I remember the first time I told another person "no" when they fully expected me to say yes. There was a moment of silence before I said it, a moment of truth for me to see what I was made of, and then bang! Before I knew it the word "no" just rolled off my tongue, and suddenly I felt very powerful. My heart slowed down, and I stood a little taller, squaring my shoulders as I did. Mildred, the woman to whom I had just told no, had been using me for a long time. She left her two toddler sons with me for what was supposed to be an hour, and turned into four hours. She always had some emergency and needed me to watch the boys. I have raised my children, and I am not very maternal anyhow, so the last job on earth I want to tackle is babysitting.
Saying no to Mildred felt good. I had heard she was in town getting her nails done for the last emergency, and I missed my yoga class because of her lack of respect for my time. For years, I have spent my time being a nice person, and trying to accommodate others when they needed my help. But lately, I have felt more and more like a doormat. Once you establish a reputation for being "nice," and helping others out it seems there are more and more people who need your help. The only problem is, when it's time to return the favor, those people never seem to be around. They simply vanish behind their doors and curtains, and no matter what cannot seem to answer a phone or a text. They will even go so far as to act offended that you would expect them to do something in return for you. After all, a real friend would just keep doing and doing with nothing in return as far as they are concerned.
I had made a decision the last time I took care of the toddlers and noticed a new hair color in Mildred's hair when she came to get them... two hours late. I decided it was time to start putting me first. I have raised a family, worked a job with a lot of responsibility, and given all of myself to both roles. It was time for me to enjoy life a little bit, and take a nap in the afternoon shade of the willow tree. It was time to sit and drink coffee and play cards with my old friends, even though we know we cheat. It was time for a quiet walk through the park on a sunny day, taking my time, and watching the children play and the dogs chase each other.
It isn't just Mildred I said no to, I even told my husband of thirty-five years no when he wanted to go to the movies, but I was tired and wanted a bath. While it is more difficult to tell a spouse, partner, or other family members no, it may still be necessary. Often a family member will be even more skilled at taking advantage of you, because they have known you your entire life and know your weak points. They know how to bring about guilt in you, and if that doesn't work they can always remind you of the time they helped you out. Yes, that one time about ten or fifteen years ago, when they did something for you and you will forever owe them.
The reason some of us find it difficult to say no to others is that we want to be liked, to be thought of as someone who helps others and as a good person. We truly want to be a good person, to do what is right and help each other. The other reasons people find it difficult to say no is low self-esteem. If you don't really think you are worth much, you feel you don't have a justifiable reason to say no to anybody. Thoughts of how much more important their lives and time must be than yours run through your mind, and also of how maybe they will like you better if you are always there for them. Unfortunately, people who are users do not think that way. I am not even sure they have a sense of what is right and what is wrong. I think they just do what is best for them at the time, and then keep going, never giving it another thought. If you asked them why they used someone like that, they would not know what you were asking them, and if you explained it to them, they would shrug and blame the person they were using for being so gullible.
Remember, always ask yourself if you really want to do a favor for someone before answering, and if the answer is no, then politely tell them no, you have another engagement. You will live a longer, healthier, happier life if you do.