Why do I find it so hard to say no?

sad older man

Columnist and counsellor Fiona Caine offers guidance on the tricky habit of people-pleasing and taking on too much.

The problem
“Why do I find it so hard to say no to people? I suppose I have always been like it, ever since my schooldays. I can remember being constantly bullied into running errands for bigger girls.

“Now that I’m married and have two children, you’d have thought I would have outgrown it – but I’m still put upon and it’s making me very unhappy.

“I was pressured into joining a local art society a few months back, as I enjoy painting as a hobby. It was particularly enjoyable whilst we were all forced to stay at home, and it was something I could share with my children.

“Recently, I’ve had the chairman of the society on the phone pushing me to join the committee. They want me to organise a series of speakers for the monthly meetings when they restart.

Read: How to say no without providing a grovelling explanation

“He’s said it won’t be onerous, but I know what will happen is that it will start with me booking the speakers; then I’ll have to meet them and liaise with them and sort cancellations. Before long, it will turn into a job that I really don’t want to do at all!

“On top of that, he’s admitted that ‘the committee’ organise regular lunches for members, and I could hear the wheels ticking, as he clearly thought I could organise those too.

“If I had nothing better to do with my time, I guess I wouldn’t be moaning now, but I have a busy job and family to manage. I can’t cope with all this and wish I could get myself out of this mess.”

Fiona says
“Being helpful to others is something that is ground into many of us from a very early age and, consequently, it is often hard to say no. For most of us, this may just mean having to cope with the occasional chore we’d rather not be doing. However, when someone gets into the habit of never saying no, life soon becomes unbearable.

“Assertiveness training is one solution, but you could also try to overcome the problem yourself. Try, each and every day, to say no to something – even if you don’t mind doing whatever is being asked of you!

Read: How to live happily if you are both an introvert and an extrovert

“For example, if someone asks you to make a coffee, say you made it last time and suggest someone else does it. If they ask you to get something for them, tell them you’re busy with whatever you are doing and suggest they do it themselves. I’d also suggest you simply practise saying ‘no’ in front of a mirror – that might seem difficult at first, but it will be good practice!

“Once you feel more confident, I suggest you tackle your art society problem. Contact the chairman and tell him you’ve thought about his suggestion that you join the committee but, at the moment, you don’t feel able to give it the time. If he tries to persuade you, stick to your guns.

“If you feel you really must add an explanation, say that you have young children and a husband who take up what little free time you have. In addition, you have a busy job and that taking on additional work, even on a voluntary basis, would be too onerous. Remember, you have a choice here, and it really is okay to say no.”

Read: How to get better at saying no

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

– With PA

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Written by Fiona Caine

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