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  • Writer's pictureFamily Counseling Service

Say No Without Feeling Guilty

There never seems to be a lack of friends, family, civic groups, churches and charities seeking our help. Many of these are worthwhile and very noble causes.  However, when you find yourself stretched beyond your desire or ability to help, in the long run, you actually perform less effective service and find less meaning in it than you would if you took a more balanced approach.


Why do we take on so much?  It has become a status symbol in our society to be seen as always in a rush and overwhelmed with all we have to get done.  Just think of the way you view someone who is not in as big a hurry or who does not volunteer to take on as much as you do.  We can often be quite judgmental when we think someone else is not living up to our measure of how they should spend their time.


We may often give into the fear of being rejected or judged if we do not comply with someone’s request.  When avoiding fear and guilt becomes our priority, we become easy-picking for someone who seems to have no reservations about asking for help.  Fear of rejection is a very unhealthy motivator for doing a good job.  It will also lead us to developing a growing resentment that others do not seem concerned with how much they ask of us and cause us to neglect taking care of our own needs.


That certainly does not mean you should say NO to everything, but it is important to be mindful of your financial, time and energy limitations.  You only have so much to give and it is important that YOU be the one to choose which investments you find most meaningful and which you can make with your limited resources. 


If you tend to feel guilty or anxious when you say NO, There is no secret to suddenly make that feeling go away.  You just have to decide to make choices based on your own values, goals and priorities, rather than your emotions or on someone else’s goals.  The more consistently you do this, the easier it becomes over time.


Each of us needs opportunities to renew ourselves between obligations. When you continually deny yourself for the sake of serving even the greatest cause, you become tired, burned out and resentful. No one can give his or her best when feeling drained or taken advantage of.


Taking care of yourself appropriately is not an act of selfishness.  When you mindfully choose to say YES to some things and NO to others, you are being careful to establish a healthy balance in your life.  A good balance is critical to you feeling energized for the things important to you.  Even when Mom takes time to do things for herself or spend time with her friends, she is able to come back to her family with a refreshed sprit that benefits everyone.  We all need our time away from responsibilities to help nourish our ability to put forth our best with a pleasant disposition.


Whether it is babysitting grandchildren, volunteering for a charity or singing in the church choir, we all have to decide how much we can take on and still have the time we think is necessary to meet our other obligations, including self-care. You have probably heard the saying, "If your burden is more than you can bear, God probably didn't give it to you.” Even in service to God, He expects you to have time for regeneration.  It's easy to get into the habit of taking on more and more because those who ask really seem to need your help. They may even depend on you and you might convince yourself that if you don't do it, no one else will.


Other reasons for excessive obligations might be your own feelings of self-worth.  Are you trying to make up for internal doubts about how worthy you are, make others think more highly of you, or even love you more? Are you trying to make up for some wrong you have done in the past through your tireless service to others? All of these reasons are inadequate to enable you to sustain an ongoing devotion to any cause.


To find true satisfaction and contentment in your service to others, finding a balance in your life is essential. Before accepting a responsibility, ask yourself how much of a priority this particular service opportunity is: Does it fit into your skills, your interests, or values? Will it conflict with other responsibilities you already have?  Will you still have time to take care of yourself?


Saying NO is not always a selfish response. Sometimes it may be just the response to help ensure that you are doing a good job for your few chosen activities, rather than a poor job for a multitude of them.




Larry Deavers is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker & Executive Director of Family Counseling Service of West Alabama.


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