Adapted from a recent online discussion.
A reforming pushover needs guidance in just saying no
Resentment-o-meter: I've been fighting pushover-ness my whole life. Whenever I heed my own resentment, as you've advised in the past, I have to fight the feeling that my resentment is not normal self-defense, but a feeling of entitlement.
Intellectually, I try to remind myself that because I've always been a pushover, this is probably not the case; basically, whenever I wouldn't do what others wanted, I was called selfish.
But any tips on how to tell the difference between standing up for yourself appropriately (No, I will not do X for you when I have already done ABC and you haven't ever even done the one Z I asked you for), and laziness/selfishness/entitlement (I won't do X because I don't feeeeeeeeeel like it)? Thanks for helping ease the way on this!
Carolyn: You know, it's okay to choose not to do something just because you don't feel like it. Don't make a habit of choosing this option, but if you've baked for the last three bake sales, for example, it's okay to say you're sorry, this isn't a good time, and you'll be happy to make something next time. And your unspoken definition of "isn't a good time" could really, justifiably, be that you've been looking forward all week to sitting on your butt and watching a movie.
Getting comfortable with the word "no" is a multistep process, especially if you're starting from a point where there's a sense of personal risk attached to every "no" — a fear that everyone will hate you or think ill of you for letting them down.
The first step is paying attention to when your feelings turn resentful — that's the advice you're referring to, I assume — and recognizing that's your body's way of telling you that you're giving to the point of giving yourself away. Accordingly, you start to step back gently from there.
As you get comfortable with that process, you'll start to make out patterns — of things you like to give and don't, of people you like to give to and don't, or situations when it's okay to extend yourself and when it isn't. The second step is to put those patterns together: You'll see the beginnings of an outline of who you are. You'll see which are your healthy relationships, which are your passions, which are your vulnerabilities, and what just drains the life out of you.
Seeing these clearly will help you say "yes" and "no" to things based on anticipation of how you'll feel, instead of just reacting to what you feel/dread in the moment.
That means you'll be able to make plans — and decline them — with a growing sense of confidence. Sometimes you'll mess up, sure, and overextend yourself here or upset someone there (friends who take your compliance for granted). But even those anxious spells aren't calamitous, they're just life. One lazy/selfish/entitled/poorly received decision does not a lazy/selfish/entitled/poorly received person make.
That's step three, fine-tuning your ability to recognize when to offer help and when to look at the ceiling and whistle and hope nobody spots you. The goal isn't to outrun others' disapproval, it's just to make some peace with yourself.