The Other “N” Word


Why do I have such a difficult time saying no? This is not entirely a rhetorical question.

Since I was young, I have found it almost impossible to refuse requests, solicitations, and favors – so much so that I have come to think of the tiny, two-letter word “no” as the other “N” word.

This problem has resulted in much discomfort, anxiety and depletion of cash in my life. I have found myself ordering magazines I don’t want, going on dates with guys I don’t really like, and volunteering at school or church events when I don’t really have the time or inclination.

Maybe the reason I have such a hard time saying no is rooted in my upbringing. I was always taught to be nice and accommodating, so bluntly refusing to do something seems rude. Even when I do manage to weasel out of acquiescing to a request, I usually manage to come up with some excuse so as not to have to utter that dreaded “N” word.

Maybe it’s due to a fear of rejection. I want you to like me, really like me, as Sally Field would say. If I say no, you might not want to be my friend. This fear holds true even when I don’t know or particularly like the person making the request. I have an image of myself as thoughtful and kind, and I don’t want anything to mar that image.

But being a “yes” woman all the time can have negative consequences. For one thing, I become resentful, and sometimes that resentment boils over. I end up exploding in anger or, at the least, complaining behind the person’s back. I also make questionable decisions sometimes as a result of my inability to just say no. Nancy Reagan, it ain’t as easy as it sounds!

This is particularly bad in the area of parenting. Just the other day, my 12-year-old daughter had some friends over. It was the last day of school, and they were in a celebratory mood. All was going well until my daughter asked if I would take her and her friends to the park to meet up with kids from school, some of them boys. My gut reaction was, No way! But between the nagging from my daughter and the hovering presence of her friends, I felt pressured to play the nice mom and said okay. The day ended badly with my daughter having broken her cell phone and my being resentful at having strange boys at my house whom I had to give a ride home.

Personal boundaries are important. Limits for children are also crucial. After 56 years of life and 24 years of parenting, I am still struggling to find the right balance between being flexible and being a pushover. My husband would say I need a spinal implant.

Still, I would rather err on the side of being a little too nice than a little too mean. So I will practice using the “other ‘n’ word” but do so judiciously and sparingly.


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