Saying No and Self-Worth

Over the past few decades, much has been written about using this little word “No”. Yet the difficulty of uttering it seems largely undiminished.

If anything, the pressure to say “Yes” seems greater than ever. “Yes” to work objectives, to last-minute requests, to a host of things that will allegedly be “good for our development”, to aims of personal fitness and appearance, to the ever-changing needs of children, relationships and friends, to lifelong learning preparing for an ever more uncertain future. That’s a lot of Yes Pressure.

In order to make a choice of any kind, we need to feel entitled to make that choice in the first place. This often is the nub of the problem. A person doesn’t feel entitled to say No: they don’t really feel they have a choice. In their eyes the next need presents itself as a Must Do—a bit like paying the rent or the mortgage.

In my own case, this lack of entitlement has often been the product of self-esteem living. “I’m okay with me if…” Because self-esteem requires conditions to be fulfilled, it’s very easy to see the world through the lens of obligation. Obligations to clients, boss, family, et cetera. Even obligations to myself, such as “I need to finish this article this morning!”

Needless to say, certain people are very good at spotting those of us who have a deep sense of Overwhelming Obligation. You know that phrase: “If you want something done, give it to a busy man”? I used to think that this was a compliment to the “busy man”… I now understand this compliment from a very different perspective 🙂 That busy man probably suffers from a deep sense of Overwhelming Obligation.

Self-worth puts us back in a position of choice. As there are no conditions to be fulfilled, we can say Yes and No with a new freedom. Sure, there may be consequences, but we trust our power to deal with those. Above all, we are not willing to sacrifice our health or our loved ones for the sake of someone else’s passing priorities.

The way in which we say No is still significant. But it’s just the part of the iceberg that’s above the waterline. The deeper, larger part of the iceberg lies below the water and this is very much about our relationship with ourselves.

Just learning a new form of words in order to say no in a particular situation is not likely to bring sustainable results. If our innermost self is swamped by a sense of overwhelming obligation, then the next dilemma will present itself often within 24 hours. If we do not pay attention to our unconditional friendship with ourselves (self-worth), we will just replace one obligation with another.

No matter what’s on your To Do list for today, it really is a choice. There are very few things in life that we really have to do… even if we are often surrounded by people who like to tell us otherwise. For now, I choose to have lunch.

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