I read an article the other day by Dr. Mark Hyman, a leading physician in the US, (you can read it here) about the importance of saying no and how we can actually do more damage to ourselves and our health long term by continuing to say yes even when we don’t want to. The truth is, saying no can be an incredibly challenging thing to do. We often tell ourselves that we are being helpful by just saying yes and that it shows that we are supportive and caring. Sometimes the reason this can be so challenging is because we really want to be able to do it all even if it isn’t possible.
As human beings we all have breaking points – times when our ability to bounce back or deal with stressors becomes limited and we can’t deal with situations as we usually would. For some of us this point hits when stress at work becomes too much, for others its when our emotional world is filled with too many things that we feel we aren’t able to regulate ourselves in a healthy way. If we reach this point and aren’t able to recognize it, we continue saying yes to all the things we typically do without realizing the significant cost.
So why is this a problem? We reach a point where all of the “yes-ing” can lead to burn out and/or compassion fatigue. In other words, when it is important that we be present, caring and compassionate to ourselves and within our journey to recovery, we come up dry because we gave all of our energy away to other things. Your relationship with self will start to suffer which means you will stop treating yourself respectfully and replace healthy habits with destructive ones (too much food, booze, little sleep, exercise, self care etc). By never saying No, we stop being able to say yes when it is most important. When recovering from an eating disorder it is particularly hard to have a healthy relationship with ourselves which makes it even harder, at times, to say no. Try to give yourself permission to practice this at first in places that are less threatening and then in places that will improve your well being more significantly.
I have to admit, this is a practice that I have to consistently remind myself to engage in, even as a counsellor who teaches people about this on a regular basis. Saying yes is something that gives me a lot of joy, until all of a sudden it doesn’t and I become resentful of the patterns I have created. I really do believe, however, that we can kill ourselves with kindness and that it is critically important to learn the skill of saying no. Will you join me in committing to practice this a few times a week? Let me know what its like to make your own needs a priority and how you feel after kindly saying no.