Oh, I’m Sorry, I’d Love To But I Won’t

I Won'tHow many times have you found yourself telling someone “No, I’m sorry, I can’t”? Perhaps you’ve said this after a friend has asked you to drive them to the airport at 4 a.m. Maybe you’ve said it in response to a request to babysit your friend’s children. Or possibly you’ve rejected a friend’s attempt to get you to help them move. Then you come up some explanation that while nothing would make you happier than fulfilling this request you simply can’t.

It’s an excuse, it’s unassertive, and it’s often a lie. When we use the word can’t we’re acting deceitfully and in bad faith. What we’re really saying is we won’t. “No, thanks, I won’t drive you to the airport. I prefer to sleep.” “No, I have other things that are far more enjoyable and important to me than babysitting.” “Thanks, but I like my lumbar discs to remain unherniated.” Ultimately what we’re saying is “No, I have other plans that are more important to me than yours.”

We bail out on authentic responses for two major reasons. The first is to avoid conflict. Assertiveness can be difficult and risky. Maybe the person we’re denying won’t feel too upset if they somehow believe that we can’t do something but they’ll sure as heck be ticked off when we tell them we won’t. But ask yourself whether you’d prefer to have a relationship built on avoidance of conflict or one that’s genuine and direct.

The second reason for claiming that we can’t do something is to avoid change and uncertainty. In counseling sessions I often hear people telling me what they can’t do and can’t change. This rarely turns out to be true. We can tell others how we feel about them. We can start relationships. We can end unhealthy ones. We can quit jobs. We can take new ones. We can leave our town and move to another. We can fall in love. We can risk.

What’s typically happening, though, is that we get more comfortable with the devil we know than the ones we don’t. Depression, anxiety, and a sense of alienation can become more comfortable than taking risks. The fear of risks and change eventually leads to a denial of power and personal responsibility.

Not everyone is ready for change. This is both acceptable and respectable. But we need to own our hesitation and take the responsibility for choosing not to change rather than claiming that we can’t. Paraphrased from Anais Nin, perhaps one day the risk to remain tight in a bud will be more painful than the risk it takes to blossom. At that point we’ll be ready to accept what we can really do.

Counseling can help you examine and understand your fears of conflict and change. In the context of a supportive relationship your counselor can help you practice taking some risks and break free of that bud and finally blossom. Why not try? I know you can.