I remember once in primary school (year 4 to be exact), a girl wanted to sit in the seat I was sitting in at lunchtime. I quickly jumped up to give her my seat – even though I was still eating and didn’t want to give my seat to her.
This wasn’t a one-time occurrence. I used to simply find it too hard to say “no” most of the time. This pressure of saying “yes” more times than I could count has followed me around my entire life.
However, it’s different from being pressured into doing something. So far, I’ve managed to maintain certain boundaries and stay within them, for religious, health and social reasons. The problem is finding it too difficult to say “no” to situations within my boundaries – something that I changed in 2021.
The desire to do something even though I didn’t really want to – for example, going to a cafe for lunch with friends even though I just wanted to stay at home – stemmed from being an over-eager beaver who jumps into everything.
I once declined to sit in a combined study area at university when a few friends asked me too – I wanted to get some focused work done so opted to stay in the silent study room. I ended up feeling guilty and moved to sit with them for the rest of the afternoon. I ended up getting no work done just because I didn’t want to feel bad.
I knew this was a problem – I couldn’t keep inconveniencing myself for the sake of others. My mum knew this too (she always knew that I was too eager to do things for others even when it’s difficult). At the end of last year, she sat me down and we had a conversation about the importance of saying no when I needed to. She always gives me solid advice, so to have her explain that I had to put myself first in certain situations gave me confidence.
This was why I’ve made it my resolution to start saying no to things I don’t want to do without the racing thoughts and guilt that comes with it – either because I’m not interested or I’m too tired, or it interferes with something I had already planned to do.
I’ve started small. For example, my friend asked me if I wanted to go and buy a meal deal with her for lunch. The old me would’ve bought one with her despite having brought lunch from home. I would’ve felt too bad for saying no to her. However, I said that I already bought lunch, but I didn’t mind making the trip to Tesco with her. Another time, a friend wanted me to stay up late to play a few games in the kitchen. However, after a day of back to back lectures and clinical sessions, I was too tired to even make my dinner! I was quietly pleased when I asked if we could rearrange to another day, because I didn’t want to force myself to play endless rounds of Uno while extremely tired.
I knew I’d kept to my resolution when I declined a dinner I was meant to go to with my flatmates. A day or two before, I realised that I had lots of work to catch up on and felt a little under the weather. I’d already gone out a few days before for lunch with a few of them too.
Despite constant pleading from my friends (and the slight guilt that came with cancelling on them), I felt quite pleased when I managed to decline the event without feeling too bad.
Saying no when it feels right has given me a massive boost to my confidence. I feel more in control of my life and the choices I make — if I don’t feel happy with a favour someone asks me to do I can say no when it starts to cross my boundaries. My mental health has definitely improved. I also feel more liberated and happy. I do the things I enjoy and make the best decisions for myself when I’m at work or with my friends.
It isn’t bad to say no to something if it makes you uncomfortable or if you don’t want to do it. It isn’t bad to say no to something if you don’t want to do it because it’s your life – and you’re in control of your steering wheel.