That’s a phrase that can encompass many meanings. It can mean reluctance do to something, or expressing a physical or emotional inability to do or take part in something. It is often seen as a negative set of words.
For me, it’s not something I say often, to myself, or to others.
At almost 15 months into Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to help me with anxiety issues, I have learned a lot about myself, and also about people around me. I have started to work out that my personality, and what makes me, is linked to my anxiety disorder. I am a people pleaser. I hate saying no, or refusing to do things for people. I want to make everyone around me happy, and try to prove I am a good person, worth being around, being friends with, employing, being married to, a good mother, and all the things that make up the person called me. I rarely say no, to anyone or anything asked of me, because I feel like I SHOULD be able to help or do what is asked of me. I don’t feel worthy, just because I am who I am, I always have to prove myself, to both others and my own self. I take on too much, in an attempt to try and be everything to everyone, and then I end up utterly exhausted and juggling too many balls because I will be damned if I let anything fall or break. I refuse to let anyone down, but I let myself down in the process. If I do have to say no or “I can’t” to someone, I usually feel incredibly guilty and spend a lot of time wondering if I should have actually agreed or said yes and make myself anxious that somehow I have failed, by saying now.
Anxiety makes me want to please everyone but then when I try to do that, it makes me anxious. It’s a pretty viscous circle and hard to break out of.
This week, after much discussion and introspection, both with the psychologist who is working with me, during my CBT therapy, and in my own head, I said “I’m sorry, but I can’t” twice, to two different things being asked of me. They weren’t utterly unreasonable requests, and the people asking me, are lovely individuals who I admire both professionally and personally and who normally, I would go out of my way to help or accommodate. But, this week, as much as I wanted to help them and do what was needed for them, or participate in what they wanted me to, I knew that for my own sanity, with everything I have going on, right now, and in the near future, that I couldn’t. I said those words “I can’t” and it not only felt good, but IT WAS OKAY. Both people in question were totally fine with my refusal, and I came away feeling like I had climbed a mountain, or at least a very large hill, triumphant and powerful.
I need to learn where to draw lines, and when to say no. I love to serve people, help them, and look after them, I like doing things for people. I work hard in my job, and projects that I am passionate about, and in the community, and that’s OK, but I have become known as someone who never says no, and that isn’t a good thing. I am learning to protect myself. To realise that I cannot please everyone, or do it all. That sometimes it is OK, in fact more than OK, it’s healthy and wise, to say no, and to put myself first. That’s not just a hill I have climbed, it’s an Everest for me!
People think “I can’t” is a negative phrase. Sometimes it is, but sometimes it has to be used, and it’s a good thing. I learned that this week. I need to practice that more often. My name is Karen, and I am not broken!