Imagine yourself snuggled in bed with an extra two hours before class, work, or any other obligation you might have. After a stressful week, the universe has finally blessed you with some free time. Next to you is your significant other, or maybe your roommate is out and you can freely blast your music. There is nothing for you to do, but be. Until your phone rings.
Hey, I need help. Can you give me a ride to work?
Suddenly this enraged sense of obligation weighs on you. Your friend has a habit of expecting rides. The carefree attitude you woke up with lasted a whole five minutes. You don’t always mind, but today you do. You start to ask yourself why you even have a car, or – if you’re dramatic like me – you already regret the permit you got when you were sixteen. The word “No” runs through your mind like a frequency.
Yeah sure, you write. Coming over now.
If outside this hypothetical scenario you are someone confident in using the word “no,” you’re probably thinking to yourself, Why don’t you just say it then? For some people, this is harder than it seems. That’s because some people understand the irrational guilt brought on by the word “no” and the discomfort in saying it. You’d also know the anger that comes along with watching people take advantage of you and feeling too weak to do anything about it. Maybe you know the vulnerability that comes with changing this habit, too.
For as long as I could remember I have been known as the “easy-going” friend, someone who doesn’t mind too much. It is in my nature to want to please others. However, this is not always a good thing, as this desire to help and please others turns me into a “pushover”. I was – and still am – no exception. After I graduated high school, I went to live and work away from home for the first time. It was an exciting time and I felt fortunate that I would be living with people working for the same organization. One of my roommates, Molly and I shared a room, while the other two were paired in a similar fashion.
Molly was a friendly Southern girl who also recently graduated high school. We hit it off well, until she began showing a selfish, demanding side. Molly was the type of person to stop whatever it was she was doing to let you know she was going to shower after seeing you walk in the bathroom with a towel on. Her mindset was “me first” and she was not shove others’ needs aside to get what she wanted.. Pair that quality with those of a light sleeper and she was the worst person to share a room with, let alone an apartment. (She couldn’t even sleep when someone was just out in the kitchen!) I always tip toed in the room, trying hard not to wake her, but she was always awake. One day, Molly presented the idea of having “lights out,” a time where we would both be in bed ready to sleep.
Now, at this time in my life I had no sense of when someone was asking for too much. Despite being slightly annoyed, I agreed and didn’t see the real issue of it the lights out policy. I felt obligated to make her feel comfortable. However, she did not feel the same way about me. To Molly, lights out meant no cell phone or laptop usage. She even got passive aggressive when I got up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, making snarky side comments. Of course, at the time she made sense of it when she explained it to me. Besides, I was able to sleep easily. Why shouldn’t I do what I can to make sure she can go to sleep? It wasn’t until I told my other two roommates about the original agreement that it made me see things clearer.
After speaking with my roommates, I started to get fed up with Molly. Her bedtime rules grew in number and in strictness, and she would often break them herself. When my other roommates asked me if Molly had “set a bedtime for me”, I knew this wasn’t right. Her mindset was ‘me-first’ and mine was doing whatever I could to please her. I wanted her to be comfortable, but I felt as if I was staying in her room. And I did let go a lot of the little annoyances that bothered me. Looking back on it, the entire situation seems childish now, but Molly controlled me like her puppet. She became so increasingly comfortable she replaced asking for favors with stating them. Phrases like ,“Hey, I’d really like it if the door was closed” became a cue for me. It’s not as if my other two roommates were annoyed with her, but the difference between them and myself was I put up with Molly.. She made me feel timid and small. After awhile, I started to ignore her and it helped, but I didn’t feel better. I never said no and yet I wanted to so badly.
The word “no” has a negative connotation attached to it. With too many “no’s” you’ll miss out on the adventure of a “yes”. However, be mindful of this; too many “yes’s” and you can lose yourself altogether. No says, “This is who I am and this is what I believe and I will not be influenced otherwise because these are my truths.” Saying no can also be your way of saying, “I will not accept this level of disrespect towards myself, I deserve better.” No keeps us from being stripped of our individuality and our moral.
I realized that I expect a lot less from people, than others do. I should expect more, but I must say, learning to say no when I am being asked a favor that I don’t always want to do is not selfish. Today, I am in my second year of college and unfortunately, old habits die hard. The absence of no in my vocabulary during this time has caused me deep grief for the person I could have been. I have let others guilt me into doing things I did not want to do, and worse guilt for not wanting to in the first place. I am learning that no one can make you feel guilty if you don’t let them. In the past, my guilt came from an obligation to say yes to requests if I could make time for it. I am learning that I define who I am and what I am not okay with. I also am learning that just because I can, doesn’t mean I have to. I am not obligated to do anything I don’t want to.
Recently, someone dear to me shared this quote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond our belief.” The most powerful word in this world is no, but it means nothing if you don’t mean it. Let the word make you stronger and work towards letting what you say yes and no to, be closely aligned to your personal morals and truths. If you have trouble saying the word, next time someone asks a favor of you, say no and see what comes of it.