Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Have you ever said yes and then, after committing yourself, had second thoughts? If you have, you’re sure not alone. Here’s an example of how easily this can happen, from one of my clients:
Dan’s wife, Vicky, told him about a camping trip she and her brothers and sisters were planning for the weekend. Dan hadn’t been feeling super energetic the last few days, something he goes through periodically due to his chronic condition. He hadn’t told Vicky. He didn’t want to alarm her, and he wanted to wait and see if it would pass rather than getting worse. So far, no change. The campsite air would be chilly at night, and he was also concerned that his symptoms might worsen as a result.
Vicky seemed so excited about the trip. She loves getting together with her family, and camping is one of their family traditions. Though not a camping fan himself, Dan goes along because Vicky and their daughter enjoy it so much.
So, Dan said, “Sure. That sounds great. Let’s do it.”
But he wasn’t feeling so enthusiastic. In his heart of hearts, he wasn’t sure if he could, or even if he should, try to make the trip.
Saying yes feels good—until it’s time to deliver on your promise
As the weekend came closer, Dan wasn’t feeling any better. In fact, he was feeling worse. At this point, he felt backed into a corner.
“I knew I shouldn’t have said yes. But Vicky needed to have some fun, she had been working so hard. She couldn’t manage the trip without me. And to be honest, it felt good to say yes to her, and to see her big smile. I felt this rush of happy energy. It was so nice.”
And then he added: “Until the next day, when I woke up feeling low-energy. Since I had promised Vicky I would go camping, I also felt guilty and ashamed.”
When I asked Dan how he had resolved the situation, he said, “I had to come clean and tell her I had good intentions, but just wasn’t up to it. And she said, ‘I wish you had just been straightforward with me in the first place. I wouldn’t have had to disappoint our daughter, and my family. And I was looking forward to the weekend, too. You can be honest with me, Dan. If you can’t say yes with confidence, then don’t say yes.’”
I had to admit that I couldn’t have said it any better than Vicky did. Dan learned a lesson from this situation. And I have had so many clients over the years learn the same lesson.
If it happens to you
Have you ever been in a similar situation? If so, you’re human. And most likely, like Dan, feeling pretty guilty when you can’t keep your promises.
Here are some insights into the urge to say yes that I have gathered by helping clients through this experience:
It feels good to say yes. We’ve all experienced that rush of positive energy that can come from saying yes. The reaction can be so profound that you might just want to feel it again and again, and consequently commit all over the place. So beware!
And we like to make other people happy. Especially the people we are closest to, like our family members. All those smiles and words of appreciation from the person you are saying yes to can make you feel needed, wanted, and, most of all, loved. Who doesn’t like that?
Ego is also involved in saying yes. Saying yes can make you feel like a hero, or at least get you some kudos for being a team player. If you’re living with a chronic condition, your ego may need a boost, especially if you’ve been feeling like you’re not quite holding up your end lately. That may leave you even more susceptible to saying yes.
Practice taking a pause before you commit. A few seconds. A few minutes. A few days. Unless you are in the middle of an emergency, chances are you don’t have to give an immediate answer to whatever request you are feeling the urge to say yes to. So give yourself permission to say something to the effect of, “I need a little time to think about this.” And then take some time.
Consider the consequences of saying yes. In other words, what else are you saying yes to? Having to back out of your commitment at the last minute? Not being able to fully participate? Placing your health at risk? Answering this question will help you decide whether saying yes is the best way to go. Or not.
Remember that a letdown is a bigger disappointment. Letting someone down can be another consequence of saying yes when you aren’t up to it. Sure, it can be disappointing to be told no. But it’s probably a bigger letdown if you say yes to someone who assumes all systems are go only to find out the situation is a no-go. If it’s any consolation, you will cause less disappointment if you are honest from the beginning, as hard as it might be to say no in the moment.
And if you have to say no, be clear why. Explain why, as much as you would like to say yes, you can’t. Let the other person know what will, or might, hold you back from being able to make good on your commitment. You can go into as much detail as you want here. Other people appreciate the courtesy of an explanation, if only so that they don’t make assumptions about your refusal and take it personally.
Don’t be afraid to commit with conditions. If you think you might be able to commit to an activity or event, but aren’t sure whether you will feel up to it when the time comes, then it’s okay to clearly state that. You can say something like, “I really want to be part of this. But I am not sure if I will be feeling up to it. If I am not, I will unfortunately have to back out at the last minute.” That’s being honest. The requester can either say thanks but no thanks, or move forward with the understanding that your plans may need to change.
Most of all, make your own well-being a priority. This is the most important consideration. Effectively managing your chronic condition requires being aware of your limitations and avoiding pushing yourself to the point where you place your health at risk. That may require saying no from time to time, as hard as that might be.
You, your loved ones, and that urge to say yes. Look at it this way: If you take the best possible care of yourself, you will have that much more to give to the people you care most about. All the more reason not to say yes when you need to say no.
How do you handle difficult requests? Help others in our community by adding a comment to share your advice.