These are the twelve steps of the process of learning how to say no.
Step one: you say yes all the time, no matter what, and you believe it’s because you’re being kind and thoughtful and that that is a good thing. The chances of you being Catholic are pretty high, but it’s not cast in stone. Be nice. Be a good listener. Everybody loves you. You’re so sweet, so kind, such a good person. That makes you feel fantastic. All Mother Theresa-like.
Step two: you realize that you’re always being slapped around in one way or another, or else people never want to listen to you, and nobody ever thinks about you. You don’t in any way think this is your fault, because you’re being nice. You accept it as your fate, your challenge. You tell yourself you mustn’t be angry, you must just be nicer. Turn the other cheek. Love your enemy. Embrace him or her in a pink bubble of love.
Step three: pink bubble seems to keep bursting, and you start to notice how much being slapped around actually hurts, that it doesn’t make you feel very good. You wonder how people don’t realize that they’re always talking and you’re always listening. You try not to get angry because anger is negative, right? You apologize for yourself all the time. You force yourself to be positive. You sigh at how selfish they all are.
Step four: you can’t escape it, being slapped around and having nobody listen to you is hideous. You realize it’s your fault, because you’re not as good as everybody else, you deserve it. You can’t stop yourself getting angry, resentful. You start not wanting to be good any more. You just want to avoid the abuse, or you want people to just shut up. You don’t realize that you’re actually telling them, by silent but very effective means, that it’s okay to walk all over you.
Step five: you find somebody who knows more than you do. You listen to them. You let them love you, you let them show you. Whooee. That feels good. Weird, but good.
Step six: your anger takes over. You notice every little infraction, every abuse, every moment of being ignored. You start wanting to hurt people. You don’t let yourself, but you want to. You blame them. You still don’t realize that you are the one who’s saying “go on, use me, abuse me, don’t listen to me, it’s okay”.
Step seven: you start not being so nice. People start noticing, and withdrawing from you. They start saying things like “I don’t know what’s happened to you, you used to be such a nice person”. Your thoughts are not ones you’d care to make public.
Step eight: you start getting positively aggressive, refusing to listen at all, butting in when people are blathering on and on. You start not answering the phone, you pull away from everybody and still you blame the world. You’re angry at God, the universe, your neighbor, your mother, your brother, whoever. You start expressing that anger in the privacy of your own world, in ways that don’t hurt anybody or you. You still don’t realize that it takes two to tango. You get disillusioned by life. You know you want things to be different. It’s all god’s fault. You cling to the person you reached out to. They keep on supporting you, telling you there’s nothing wrong with you. Something within you gathers momentum.
Step nine: you start noticing that there are some people who don’t ever get abused or slapped around or walked over. You wonder what that’s about. You can’t get rid of the idea that though you’re blaming God, everything is really your fault. You realize this has dogged you all your life. You face the truth of it. It hurts like hell. You want to run but the person you turned to helps you stay and face your demons.
Step ten: you start realizing that you no longer let people walk all over you; that you’re even beginning to recognize the ones who want to do it. You avoid them. You actually start saying no. You still get really angry at them because you’re not totally sure it’s okay to say no. You’re get furious that they dare to ask, dare to try and slap you around. A lot of it is still their fault. And underneath that, it’s yours. It’s very confusing. Who’s fault is it really?
Step eleven: you make the connection that some people know how to say no without getting angry or defensive. They just say no. They don’t justify themselves, or enter into debate. No. It’s a very short word, and they know how to say it. They give a clear message. You realize they’ve got some kind of knowledge – that it’s completely okay to say no.
Step twelve: you begin to make another connection: all my life I’ve been saying yes, go on, abuse me, talk me to death, walk all over me, grab all the attention, be the most important one. You see that you’re the one who has given the green light, because you didn’t believe you had the right to say no. Or you were afraid they would leave you. You didn’t think there were any other people in the world you could hang out with. But you see that you were wrong. It’s been fine to say no to the people who walked all over you, because you didn’t want them in your world anyway, not if they didn’t want to do give and take. You start drawing people towards you who do give and take naturally. They don’t have an investment in using or abusing. They know how to talk, they know how to listen. This is a remarkable discovery about the human race and the nature of cause and effect in human interaction. Give people clear messages. Learn how to do it if it’s difficult.
Now you’re going places. Now you understand that you’re the one who has to change. You’re the one who has to learn how to be clear and give clear messages. You’re the one who has to sometimes say no. And even better, you see that you can! Freedom lies ahead!