This article was first published on KSL.COM
I have a tendency to let people guilt me into doing things I don’t want to do. My mother for instance. I can’t say no to her or maybe the problem is she won’t accept no. She always comes up with logic to counter everything I say. In the end, I always give in and do what she wants. I am just too nice? Do you have any advice for me?
Your problem is not that you are too nice. Your problem is that you are weak and afraid of what others think of you. This isn’t a “nice” problem, it's a fear problem. You are so afraid of looking bad, mean or selfish that you put other people’s wants and needs ahead of yours. You are overly selfless, and yes that’s a big problem.
When you consistently sacrifice yourself for others, everyone ends up happy and liking you, except yourself.
The problem is that most of you think you only have two choices when someone asks you to do something you don’t want to do. Option one is to say NO and hurt or disappoint the other person, who then might think less of you (or think you are selfish) which is really terrifying to those of you who already fear you aren’t good enough. This option also feels like you are valuing yourself over the other person, which feels wrong.
Option two is to betray yourself (and value the other person more than yourself) and give the other person what they want. This option feels safer because even though you aren’t happy, you are at least assured the other person likes and approves of you. This option feels more righteous and loving, but at the same time it leaves you feeling taken from.
The good news is there is a third option (one that many people don’t know exists). Instead of being strong and selfish, or loving and weak, you can learn to be strong and loving at the same time. In this place you accurately value yourself and the other person the same amount. You can clearly see everyone's needs as worthy of being honored, yours and theirs. In this place you strike a healthy balance between standing up for yourself and honoring your needs, and sacrificing to serve, love or give to others. If you want to be emotionally happy and healthy you must have this balance.
If you don’t have a healthy balance between giving and receiving there will be problems in your relationships. You may start to resent the people you constantly sacrifice for and they will stop appreciating your sacrifices, because they will take them for granted. You will also have low self-esteem (if you are overly selfless) because you are constantly giving power to the idea that other people are more important than you.
In order to fix this tendency to betray yourself, you must embrace some new principles of truth around your value and life. Read the following often:
Principle 1: What other people think of me is irrelevant. I am the same me no matter what they think. Their opinion doesn't affect or change my value. I have the same infinite, absolute value whether they like me and my decisions or not. I do not need their approval. I just love them and myself where we are.
Principle 2: I teach people how to treat me by how I treat myself. I honor my own needs because I want other people to honor them. If I always put others' needs first, I am literally teaching them that my needs are not important. I believe all human beings have the same value and we are all equally important.
Principle 3: If I disrespect myself and allow people to push me around, they won’t respect me. Weakness is never respected. I may think my sacrifice and love will win their approval, but do I really want approval at the cost of respect? In the end, I will create what I feared. Even though I give them their way, they will think less of me anyway. If I make sure my own needs are met, people will respect me for it.
Principle 4: It is not selfish to take care of my own needs. The Bible says to love your neighbor “as” yourself, not “instead” of yourself. This means I am just as valuable and important as everyone else. When I honor my own needs I demonstrate to the world that all people deserve to be honored and respected. No one is more important than anyone else. My needs and wants should take precedence over others about half the time. This is not selfish, it’s healthy.
Principle 5: If I don’t love myself first, I am not really capable of giving love to others. If I don't value myself, I basically have an empty bucket, which makes me needy all the time. From this place I really have nothing to give others. When I give to others from this place, my gifts have strings attached because I need something (approval) back. From this place all my loving behavior is driven by my need to get validation. That is not love. Real love can only happen when I experience the same amount of love for myself as I feel toward the other person. When I love myself I can give from a full bucket and people will feel this and appreciate my gifts much more.
Using these principles of truth to guide you, I recommend that you redefine your boundaries and write some rules for yourself about when you are going to say YES and when you are going to say NO. Here is an example:
I give to others often, I also say NO to other people’s requests if doing what they want would:
— Make me resent them for asking
— Make me feel taken from
— Force me to miss something that’s important to me
— Push me over the edge of sanity.
This is the loving thing for all concerned. I do not need to hold fear around how others will feel when I say no. I know it is the right thing for me, and that is enough. I will tell them with love that I can’t do it (without having to explain why). In the end, they will respect me for my strength and love.
Taking the time to write on paper exactly how you are going to feel and behave the next time your mother tries to guilt you into giving in will really help. If she won't take your loving no for an answer, say, “Mom, is there anything else I could do to show you I love and respect you, if I can’t do this?” See if there is another way to show her you love her — something that works for you.
It is really hard when you have someone in your life who is overly selfish and doesn’t honor your needs, and there may be times you have to let her be mad at you and process her frustration. She is the one choosing to be bothered, and that isn't any of your business. Let her be mad without letting it affect your self-esteem. Remember that just because she is choosing to feel upset, doesn’t mean you were wrong to say NO. Her opinion and feelings don’t affect your value.
If you really struggle with this problem, I would highly recommend seeking out some professional help with fear and rebuilding self-esteem. It would make a big difference.
You can do this.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.