Sylvia stared at her profile as I shared with the group about the seven different language types. Character strengths, distress triggers, how it can help you better understand yourself and others. Tears streamed down her cheeks as I talked about the Responder – compassionate, sensitive and warm, creative, wanting to please others. All she ever wanted was unconditional acceptance and it seemed like all her family wanted was for her to wait on them. Of course, she always said yes, but each time she seemed to slide deeper into a self-absorbed depression.
Yes, she complained and got angry, but she still didn’t dare say no. She was crying now – recognizing that this was her sad rut. Rather than being able to enjoy her strengths, she was stuck in the distress of it all. She shared some of the situations and demands that her grown children and husband were routinely making. I asked her if she’d ever said no. She shook her head. They expected her to do their laundry, run errands and puppy sit. She had to have dinner on the table at just the right time. Every day.
Her reasons for not saying no? “What if they reject me?” Ah, but what if they don’t? Do you think they love you? Yes. Then it’s okay to stand up for yourself when requests interfere with your schedule or seem unreasonable because it’s something they should be doing for themselves. No need to be harsh or say no in anger. Just politely decline when appropriate. We talked a bit and made some suggestions – encouraging her to read some passages about how God valued her and to ask for help in saying no at least once in the coming week. I encouraged her to understand that their reactions said more about them than about her. “Be of good courage. God created you to be emotive, feeling first, acting next and thinking last. That isn’t something to be ashamed of, nor should it be the topic of negative self talk.” Her communication to others comes through her feelings. Their communication to her is received through her feelings. Armed with this sliver of knowledge and hope, she agreed to try it and report back next week.
And she did! Her smile said it all. She had indeed stood her ground when someone requested she change her schedule to assist them. Her family was a bit perplexed at first, but reluctantly agreed with her. No yelling, no tantrums. She shared some of what she was feeling and learning. She was almost downright joyful. She definitely was excited about the possibilities of healthier relationships with her family. She had a positive direction and knew that she needed to keep working on herself and show gratitude to God for the hope she now felt for the first time in a long time. Sylvia’s story is somewhat extreme, but she was game to give it a try. She could now say yes because she really wanted to serve them, but no was an acceptable answer too. There would be advances and set backs, but she was starting to believe that her emotions weren’t a bad mistake in her life. They just needed guidance, trust and allowing herself to be open about her own needs and wants with her family. It took time to get to her distressed condition, so it would take time for restoration.
Each of us is different – in our character strengths, weaknesses, distresses and circumstances. But we do behave in predictable ways that, when we hear about them and understand how they can help us, we can become the “Best Me Possible”.