Learning to Say “No” without the Guilt
Many good folks who have the gift of compassion have great difficulty in saying “No” to people with needs. As a result, negative things happen, one of which is burn out. When we can’t say “No” to people (specifically to the ones which we should say it), we feel guilt, frustration, irritability, entrapped, manipulated and discouragement.
In their book It’s Not My Fault, Drs. Cloud and Townsend wrote a chapter entitled, “You Can Learn to Say No.” The context of this chapter is a person who has a life dream. Tim Hoyt’s dream was to run in marathons. However, his first child (a son) was born with severe disabilities. For some time Tim and his wife considered their son as a hopeless situation. However, it was discovered that Rick (their son), though severely handicapped physically, was very intelligent.
Rick and his dad formed “Team Hoyt.” They have travelled extensively and have been in hundreds of marathons and triathlons all over the world. Tim pushes Rick in an adult stroller. Tim’s dream was fulfilled, and yet were there obstacles. Tim had to learn to say “No” to any obstacles that stood in the way of his dream. It has paid great dividends for himself and his son and tens of thousands around the world who know the story. This is the story that begins this chapter. Drs. Cloud and Townsend want us to know that we all have dreams and that we need to learn to say “No” to certain people and things that stand in our way of reaching for our life dreams.
To many of us our dream (maybe even our personal mission in life) is to help people and alleviate suffering (because we have the gift of compassion/mercy giving). However, if we are not careful, we can do more damage than good to others and we can suffer greatly to the point that we actually hurt ourselves to an extent that we can no longer help anyone.
What’s the solution?
- First of all, you need to guard your heart; no one will or can do this for you (Prov.4:23). If you don’t guard your heart, your heart can be broken, abused or damaged. Each of us needs to take personal responsibility to guard (protect) our hearts.
The good doctors list several obstacles that block our fulfilling our dreams (e.g. technology, toxic people, negative people, envious people, controlling people, needy people [there are some needy people that we cannot help; we may need to refer them to others who can help them], and worthy but untimely opportunities)
2. And, then the good doctors, mention one last obstacle that we all need to recognize: “your own codependency.” Codependency is simply defined as a tendency to take too much responsibility for the problems of others. Does this sound familiar yet? Have you ever been accused of this?
While it is good and right to care for people, the codependent person crosses the line in relationship, the line of responsibility. Instead of being responsible to others, the codependent person becomes responsible for them.
What’s the result? Instead of caring and helping, you begin enabling and rescuing. These do not empower anyone (e.g. the needy). They only increase dependency, entitlement, and irresponsibility. Love builds up strength and character, whereas codependency breaks them down. Does this sound familiar? This is what is wrong with our country’s welfare system; it makes people weak and dependent and have feelings of entitlement. It has not alleviated poverty; it has promoted it.
Codependency will take you away from your goals and dreams. It will hurt you and it will hurt those you’re trying to help.
We don’t want people sad, disappointed, unhappy, hurt, etc. So we think we have to fix everything so they aren’t these things. We don’t want people to be uncomfortable, go without or suffer in any way. However, we can’t make people happy or unhappy. We can love, help, accept, empathize, advise, challenge, comfort and support. We cannot and should not do for others what they should do for themselves. We should not reward inappropriate decisions and behaviors. Allow people to own their feelings and reap the consequences of their choices.
When you start saying no to your own codependency you will find yourself saying no to people you have been rescuing. You may feel guilt but you will discover more and more personal freedom and the guilt will go way. Stay loving and caring while respecting the line of responsibility.
Learn to say “Yes” to the appropriate people at the appropriate time, and learn to say “No” in a similar manner. Offer and give help that is truly helpful, not hurtful to you or them. Trav
It’s Not My Fault by Doctors Cloud and Townsend
Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton
When Helping Others Hurts Them by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
When Helping You is Hurting Me by Carman Renee Berry