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Dear Christine, Guilty in Garden City

  • Posted on May 30, 2017 at 9:33 am

Dear Christine,

I have trouble saying no! A friend calls and says, let’s meet for dinner, I say yes even though I’ve had a rough day and would rather stay home. My kids volunteer me for all kinds of stuff at their schools and I always make it happen even if I wish someone else would step up. I’ve been asked out on dates with people that I am not interested in dating, and I say yes and then it’s harder to say, not interested, later.

I do like helping people and I don’t want to complain or seem selfish, but I’m feeling over burdened lately and just plain tired. How can I say no sometimes without feeling guilty?

Guilty in Garden City

Dear Guilty,

Like many women in our society, you are good at giving, giving and giving, and you’re so good at it that people come to expect you to just keep giving, giving and giving. No one is wondering how it’s affecting you, because you will give till you drop, and they are used to that. However, just because you’ve been one way all your life, doesn’t mean you can’t change! The bottom line, is however you treat yourself, you are then teaching other people to treat you the same way. No, even though you give to them selflessly, they are not inspired to return the favor. That’s a subtle and manipulative deal that you may have accepted, but they may be completely unaware that anything is expected from them toward you! So, you have to find a way to figure out what your NEEDS are, not WANTS. Needs are like water, air, food, shelter. You can’t live without them. Wants are things you fit in because you enjoy them or value them. But they don’t keep you alive. Some needs you can go a long time without, such as food. But air is something you have to have every minute or two! You have loving friends and family who probably appreciate all you do, but have gotten so used to your routine help that it has become an expectation. If you decide that you NEED a nap and can’t help a friend move, or that you NEED to stay home and relax after a hard day, then you NEED to take care of you first and foremost. If you don’t, absolutely no one else will. Why? Not because they don’t care or don’t love you, but because they don’t have the inside track to how you feel physically, emotionally, financially or socially. If you always say yes, they probably assume you are gregarious, outgoing and love being busy and surrounded by others. And that might still be true, but there still may be a time here and there that you NEED to say no, to get your sleep, relax or just be. Here’s a tip. As you start to say no (try it out and see how you feel. Write in a journal about how it feels; what is hard about it, where do you succeed, and when do you cave in to others; what are the triggers that get you saying “yes” when you NEED to say no? You WILL feel guilty. Lots of guilt. And probably your friends and family will pile on the guilt too. Not because they don’t love you, but because they are used to you taking care of them and they don’t want you to stop. So it kills you? Then they’ll feel guilty, but not until then. So you feel guilty? Spare me! Save guilt for doing something really wrong, like carjacking or robbing a bank. THOSE are actions that deserve guilt as a response. Taking care of you is your one responsibility as an adult and no one else can do it for you. No one else knows exactly what you are experiencing moment to moment. And if you have trouble figuring out what you need, imagine how much harder it is for your friends and family, who don’t want you to change. Tell them before saying no something to prepare them for the changes you are about to start. Tell them you are more tired these days than you used to be (I know that one is true for me, age hits us all) and that you will be saying no, not to be mean or heartless, but to focus a bit more on taking care of you. They don’t have to like the timing of your saying no and taking a nap when they want your assistance, but they don’t have to like it. As you have already experienced, doing everything for everyone else hasn’t made them happy either! Because happiness comes from within. It’s an attitude we create. You can’t create someone else’s happiness, so that’s a losing proposition. So go forth boldly, taking care of you. Make a list of your NEEDS. Then, tell your friends your plan to pull back, so they aren’t shocked. Then, try saying no. Take that nap, and see how you feel after, refreshed and energized, calm and quiet inside. Keep me posted and let me know how it is going. This is going to be a process for you, not something you master in 3 weeks.

Christine C. Cantrell

 Christine C. Cantrell, PhD
1026 W. 11 Mile Rd,
Suite C
Royal Oak, MI 48067

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