on saying no

Growing up, I wasn't allowed to say no to my father. Rather, I was, but I was punished for it. Not physically - not ever - but emotionally. I wasn't allowed to say "Dad, I can't" or "No, Dad" without feeling some negative repercussion. Anger. Disappointment. Shame. Guilt. Ultimately, as I perceived it: a loss of love, to some degree. Maybe not every time, that's probably unfair to say. But enough times that a pattern formed and stuck in my head. Eventually, we worked it out. Eventually I was adult enough and confident enough to lay down some boundaries and be honest about my limitations. I reached the point where I knew taking care of myself had to come first, and I got better about internalizing my dad's feelings when I had to say no to him. It was never completely resolved, but it did get better.

But because of that, I grew up being afraid to tell people no. I grew up terrified that telling people no would result in the revocation of their friendship or affection or kindness - in the loss of their love. So even if I wanted to - if I needed to - say no, many times I wouldn't. And I'd go along with something, feeling put out and resentful and frustrated. Or I'd say no, but instantly feel all sorts of shitty emotions in anticipation and expectation of someone's anger or disappointment.

I still do it. Saying no to someone I care about still activates all of this. I'm still afraid of the loss of love, of the punitive reaction I felt so many times as a child and teenager (well past, even). And it damages me, and it damages my relationships. I say yes and end up feeling a loss of control, a loss of confidence, resentment, frustration, and anger at myself. I say yes and secretly resent the person I've said yes to, for putting me in the position - I feel - of having to say yes. The effect is exacerbated hugely if I decline somewhat weakly or passively, but then the person turns up the pressure. Come on, Ellie. Because then I absolutely have to say yes (so I think), and then boy do I ever have an excuse to be resentful.

I feel this resentment because I try to never, ever, ever pressure someone into something they don't want to do, expressly because I know exactly how awful that feels. I wouldn't want to make someone feel the way I did when I said no to my dad, and had to suffer the pain of his rejection. I wouldn't want to trigger that fear, for them, of a loss of love from me. And so when in turn they don't anticipate my fear, I get really, really angry at them. But I don't express it. Hell, I don't even realize it, at the time. I don't think I ever realized it until tonight. I just stay wrapped up in crappy feelings that don't go anywhere, because I don't know what to do with them.

It's crazy, I understand now, for me to feel this way. My friends tell me no all the time. They're busy professionals with full lives; they can't always make the dates I propose. And when they say no? I don't even think twice. It doesn't hurt my feelings remotely. I know they love me and want to see me, and 99/100 times they bounce the invitation ball back to me a week later. That's normal and healthy and I never once worry that because they've said no, that they don't like me anymore. And yet here I am, unable to say no, because I don't trust them to keep loving me, the way I keep loving them.

It's ridiculous. But now at least I understand it.

Tonight, LeBoyf went to a friend's super fun scavenger hunt birthday party. I was supposed to go, too. He very emphatically wanted me to come. But I found myself, this afternoon, utterly exhausted and cranky, due to my inability to say no to lots of other fun stuff that's been going on all week. Some of which I know I should have said no to, but I didn't - because I was afraid of being loved less.

And so, due to my own unwillingness to say no to some things in order to say yes to others - tonight I found myself sitting at home alone, feeling frustrated and sad that I was missing out. It's good that I didn't go; I really am worn out and wouldn't have been a good party participant. But I spent the better part of the evening feeling lonely and bad.

So unnecessary. But that's the last part in the cycle I keep enacting. Say yes (out of fear of loss of love) and keep saying yes until I've depleted myself completely, and have to miss out on something really special. And I never understood until tonight what this is all about, and where it comes from.

So that is what I learned about myself on this Saturday night, when I could have been having a grand old time running around town following Instagram clues (so cool!) with my awesome and loving boyfriend.

8 or 38. Sometimes it's hard to tell.