I’ve posted before about my struggles in being a Yes Girl. Doing things for others was an all-consuming task for me. If I was helping one person paint his/her bedroom in the morning and was asked to help another move in the afternoon, I’d say ‘Sure.’ If there was something going on in my life – if it was hectic or stressful, I couldn’t find it within me to say ‘enough’ because, in my mind, people wouldn’t like me. I carried on like this for years. I’d do my part of being a good friend, never taking into consideration that I might need something in return.
When I was in my early thirties I remember my sister saying to me, ‘Ellen, you just need to learn to say No to people. If they don’t want to hear it or if their opinion of you changes because of it, that’s their problem, not yours.’ That is probably the best advice she’s ever given me.
Jeannie is ten years older than I. When she first gave me this piece of advice she was the same age that I am now. Back then I couldn’t imagine saying no to anyone for any reason. I refused to give that idea any thought whatsoever because it was so foreign to me. Now, at 41, I can honestly say that times, they are a changin’. I don’t feel the need to make people like me anymore. I’ve learned to accept me on my terms, not by someone else’s. I’m free from the idea that my life isn’t as important as those around me, and I’m free (for the most part) of the guilt that has attached itself to these unhealthy thoughts.
I’ve always envied the fact that the men in my life seem to have a better handle on this kind of thing than I do. They seem to have a kind of self-confidence that many women struggle with. I thought of this recently when I recalled something my father once said to me. He’s been gone now for 13 years, but the memory came to me the other night as I was trying to fall asleep. Always remember that you teach people how to treat you. He’d be proud of the fact that I finally got it, even if it didn’t happen overnight.
1. First, I had to take responsibility for myself and my actions. I had to decide how I wanted to be treated.
2. Second, I realized why I couldn’t say no to people: because it made me feel guilty. I was allowing myself to be taken advantage of because I couldn’t deal with the guilt I’d feel if I stood up for myself.
3. Lastly – and this was the big hurdle: I had to begin standing up for myself. This is a constant work in progress because by nature, I’m a nurturer. People don’t like change, especially when they are no longer benefitting from it.
It’s no doubt that age brings unwanted baggage with it: you get aches that weren’t there before; gravity slowly becomes your enemy, and you start squinting a bit more when reading the fine print on that bottle of Aleve you now have to keep with you wherever you go. But I can say one thing that’s come with age which has brought me a deep level of satisfaction: the people pleaser is retiring.