My good friend refers to me as a “foodie” but not in the traditional sense that I really love good, trendy restaurants, trying experimental flavors and unusual menu items. Nope. We both know it’s code for “picky eater that will eat at one of six places in town if you’d like share a meal with her.” I feel so known when she playfully calls me a “foodie” because I’ve been honest with her about my story with food, eating out, food sensitivities, and plain old preferences.
It has taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I am not a go-with-the-flow, “Oh, I really don’t care. I’m up for anything.” type of person, especially when it comes to eating.
As a woman who lives in the hospitality-driven culture of the South, it feels like I am breaking all the rules when I tell someone, “No, I’d rather not go there,” or “No, I’m not going to eat that.” Not only am I up against the cultural messages of having to be a congenial Southern woman, but I’m also up against my own toxic shame that tells me I’m being way too difficult. When I tell someone “no,” I’m causing them grave discomfort, and my shame tells me that experience should be avoided at all costs.
After one too many upset stomachs, some not-so-hidden heavy loads of resentment about “having to eat there,” and being tired of spending money on food I genuinely did not care for, the cost became too high to not say “no” and state my needs. During that time, I also learned a life-altering tidbit: saying “no” is not life-threatening. It’s actually really kind.
Saying “no” allows me to have more whole-hearted relationships, more integrity, and much more care for myself.
When I was busy resenting someone for not reading my mind and not picking the place I wanted to eat, I was putting all of the responsibility of my needs onto them…a surefire way to get fractured relationships and unmet needs.
People have shared saying “no” is hard for a myriad of reasons:
“I hate hurting people’s feelings.”
“I don’t want to make anyone feel bad.”
“It’s really not that big of a deal if I just say ‘yes.’ Saying ‘no’ will cause too much drama.”
Maybe there wasn’t space in your family for your “no” to be heard, accepted, or discussed. Risking being seen as needy or not having it all together was likely too costly. The way a lot of us learned to survive was by becoming need-less “yes” people who had to put our feelings and desires by the wayside.
A few questions you might want to consider:
What is your relationship to saying “no?” What makes it hard for you?
What were the rules about saying “no” and being seen as needy in your story?
How might you practice saying “no” this week to a safe, trusted person?
One of the many gifts of therapy is that space is made for your “nos,” your distrust of the process, and all of your feelings surrounding it. Within the safety of the therapeutic relationship, one gets to consider their own limitations, be reminded of their neediness, and learn to care and honor their own heart’s desires.
Blake Blankenbecler is a therapist at Sage Hill Counseling in Nashville, TN. She recently earned her Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with Play Therapy specialization from Lipscomb University and is currently working toward licensure in the state of Tennessee. Learn more about Blake.