is Grandma this year a vegetarian who eats fish, or a vegetarian who will eat a little bit of meat? Who is gluten free this year? Who can’t eat chocolate, potatoes or will only eat chocolate potatoes? Who can’t drink anything but the sparkling wine you have been saving in the fridge, but can’t afford to bring a bottle? What presents do you buy? How much do you spend? How do you extricate yourself from the ‘but this is what we always used to do at Christmas’?
How in short, do you stand up and say ‘No’and not feel disenfranchised or ostracized? Not No to Christmas per se, but No to the infinite amounts of demands that undermine your sense of being. There is no point saying Yes to everyone if you are miserable about saying so – it genuinely reflects back, at some point. Do you wait until you simply snap and start saying No to everything, and then feel unhappy when no one asks your opinion? Or is there a way to gently introduce the idea of saying No, so that you can say it with confidence and truth?
Perhaps start a little slowly. ‘You know what? That dress doesn’t bring out the best in your figure. I really loved that blue dress you wore the other day. It brought out the colour of your eyes’. Or ‘I know you really love sitting in front of the telly for five hours over Christmas, but I thought this year we would play some board games – do you have any suggestions?’ Or ‘Why don’t we do a Secret Santa this year, it would be so much fun and save everyone some money?’
And when you are really confident , you can become the Machiavelli of No - and when that mother asks you yet again to pick up her child, smile sweetly and say ‘Of course I will. But would you do the same for me next week as I have an appointment? I am happy to provide the snacks as usual?’ It’s a Yes with a No, and a twist…
It may fail disastrously at first. It will take a while to come into effect.
And remember -failing all else, you could always go Toddler. Shout No, stamp your foot and run away.
I have found that this works with immediate effect.
(But you may need to sit on the Naughty Step with a glass of wine whilst other mothers eye you disapprovingly.)