Not forever, of course. You can scream “NOOOO!” into death’s face, which comes for all living things, until the cows come home and it will, eventually turn a deaf ear and take you. Death is an unavoidable part of the process, a price for having had the chance to live. Yet, saying “No” when you really mean and being, what those used to your agreeableness and constant availability, will call “selfish „is necessary to keep a whole myriad of diseases that can cut your life short or significantly damage it’s quality at bay.
The connection of emotions, trauma, not speaking your mind, repressing emotions, needs and desires aka stress that could have been avoided, recognized and resolved and degenerative illness was investigated in depth by Dr. Gabor Maté in his book “When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress”. For decades, as a physician he watched those who got seriously sick and found connections in their temperament, demeanour, behaviour and choices. This does not mean that a sick person is to blame for their disease, as we are rarely aware of what we’re doing, but that these things could have been avoided in the large majority of cases.
The people who got sick the most were those who took care of others so much that they neglected taking care of themselves. As Dr Gabor said the saying is not just a random old wives tale but “The good really do die young”. The telomeres, caps at the end of chromosomes that determine when the helix will deteriorate and take you with it, were significantly shorter in long-term caregivers, aging them over 10 years more than their chronological age and leaving them opened to senescence of cells and deterioration, meaning early onset of old age. The chronic stress of caregiving while suppressing their own needs aged them rapidly.
Serving and supporting is one of the noblest things a human can do, but how will you do it if the cup is empty and you’re parched? If you don’t ask for support, help or connection when it gets too hard or hopeless? Being all ego is seriously bad, but having no ego is equally disastrous. Saying “No”, being able to summon righteous productive anger when your boundaries are crossed, and needs ignored is healthy. Having personal boundaries is what makes us capable of true deep empathy, not giving support out of pity or duty. We need support. We need to express our truth no matter how uncomfortable. If you don’t, things fester and rot inside. Unexpressed unhappiness, trauma or dissatisfaction makes you four times more likely to die young. Not rolling over and complying, not sacrificing all your desires, need for alone time, time to recharge, process and be able to express, will keep you sane AND healthy deep into old age.
Everything in your life is connected, the past, present, future, the mind and body, gut and brain, the hormones, tissues and immune system. It’s a balancing act. Say “No” when you need to and mean it. The world will manage if you sit one out here and there.