If you never say ‘no’, what is your ‘yes’ worth? I heard this wise saying from one of my first teachers in the art of holistic healing, and have often passed it on to clients who find it hard to protect themselves against unwelcome demands and intrusions.
Problems which arise from this inability to set personal boundaries can include neglect of personal needs and desires, tiredness from overwork, and feelings of victimhood, martyrdom or resentment often concealed by a polite facade.
Some people who cannot say ‘No’ to the demands of others hold the belief that being ill is the only valid reason to claim care and attention for themselves. There is even a theory that illness can develop primarily for this reason. Whether or not that is true, such a mindset can certainly prolong recovery. This would happen through unconscious mind-body mechanisms and is not deliberate malingering.
Two key Bach flower remedies to be considered for the ‘yes-person’ are Centaury and Walnut. Centaury is for those so eager to please others that they agree to each and every request. Walnut is for those who are unduly sensitive to outside influences and therefore easily distracted from their chosen path in life. Other flowers might be indicated for the secondary consequences, such as Elm for feeling overburdened with responsibilites, Olive for exhaustion, Willow for self-pity, or Holly for hostility towards others.
Practical aids to setting boundaries include such simple steps as shutting your door or turning off your phone when you do not want interruptions, and limiting the period you are willing to spend on certain activities. You may also need to practice techniques for saying ‘No’ without causing offence, or being worried about doing so. This can be done firmly and politely without having to give detailed reasons or apologies.
I had a long talk with a friend who is reluctantly having to consider early retirement because of a chronic illness. Hoping to bring some encouragement into this difficult situation I reflected on how my own life has developed since retiring from my career in orthodox medicine in my early 50s – the same age my friend is now.
My decision to retire was made by choice, and largely for positive reasons, and therefore a far less traumatic experience than if it had been enforced by sickness or redundancy. All the same it involved significant change and loss, with big drops in both income and status.
It took time to adjust, and to create a new way of life. My husband and I moved to New Zealand, where most people we met had little knowledge or interest in what we might have achieved career-wise back in the UK. Relationships and activities had to be based on personal qualities, rather than position and qualifications and an existing network.
I extended my studies of holistic healing – discovered the challenges and rewards of being self-employed – returned to choral singing and music lessons after a lapse of 40 years – started writing on a wider range of topics – became more involved with animal welfare – made new friends – had more time for leisure and entertainment – and my fitness and energy improved. Some activities were planned, some presented out of the blue.
I do still miss my old job now and then, and occasionally get the feeling that I ‘ought to be doing something useful’ – though I have learned that there are many valuable ways of contributing to the world besides working directly in a caring profession.
But overall my experience has been positive, and I am glad to have been able to retire while still young enough to start afresh. What I value most is the freedom – being able to do what I choose without being accountable to authority or hampered by bureaucracy – and, by no means least, not having to get up so early in the mornings any more.