These two sentences are the first two sentences from Alice Walker’s novel, ‘The Color People’. A diary form novel set in the harsh segregated world of the Deep South around the 1930s. The protagonist, Celie, is raped by the man she calls father.
I could write this blog piece about the ongoing abuse against others, particularly on girls and children. I could write about rape culture and the way to change the thinking of both sexes, i.e. telling women to dress less provocatively and not flirt, which contributes to the blaming of victims, rather than the perpetrators. Instead I’m picking up on something more subtle but widespread and something I’ve been guilty of, the inability to say ‘no’ and doing something that makes me uncomfortable or unhappy. Society has encouraged many of us to be ‘good’ and to tend to others’ needs before our own. Many of us have done something we didn’t want to do, maybe because we wanted to feel liked or loved, a belonging, or to gain someone’s approval. Alongside this behaviour is the need to say ‘sorry’ every two seconds, even when it’s not your fault, and often the perpetrators…
Being subservient. Not speaking up. Being ladylike. And being nice. These are all terms I’ve seen in myself and others. I’ve been called ‘nice’ in the past but in reality I was a ‘pleaser’ because that’s what I was doing. Pleasing others and at times putting myself in front of potential harm just to make others feel good. Pleasing others, when you don’t want to or feel comfortable doesn’t feel good and it shouldn’t.
Now don’t get me wrong it’s okay to have empathy for others and help those in need but how many times have you unwillingly spoke to a stranger because you felt ‘sorry’ for them even though you felt uncomfortable due to their body language or said ‘yes’ to a sales pitch and then suffered debt? How often is your time spent making others happy but your soul is crying in desperation, and your own goals and needs are not being met. How often is your precious time wasted?
This inability to say ‘no’ is often linked to low self- esteem because people use approval from others to build their esteem rather than believing in themselves. How many times have you done something just to please someone else or not followed your own ideals because you didn’t want to be ridiculed by a ‘group’, or not fully shining and sharing who you are because you didn’t want to be judged or seen as an outsider?
It’s important to teach our children and in particular our girls to be assertive, to allow them to say ‘no’ if they are unhappy or uncomfortable. To force a child be polite or ‘nice’ for no apparent reason when a child is uncomfortable encourages children to be subservient and put others before their own needs. It can also encourage children to believe they need to gain approval from others rather than doing what they believe is right. The inability to say ‘no’ and to set personal boundaries is one of the most common, insidious causes of human suffering according to Flanagan in the article ‘The Reason Every Kid Should Talk Back to Their Parents.
How can you stop being ‘good’ and start saying ‘no’?
Alexandra Franzen suggests that if are going to say ‘no’ to someone, first open with gratitude and appreciation by acknowledging their courage in asking in the first place. To firmly tell them ‘no’, not ‘maybe’ or ‘someday’. It’s also important to tell them why and close with generosity by offering an alternative such as pointing them to unexpected resources, offer a blessing, or give helpful advice.
Still need more guidance on how to say no, read this article 7 Simple Ways to Say “No” for some simple advice.
Remember it’s important to know your values and prioritise your time. Creative and highly-productive people say “no” to non-essential projects, tasks, requests and opportunities. If you’re wondering where your time is going, maybe this is one area to focus on. Are you setting your priorities?
Also remember it’s not your job to keep everyone happy, this is something people need to do for themselves, just like you do. If you are forced into a situation which you can’t get out of or you feel unsafe and ‘no’ isn’t working, reach out to someone and share what happened and get help. And remember you can’t control how others respond to you, so be true to yourself and simply…say no.
Do you often find yourself in an uncomfortable situation and wished you had just said no?