To quote Tina Fey’s geniusly played character on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, “Some people are scared of conflict, but… it gets shit done.” She’s right. Conflict, when managed appropriately, gets shit done. I often use this space to talk about how to effectively manage conflict and what it looks like when conflict is mismanaged. I’d like to take a minute to sing the praises of the conflict itself. And what better way to find yourself in conflict than when you say “no”?
You and I both know you don’t want to spend 20 minutes listening to your neighbor talk about his kids when you’re just trying to get into your house after a long day. You don’t want to stay late to work on the work thing that everyone else has blown off any more than I do. And you don’t want to accept the disrespectful treatment from that friend who is a friend, but more of a nuisance. And you and I also know that we’ve said yes to all of these things. We’ve listened to the neighbor, put in work that everyone else has shirked, and accepted the disrespect for a lot of reasons. It felt easier than setting a boundary; we wanted to people-please; we didn’t know how not to engage in the first place. It’s simple, but it’s not always easy, especially at first. You have to say no. There’s no way around it.
When you accept treatment you don’t want; you’re saying to yourself and others, “You don’t have to respect me. I don’t respect me either. I’m more concerned with being accepted by you than I am with liking myself.” That’s a dissatisfying and precarious way to live. Frankly, it’s a perfect recipe for resentment.
And I get it. You might be thinking, “Ok, but if I respected myself I wouldn’t have a problem saying ‘no’ in the first place.” And you’re right. There’s no easy answer here. You just have to start saying “no.” Start anywhere. When your neighbor starts talking to you, greet him but tell him you’ll have to catch him later. Stand up for yourself at work and say that you can’t stay late either or that you don’t want to be the only person working on the project. Assert yourself with your nuisance-friend and tell him you’re not going to go out of your way to give him rides anymore.
We accept subpar treatment because some part of us believes that we deserve it. Start showing yourself that you deserve respect. Show yourself how good it feels when you assert your needs.
I also want to be respectful of what might have made you feel that you’re not allowed to say “no” or that when you do it’s not heard. Trauma can make us feel like it’s not safe to say “no” or that it won’t matter if we do because, at some point, this was true. We keep living as if it continues to be true. Whether it’s childhood abuse, domestic violence, bullying, implicit messaging from parents or other impactful relationships, there are many roads that could have led us to say “yes” when we’d rather say “no.” Working through this requires effort, and it’s totally possible to get there.
If you’d like to be able to set your boundaries and access your self-respect, I’d love to help you.
Get yourself to a place where you can set a boundary because you know your experience and feelings matter. Get yourself to a place where you trust yourself enough to say “no.”
Love and Be Loved,