How many times have you been in a situation and you felt so uncomfortable and wanted to quietly make your way out without being noticed? I have felt this way with past guys I’ve dated (or not dated), past jobs I have worked, encounters with friends or acquaintances, church meetings, volunteer opportunities, shoot- even interactions with the grocery store checker!
If someone else wants something from me my first response is this: I feel obligated to give it to them. I feel as if I ought to give them my yes. Also, if someone says something and I think it means they want something from me, I feel it is my responsibility to offer it. Yikes. That’s trouble. (Also, now that you know this, please don’t use it against me!)
A few examples, from benign to dangerous:
1) I was at a restaurant where a few days earlier a friend left her credit card. The manager knew that I knew her and told me she left it here. IMMEDIATELY I called her and offered to take it to her. Joseph (my husband, for you readers who don’t know me personally) looked at me with a funny look and said “It’s probably better if you let her pick it up from the manager herself, it’s safer that way.” And of course I got embarrassed and told him “I already offered to do it so I’m just going to go ahead and do it.” I don’t know why this was such a big deal to me but the obligation I felt was SO STRONG even if it meant putting myself at risk (what if I lost it, what if someone had stolen the info from it already, etc). More than that, simply because the situation presented itself, I took on my friend’s responsibility as my own.
2) A past example I am hesitant to share shows HOW RIDICULOUSLY STRONG this issue has been in my life. As a freshman in college I got into swing dancing (East Coast style, also known as The Jitterbug, for anyone curious) and a local dancer started a dry dance club. Saturday nights were for swing dancing, Friday nights were hip-hop nights (where I met my future husband!), and Thursday nights were salsa night. Instead of a bar there was a cafe, with light pre-packaged snacks and a huge blender for juices and smoothies. People. I “helped out the owner” by working the cafe on some Thursdays and most Fridays for months and never got paid. The owner would often ask me to do admission and take payment for the first hour on Saturday night and then I was allowed to enjoy the dance for free. I say allow because the owner always made me feel like he was doing me a favor by “bartering” my time to get into the dance. PEOPLE. I figured out the bartering and realized I was giving 4 hours of work for a dance that cost less than EIGHT DOLLARS. That averages about $2.00/hr. For MONTHS. Ridiculous. I felt conflicted because despite being taken advantage of I also felt a strong sense of commitment since I initially said I would help. And because I loved the swing dancing community and wanted to do something to support it. Instead of saying NO to this guy or even negotiating for actual pay I just kept on offering my time to help fund his dream (which ended up failing in less than a year, very likely to multiple shady business interactions that I can imagine were similar or worse to my own experience). Learn from my younger, naive, weak self. Don’t allow yourself to get into this position. Every yes you give doesn’t mean a commitment of a lifetime. No matter what situation you find yourself in- listen up you- yes YOU- you are allowed to say no.
3) I was 17, in in another county on a short-term mission trip, and a 30 year old local man who worked with the group I was with approached me when I was alone. I was laying down on a couch in a common area of an apartment because I wasn’t feeling well when he knelt beside me, told me he loved me, and that he wanted to be with me. I was just learning the language and he didn’t speak English, plus I was sick and exhausted, so I had trouble even understanding exactly what he was communicating but I could tell that he was attracted to me and was “making a move.” I remember being halfway between the attempt to understand and this internal conflict of emotions. I honestly felt obligated to hear him out as much as I felt repelled. It was confusing and disturbing and in the middle of his speech he began to hold my hand and stroke my arm and work his way up to my face. My response became this internal struggle between “giving him the benefit of the doubt/hearing him out” (since holding hands isn’t a bad thing and a kind touch to a face isn’t inherently bad, I reasoned) versus listening to my gut response, internally but silently pleading for him to do the right thing, that “I don’t want you to hold my hand, I don’t like when you touch me, I am not interested in you or your affection in the least. He started kissing me which was even more confusing because part of my sickness was having really bad cold sores all over my lips. I started to say “No” but he kept saying “it’s ok, it’s ok” as if I was saying no because of the cold sores and not no because I meant I don’t want you to kiss me. The Present Elisabeth wishes I could go back and defend Past Elisabeth and scream for her- “Just because you want things from me doesn’t mean you get them!” I finally got angry enough to pay attention to what my gut had been saying all along and push him away and tell him to leave, which he finally did, only after great internal effort on my part. I am grateful the situation didn’t escalate further but how it stands is it affected me greatly and rocked me to my core. I learned I can’t silence my gut, my heart, my voice, and hope that others will do what’s best for me. I have to be the one who screams NO when no one else will. Even if the other party continues to do wrong, my NO will only be voiced if I am the one who voices it. (I would like to be clear- this is very different than “victim shaming” or blaming. I am not blaming myself for what happened but I am using the situation to examine and grow from what I believe was my immature response to the situation.)
I have thought long and hard about why I have this urge to be the “yes” person, the one who never lets anyone down, the one who can be counted on to help or come to the rescue, or the one who never says no even if it isn’t good for me? But the WHY is a different discussion for a different time (email me your therapists’ info, mmkay? haha!).
Either way, I deal with this on the daily, evidenced by patterns of over-commitment which clutter my past and smudge my self-awareness. I have said “yes” to so many other people’s requests that I lost sight of what truly makes my heart respond “YES!” In other words, because of the obligation I felt to help other people pursue their “yes” I put my own desires to the side. Even if what is being asked seems like a good thing!
They ask. I say yes. Too often my yes to them is simultaneously no to myself. And I end up uncomfortable and unhappy and unfulfilled doing thousands of good things.
Have you ever felt this way? Did you know it is OK to say no to the things that don’t bring your heart delight? Did you know it can actually be healthy to say no?
If this is all obvious to you then you can skip to the end and comment with your valuable wisdom on how to live this out. For the rest of us, keep reading…
At one point in my college years I honestly thought my purpose in life was to help other people pursue their dreams, but I now know that was an excuse to protect myself from failure, inadequacy, and ownership. I am an active participant on this journey called life yet I have let indecision make thousands of decisions for me. I have hoped others’ dreams would fulfill me. I only recently woke to the journey. I haven’t come up with a better description yet, but for now I’m calling it Everyday Victim to Everyday Victor. To be fair, I don’t really love it but it’s a working title for the direction I want to go. A movement away from powerlessness and towards powerfulness. Acknowledging where I have been and where I am at, and what direction I am headed.
I am reading through a book of daily readings by an amazingly insightful author, Sarah Ban Breathnach, and the past few days she has emphasized thinking through your past to find the pieces of your authentic self. The things the Past You you loved, enjoyed, brought you joy, and were really fun. Yes, it can be painful; honestly sorting through memories can bring up opportunities for regret, bitterness, and unforgiveness. But these are all initial responses and I can choose which things to linger on: the pain or the joy. And I am learning to give myself permission to choose joy. To rediscover my heart and say yes to what brings me life and no to what doesn’t. And reminding myself that it is not only OK but it is HEALTHY and GOOD.
I think of the Genesis creation story- God created humans in his image and he declared it was good- twice in a row God said it was good for humans to be created in his image. In historical Jewish writings his repetition of the same statement means heavy emphasis, like I REALLY mean it. What if each of us is actually created to reflect a particular part of the image of God? and when we fully, truly, embrace our authentic self then maybe we are fully, truly, authentically reflecting a part of God that can only be seen through our unique selves? And what if this is the deepest, truest good we can offer to ourselves and to the world?
Pay attention to what makes your feet drag, what you dread, what you find yourself avoiding. Where do you need to give yourself permission to say NO?
Now take some time to remember your dreams or come up with new ones. Pay attention to what makes you belly laugh out loud! Pay attention when something beautiful stops you in your tracks- even if it’s the rainbow shimmer on the breast of a simple pigeon. What creative expression, like an amazing podcast or excellent graphic design that draws out your appreciation and fascination. What makes you feel most alive? Where do you need to give yourself permission to say YES?
It is time to stop ignoring our hearts and start paying attention to the signs so we can truly offer the goodness God has woven into the fabric of our beings by doing the things that bring us to life.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this and how you either need this in your life or how you are doing this in your life!
Until next time,