Sick of Hearing Myself Say “No Thanks, I’m Fine”

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By 9:10 AM I’d already turned down an offer for water, one for breakfast, one for an extra napkin and one for company on my five-block walk to work.  Pretty curious behavior for someone who purportedly wants capital M more out of life.

If I can’t even accept a fistful of napkins from a friend, how exactly do I expect to take in the big ticket items? (An agent, a publisher, a pension, a Disney vacation)

I watched myself systematically and reflexively say “no, no, I’m fine” repeatedly yesterday.  It was the same “no” that keeps me from accepting hot tea from the lady who trims my hair or my neighbor’s offer to watch the kids while I make dinner when Jeff’s out of town.  It’s my knee-jerk, my go-to, my happy place.  This “no” broadcasts to the world my essential and subconscious mission statement: I’m not a person who can take in unbidden offers of kindness, help or pleasure; I’ve got everything taken care of thankyouverymuch.

But here’s the deal.  I actually was thirsty that day when Anna was cutting my hair, but I couldn’t take her up on the offer for hot tea.  And when my friend offered to buy me a yogurt parfait for breakfast? I was fucking starving– I’d just been to spin class.  But I thought, no, I have a Clif bar in my purse so … so … I’ll just say no and watch her eat.  When my neighbor offered to watch the kids so I could put my cauliflower concoction in the oven, it would have been so much better to say yes.  Had I said yes, the kids and I would have had dinner before 7:30 PM, before the epic meltdowns, before the power struggles over who has to wear a pull-up to bed, before I resorted to sneak-eating ice cream in the downstairs bathroom.

It would have been so much better to say yes.

I gave “yes” a spin today.  I let someone hold the gym door open for me while I swiveled my double BOB stroller through it.  I’ve done that move 50 times and never accepted help.  It took three seconds out of this guy’s life to help me out.  I said yes.  I didn’t die.  I simply got through the door without trying to half-heave the stroller and 85 lbs of my own flesh & blood through a three-foot opening.

After that, I decided I’d accept any offers to receive for the next two hours.  Lucky for this old creature of habit, none were lobbed my way.  But, I’m putting “yes” on notice: I’m coming to get you.  I’m coming to grab you with my own sticky paws.  I’m going to hold you up to the light and examine you from every single angle.  In a few months, I’m going to be all Yes! to napkins! Yes! to babysitting! Yes! to free scalding hot beverages!

Yes! to help and pleasure and kindness and attention.

Because the price of “no thanks, I’m fine” is too high to ignore.

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35 thoughts on “Sick of Hearing Myself Say “No Thanks, I’m Fine”

  1. I hear you. I am the same way! I hate accepting help. I guess I love to believe that I am totally independent and can do it all myself. Which…. Bahahaha. I totally cannot. But the illusion must do something for my self-esteem because I still do this sometimes at the age of 38. I have gotten better over the years. Baby steps. Maybe by the time I am ready for the nursing home, I’ll finally be like, “Sure, sonny, you can wipe my ass for me!” and then I’ll pinch the cute medical assistant’s ass on his way out.

  2. It’s a stubbornness also. A tough streak. At least it is for me. Why is one small word so much easier to say than the other? I’m jealous you went to spin.

  3. Wow, I do this a lot too. Sometimes I say no and then a few moments later wonder what the heck I was thinking because I really did want whatever it was that was offered. Maybe I should go for yes to.

  4. Boy, oh boy does this sound familiar.

    I remember all the “no, thank you”a from a slice of birthday cake when I was 12 to an offer today to take over a tedious task.

    What is this “yes” thing? I’m intrigued.

  5. yes!! say yes to help! it’s hard, believe me I know, but i’ve gotten better at it. it really is practice. so hard not being the martyr. 😉 beware of yes though for all things volunteer… i’ve had to learn how to say no as well.

  6. Interesting you notice this. For me, I think it goes back to my grandmother and the ways she was worrying/focusing/taking care of others before herself. If she wasn’t doing those things- something was wrong. The last thing she wanted to be was a burden. Of course, at the end, it was pretty much her worst nightmare, but it gave US something in return. It allowed us to take care of/worry/etc about her.
    It’s the same thing with the saying yes. Sort of. At least I feel much more free being in a place where i am at everyone’s mercy and anything that anyone tries to make easier for me I’ll take. I’ve learned it’s rude to turn down coffee/cake/cookies. It’s much much worse if I don’t take someone up on an offer to run B home in her car since I have a place to stop with the bike. This culture looks at it as an affront- as you point out, it’s basically saying ‘I’ve got it all thankyouverymuch’. You know?

    • Additionally I realized that my mother is a hard core ‘I’m fine’ person. She is not the person I want to be. I noticed it once I had kids- my mom said no all the time to playdates because she didn’t want us to burden anyone. I think that messed me up for life and I never turn down a playdate for my kids now.

      • I relate to this 100%. There was a streak of isolation running through my household that I have to break open for me and my family because I just can’t live by myself, doing it all, drawing the shades and keeping people out. Too painful.

        On Thu, Sep 18, 2014 at 8:50 AM, Outlaw Mama wrote:

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    • That confirms my sense that this is cultural thing….we so value self-sacrifice and independence and being busy that when you put it altogether it feels like we are supposed to say, “nope, I got this.” I blame the damn Puritans. And the Piligrims. And stupid Thomas Jefferson.

      On Thu, Sep 18, 2014 at 8:48 AM, Outlaw Mama wrote:

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  7. YES! 🙂 i can really relate to this. it’s hard to say Yes b/c we’re super human and all. 😉 But it’s SO freeing to accept help/assistance once in a while. we’re only human after all.

    • I can’t wait to accept an offer from the universe today. (Or so I say….) My filter may be so strong that I literally don’t even hear the offers. But no more! On Thu, Sep 18, 2014 at 9:37 AM, Outlaw Mama wrote:

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  8. I struggle with this too – but a friend pointed out something to me that helps. You know how good it feels to help someone else? That warm glow? I am guessing from reading your blog that you are exactly the kind of person that would absolutely jump to hold a door open for another woman with a stroller or offer a client a cup of tea. And it feels really good to do that for someone. But every time you say “no” you are robbing that person of that good feeling. You are denying them that little boost that comes with being kind to someone else. (See what I did there? I just turned around so now saying “Yes” is the nicer thing to do for other people.) When my friend called me out on this and used similar examples it completely changed how I think about it. Yes, indeed!

    • That’s a massively good point. Funny, I am currently FURIOUS at someone for denying my help. I mean, I’m so upset and so sad that she wouldn’t let me help her. And I hadn’t connected these two situations until your comment. So thank you. You’re right: refusing help/offers/connection is a way to elbow people away from me and it hurts to receive that.

      This is good stuff. On Thu, Sep 18, 2014 at 10:17 AM, Outlaw Mama wrote:

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      • You are welcome! I think the friend who pointed this out to me was mad at me for the same reason – I hadn’t accepted her help when I should have. It was kind of a gutshot when she said it, but over the years it has really helped. Glad it helps you too!

  9. I will cut you off before the offer ever makes it past your lips! I got this. I ain’t got this. Most of the time, I do not be gotten this. And yet, I will smile and say no, thank you. But you know what I learned recently? Some people don’t listen and do things anyway, and then I smile, and then I feel better and that person feels better and the next time I see him/her, I smile again, I feel good again, and I let it repeat. Funnily enough, though, I am not an accepter often, but I am an offeror. I constantly offer to help people. I am a weirdo. This is not news.

    • I like that– surrounding myself with people who will see through my “No thanks, I’m fine” and grab the damn grocery bag. The heavy one.

      I’m happy to hear we share this because at least I’m not alone. On Thu, Sep 18, 2014 at 10:49 AM, Outlaw Mama wrote:

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  10. Oh, do I resemble these remarks! ” an independent, ornery cuss” is what my Mom calls me most of the time.

    I hate needing help, but I’ve been forcing myself to actually ASK for assistance once in a while, gritting my teeth the whole while.

    I am heartfelt and effusive in my gratitude, but I sure do hate the asking.

    • same here. It’s something about the asking. I feel vulnerable and weak, as if splayed out like a frog for dissection. And I love the line: ornery cuss! On Thu, Sep 18, 2014 at 11:01 AM, Outlaw Mama wrote:

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  11. Funny that you wrote this this week because I’ve been thinking about it a lot. One thing I never noticed was the flip-side of things, i.e., how the offeror feels when we say no. I was at the home of some elderly clients of mine doing their estate planning document execution there so that they wouldn’t have to travel to my office. The wife offered me cake that she had baked that afternoon and I automatically said “no thanks, I’m fine.” But for the first time, I really saw how that no thanks made her feel (not so great I think). So then and there I vowed to try and say yes more often.

  12. I think it’s because we are taught it’s impolite to ask or need help from anyone. My mother always said “depend on yourself. Your fine, you can make it on your own, work harder, don’t let other people know what’s going on in your household, you don’t want them talking about you”. Well guess what they did anyway when I got divorced! So who cares! People want to help other people!

    • Also, some people are just reaching out without a ton of thought so why do I have to think this to death and instead of just saying YES to the offers? It’s the normal give and take of social interaction. On Thu, Sep 18, 2014 at 2:14 PM, Outlaw Mama wrote:

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  13. When I was a child, I was so shy. If I was ever visiting someone else’s house and they offered me something, like a drink or a snack, I would always immediately say No, thank you. It took me so long to learn that when someone is offering, they nearly always want you to say yes. But it is a hard habit to break. Good post!

    • I’m uncomfortable receiving, which is why I think I do it. I feel more in control if I say no. Saying yes means I am out of control. Me no likey.

      On Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 3:24 PM, Outlaw Mama wrote:

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