Last week I unintentionally opened somewhat of a Pandora’s box when I introduced The Habit of Saying No.
It seems I touched a nerve – a very raw nerve – with a number of readers calling to share their stories of how not acquiring The Habit of Saying No has played, and continues to play, a troubling role in their relationships with friends, family and colleagues.
I listened to numerous examples and, while each one reinforced to me why The Habit of Saying No is a prerequisite for a happy life, there were two stories that I believe most readers can identify with and, with permission of both callers, I would like to share their stories.
The first of these was related to me by a young mother of two. She and her husband have been married for seven years and she lived at home with her parents until the day of her wedding. For the first year of their marriage they lived in an apartment just two blocks from her parent’s home and they soon developed the habit of having dinner every Sunday evening at that home with her parents.
Shortly after their second anniversary she became pregnant and they purchased a house across the city, about a 30-minute drive from her parents.
What they did not do once they moved into their new home was to let her parents know that the family dinners, as enjoyable and appreciated as they were, would no longer take place every Sunday but rather, randomly from time to time, when doing so was convenient for all parties.
Her pregnancy was a difficult one and they spent time at her parent’s home meaning that Sunday dinners continued “9 out of 10 weeks” as they had before.
She gave birth to a beautiful, healthy boy and some 18 months later added a baby girl to her tribe.
A first child always brings many changes in the home and the second adds even more, but the one thing that did not change was the expectation of her parents that they would all show up for dinner every Sunday.
On those occasions when she attempted to explain to her mother why they would be skipping a particular Sunday, her mother always pointed out how disappointed she would be, having looked forward all week to seeing the kids and grandkids, and was there any possible way they could squeeze in just a little time to spend with them?
She loves her parents dearly and knows that they truly enjoy her company and that of her family. She knows that Sunday dinners at her parent’s home without her family being present is certainly not the same for her parents and leaves them feeling somewhat empty.
She also realizes that her primary responsibility is to her family and there are times when they would like to just stay home on a Sunday and relax, prepare for the week, spend time with their kids. Or perhaps have friends over for a barbecue or a visit or just do anything other than visit her parents.
It is not that she does not want to see her parents but sometimes there are conflicting interests and yet she finds herself convincing her husband to load the kids in the car and drive across town for dinner every Sunday because, saying no just brings pain and disappointment to her parents.
She has not realized that by never saying no to her parents she is always saying no to herself and her family.
The other story is a bit more sinister as it involves a workplace situation that is causing great deal of anguish for the caller.
Sadly, I believe this story to be quite common as I frequently hear different versions.
As he describes it, he works for a boss who knows no boundaries and has no respect for the personal lives of his staff.
His boss will routinely call him at 5 PM, at, the supposed end of the workday, to “request” a task requiring several hours work, to be completed by 8 AM the following morning.
That same boss will, without hesitation, send an email at 10:30 on Sunday night again “requesting” a report be prepared and available for presentation at 7:00AM:00 the next morning.
As unpalatable as this is, there is obvious risk in approaching a boss to discuss the inappropriateness of his behaviour.
On the other hand, saying nothing is a form of positively reinforcing the behavior, thereby ensuring it will continue.
In both of these examples saying no comes with a price and the question we always need to ask ourselves is whether we are willing to pay this price or continue with the price we are presently paying.
The Habit of Saying No, albeit a powerful one, does come with a consequence and if we are unwilling to deal with the consequence we need to explore a way to find peace with the existing status quo because if we fail to do so, we expose ourselves to the long-term damage caused by unresolved anger and ongoing stress.
The Habit of Saying No may well provide the solution to this dilemma but only once we realize how much harm we are doing by constantly saying no to ourselves each time we say yes to all those expectations placed on us by others.
The Habit of Saying No will always bring freedom to our lives but it may take some time before we can truly appreciate and enjoy our newfound autonomy.
Sometimes it’s a tough choice but almost always, it’s a worthwhile one.
Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.