Why is it so hard to say “no?” The word “no” was our first form of discipline. We were definitely taught the meaning of “no” in our childhoods, but when we became adults, the word “no” became extinct in our vocabularies (unless we used it to discipline our own children). How interesting that as children, we must obey the word “no,” but as adults we are chastised for even thinking of the possibility of giving into the meaning and expression of “no.”
In many instances, my patients ask me for permission to say “no” to inconsiderate friends, family members, co-workers and supervisors. They have finally become tired of being treated like emotional punching bags, but don’t know what to do. Not only do I have to give my patients permission to say “no,” I have learned the importance of giving me, myself and I, the permission to say “no” and to set boundaries, as well.
For me, a boundary is something that a person will or will not tolerate. Some types of boundary-setting are not so easy for a counselor. For example, what does a counselor do about a patient who “drops the bomb” at the end of a session, bringing up important information that should have been raised at the beginning of our discussion?
What about the patient who seems to have waited too long to get counseling and wants to talk with this counselor for more than the allotted time of the appointment? This is especially difficult when another person is in the waiting room, patiently awaiting his/her appointment.
How amazing that when people set boundaries and ask for respect, they may be viewed as being mean and unreasonable. It seems to me that the world is composed of givers and takers. I have noticed that the more people give of themselves, the more others expect them to give. Takers embrace entitlement and are in denial of taking advantage of others. They don’t seem to realize (or want to realize) that other people may be experiencing hardship.
At first, givers are rewarded with kudos from others who celebrate their ability to handle problem situations. What a compliment! How nice it is to feel needed and respected for these skills and talents! After awhile, the more a person gives, the more he/she is expected to give and soon, resentment develops.
Just as no one should be too selfish, it is not healthy to be too unselfish. Unselfish individuals may find themselves in the role of martyr, so busy giving to others that soon there is nothing left to give. By ignoring themselves, givers may succumb to illness, and mental and emotional distress.
And what about that powerful, negative emotion of guilt? No doubt, the word “guilt” was created to explain how lousy we feel when we do something “bad.” Of course, “bad” and “good” are subjective. The word “guilt” may have been helpful in explaining and creating conscience. However, I need to explode the myth that it is just Italian and Jewish mothers who are so “good at guilt!”
I have also found that people, who finally stand up for themselves and do the right thing, feel guilty about it! Quite frankly, guilt doesn’t really accomplish much of anything. I have learned that the word “regret” works so much better! I would rather regret having to say or do something, as opposed to feeling guilty about my behavior.
Sometimes people are uncertain of their newfound courage to validate themselves as human beings. They may find their new behavior foreign and awkward. I just tell them to give it time, and to take baby steps. Before they know it, the “freedom to be me” provides affirmation for their existence! It feels so liberating, that they wonder why they didn’t do something sooner!
I know that I will continue to provide permission to patients to “just say no” (diplomatically, of course), even if other family members, friends, demanding co-workers or supervisors don’t want them to achieve dignity and positive self-regard. I will also continue to eradicate the word “guilt.” I know there is a better way to develop a healthy conscience! And, I will continue to help people realize that they have the right to be treated with respect, and not feel regret about the need for taking good care of themselves!