This article is by Thaddeus Camlin, Psy.D. and published by Practical Recovery
Self-care is frequently pushed as a key to wellbeing. In the realm of addictive problems, family members are encouraged to put ‘self-care’ first as a way of curbing over-involvement in the lives of someone with addictive problems. People with addictive problems are encouraged to find healthier ways to practice self-care. Therapists are trained to implement self-care to manage the stresses and pressures of clinical practice. Few argue against the merits of taking care of oneself, but simple and effective techniques for how to practice self-care often leave much to be desired. This article will explore what is perhaps the most effective and simple tactic of practicing self-care – a healthy dose of ‘Vitamin-N,’ aka, saying no.
The simplicity of saying no is often much easier said than done. Many books have been written on the challenges of saying no, like the classic When I Say No I Feel Guilty. Society teaches us that saying yes is essential to success. I hear many people advocate for the tactic of saying yes to everything, especially early on in a career when people feel tremendous pressure to ‘get their name out there,’ to ‘network,’ and to ‘build a reputation.’ Saying yes to everything is a perfect recipe for over-extension, resentment, and error.
Family members who tend to put the needs of others before their own are often unjustly pathologized with labels like ‘co-dependent’ when they struggle to say no. Choosing the guilt that comes from saying no is often a better self-care decision than choosing the anxiety that comes from saying yes and over-extending ourselves. People who struggle with addictive problems have obvious difficulty saying no. While we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that avoiding or overcoming addictive problems involves much more than just saying no, saying no can be a powerful technique to build self-efficacy, self-control, and self-empowerment.
Some fairly controversial figures who advocate for the power of saying no fancifully describe the tactic as the principle of benign deprivation. Some argue that a 3:1 ratio is a decent reference point, three ‘no’s’ for every ‘yes,’ although such ratios are probably good to take with a grain of salt. The principle of benign deprivation can help children build up resiliency to disappointment. Setting aside some differing perspectives from some advocates for the principle of benign deprivation, following the 3:1 ratio would likely make it quite difficult to develop addictive problems given that they tend to arise from excessive involvement with anything.
Saying no is arguably one of the best ways to ensure that we are practicing self-care. The guilt that some people feel when saying no can be rebranded as evidence that we are succeeding in our efforts to improve self-care. We’ve all heard the overused but true cliché about putting our own oxygen mask on first. If we want to be properly prepared to help others it is essential that we are of sound mind and body, and one of the best ways to ensure that we are healthy is to supplement our self-care routine with a healthy dose of “vitamin no.”