That’s what it’s like when someone’s pulling your strings.

And when that someone is Guilt, you’re always dancing to an unhappy tune.

He’s convinced you once again that you’re the bad gal or guy.

And yes, Guilt knows exactly the power of that accusation.

Because you’ve spent your life trying to be decent, to do the right thing, to be selfless. Heck, you’ve tied yourself in knots trying to be an all-round good daughter, mother, partner, friend, whatever it is.

Which is why Guilt’s mean voice has had such a profound effect on you.

And it’s exactly why Guilt’s been able to rub even more salt into your damaged self-perception.

Why it’s been able to slither up and whisper in your ear that if you stop pleasing everyone, you’ll be rejected. That by putting your needs first for once, you’ll destroy your happiness and peace of mind. That by saying ‘no’, somehow you’re committing some awful deed that will come back to haunt you.

Which is why you say ‘yes’ to everything and everyone.

And why you’re so stressed and overwhelmed.

Guilt has endless ways to pull your strings and make you dance to his tune. He’s got countless reasons why you need to carry on putting everyone else’s needs and wants before your own.

But Guilt’s underestimated you.

You’ve had enough of being his puppet. You want your peace of mind and happiness back.

So here are four simple things to remember next time Guilt starts to pull those strings…

1. Putting Yourself First Isn’t Selfish.

It feels wrong to say ‘no’ to a family member, partner or friend, doesn’t it? I mean, they’ve been there in the past for you, haven’t they?

Well, maybe they have or maybe they haven’t. Perhaps the relationship has always been one sided. More take than give on their part.

Or it may simply be a matter of timing. You are already drowning in commitments and responsibilities. No matter how much you may want to take on more to help out, you simply can’t.

And perhaps, just perhaps, they’ve asked too much, too often.

But despite that, you still find yourself saying a forced ‘yes’. One more victim to false guilt.

But it’s not just requests from people you’re close to that gets Guilt all juicy for making you feel terrible at the very idea of saying ‘no’. The thought of putting yourself before anyone else is abhorrent, isn’t it?

After all, why should you get what you want, and they don’t? Why should you win and they lose?

But always putting yourself last doesn’t help anyone. I’ve learned that the hard way. The hardest way in fact. By trying to be decently selfless, I innocently went too far the other way and totally trashed my self-esteem in the process.

I thought I was worthless. Honest-to-goodness of no value or importance to anyone. That belief made me put everything that had the word ‘my’ in front of it at the very bottom of my priorities: health, happiness, finances, even relationships.

And I hurt a lot of people in thinking that. People who worked their socks off trying to show how much they cared. To them, seeing my self-esteem in the gutter felt like I’d never listened to a loving word they’d said.

That might sound rather over-dramatic, I know. But it’s true. With every ‘yes’ I said when I wanted to shout ‘no!’, a little more of my self-esteem was eroded. A little more of my confidence was washed away.

Putting yourself first once in a while isn’t selfish, it’s essential. Forever putting yourself last affects not only you negatively, but everyone who cares about you.

2. Saying ‘no’ doesn’t cause conflict or hurt.

It’s that fiend Guilt whispering the fearful consequences of you putting your needs first again – oh boy, he’s so persuasive. But those consequences are rarely the truth.

Realize that saying ‘no’ isn’t a polite version of ‘I don’t like you’. It isn’t a covert message saying ‘Get the heck out of my life’. And it certainly isn’t personal rejection.

If you confuse what you are actually saying ‘no’ to, you’ll be lost. Lost in a lifetime of forever saying ‘yes’.

Be clear in your own mind that you are simply turning down an invitation or offer, not a person. That way you’ll have the clarity of thought to focus 100% on conveying exactly what you mean.

There are situations of course where you may actually not want someone in your life. And in truth, in this instance you are turning down that person. But you still don’t need to be all up in their face about it. You can still do it as kindly as possible, leaving no room for guilt to worm its way in.

Of course, if the other person genuinely has paper thin self-esteem, you may inadvertently offend them. Be honest however: it’s only a matter of time before you or someone else innocently tears a hole in their gossamer ego anyway.

In those cases, however lovingly you couch your words or actions, misunderstandings are going to happen. Don’t sweat it. You are not responsible for their reaction. Your job is to do the best you can

And by standing up for yourself and saying ‘no’ as kindly as you can, you’re already going that extra compassionate mile.

Saying ‘no’ kindly and compassionately doesn’t cause conflict or hurt. If people choose to create conflict or feel hurt, then that’s their choice, not your responsibility.

3. Doing nothing isn’t a crime.

Guilt has got you believing the only down time you should allow yourself is the absolute minimum hours’ sleep. And sometimes not even that!

But all this does is lead us to exhaustion and depression.

Getting enough rest time is health and happiness 101. It seems strange we repeatedly sideline sleep so readily when our sense of physical self-preservation is reasonably well-honed (well, racing drivers and lion tamers excluded, I guess).

After all, most of us don’t have too much trouble not setting fire to ourselves or falling out of windows. We want to stay safe and alive and not in excruciating pain.

Yet that same self-preservation mechanism doesn’t work so well when there’s a force as powerful as guilt bullying you. That’s why it’s so dangerous.

Guilt’s insidious and unrelenting pressure to be busy, productive, contributing… that all leaves you believing that any kind of relaxation is wrong.

Take watching a movie – that lets your conscious brain relax. Staring blankly at James Bond or Mary Poppins saving the day on the screen allows your subconscious to do its critical job of working on your vital processes, unhampered by your over-busy conscious thoughts.

And Guilt’s even convinced you that reading a book is wrong, unless of course it will improve your mind – then that’s a noble activity. Look, your mind doesn’t need constant improving. It needs a balance – part improvement and part R and R – Rest & Relaxation.

Essayist Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times:

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.”

Want to know the science behind it all?

In truth your brain doesn’t actually get ‘tired’ like say your biceps or quadriceps (that’s arms and legs to non-gym bunnies). It reaches a state of ‘cognitive congestion’, in this state it becomes less and less effective at taking in new information or processing the information it already has.

So being unproductive for a while doesn’t make you a bad person. It allows you to do your next task better for being more refreshed. Stepping off your wheel of busy isn’t wrong, it lets you keep on, keeping on more effectively.

And staring blankly out of the window? That gives your brain time and space to order the millions of thoughts you’ve had already that morning. It allows your brain time to put them in their correct place, ensuring you walk through the rest of your day as a calm, coherent and capable person.

Doing ‘nothing’ isn’t a crime. Want to be a kind, compassionate and contributing member of this great planet? Then keep your brain fit and healthy by chillaxing and getting enough rest and relaxation.

4. Turning down an opportunity isn’t ungrateful.

Let’s just take a look at this for a moment. Suppose you said ‘no thank you’ to the chance of chairing a local committee or taking the last spot in a free class?

Far from being ungrateful, you’re now leaving the spot open for someone else.

Someone else who might benefit more from the opportunity. Someone else who might fill the position better. Someone else who might actually want the opportunity.

Let’s be honest, how well would you fulfill your role? Turning up and going through the motions is going to help no one. And fake enthusiasm never does the job of the genuine article.

Why? Because you’re already drowning in overwhelm before you agreed to that extra commitment.

So instead of being able to truly appreciate the opportunity, it starts to feel like a burden, even a duty. And resenting a privilege, well that doesn’t feel at all good. And it does no one any good at all either.

But Guilt is mighty persuasive. He tells you that decent folk don’t turn down opportunities or privileges others may not be given.

So even though all you want to do is collapse after work you agree to chair that committee or sign up for that free course.

And hate it.

Turning down an opportunity you don’t want isn’t ungrateful. Taking an opportunity someone else could make better use of, is. So take on only those opportunities you want and can do full justice to.

Don’t let your life be ruined by Guilt.

Your relationship with Guilt isn’t serving you any more. It never did. @LauraJTong (Click to Tweet!)

Guilt is a pathological liar. No matter what you say, he’ll always have a clever conscience-pricker to pull your strings.

But like all arguments built on fear tactics, Guilt has no basis or back up for the lies he has spun you.

So it’s time to say ‘no’ to Guilt.

To cut the ties and kick him and his lies out. To stop dancing to his tired tune.

So tell Guilt to go to hell once and for all.

And dance to your own tune.

Live guilt-free.

You deserve it.

Laura Tong, a former health professional, is on a mission to help you become the most positive, happy version of yourself. Grab her free cheat sheet: 5 Guilt Free Ways To Say No Without Offending Anyone (Even If You Hate Conflict). Laura also hosts the Re-write The Rules In Your Life interview series where she shares awesome happiness and positivity tips from experts around the world. Click here to listen free to the latest episodes.

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