Most of us love to help other people. It is a very human thing. The problem arises when we don’t like to say “No” to anyone, about anything. We say “Yes”, even when doing the activity will be detrimental to ourselves in some way. Maybe it will take our time when we are already busy, maybe it will impact our money situation, or disrupt our household. But rather than caring for ourselves, we put someone else’s needs in front of their own. And if we have made a habit of putting other people’s needs before our own, then we will often end up feeling resentful, exhausted, overwhelmed and/or depressed.
Don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with doing things we don’t want to do. For example, we go to work when we would rather stay in bed, eat chocolate and watch T.V. It only becomes a problem when we don’t feel like we have a CHOICE. When we believe that we have to say “yes” to any request made of us. We have to say “yes” if the school asks us to make sandwiches for the fair. We have to say “Yes” if our friend asks us for money. We have to say “Yes” if our boss wants us to work late.
As adults we always have a choice. We can say “Yes” or say “NO”, to any request. And we don’t have to explain why.
However, if our reason for saying “yes” is that we want people to like us, or we will feel guilty if we say no, or we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, then we are saying “Yes” for all the wrong reasons.
So how do we start saying “No”.
In the beginning, when saying “No” is new for us, it is often helpful to delay responding. This means, when someone makes a request of us, we postpone answering. Instead we can say something like “I will think about it and get back to you tonight”. This gives us time to formulate a truthful, kind response, rather than having to say “Yes” or “No”, on-the-spot.
Sometimes it is a matter of organizing things in advance. For example, if we are always running our elderly mum to appointments etc because she has no car (and this is something we don’t want to be constantly responsible for). Then (in advance) we can organize a Miss Daisy driver, a taxi, or someone else to drive her. This way, when we DO feel like driving her, we will say “Yes” and actually enjoy the time. But on other days, we can say “No” and an alternative plan is already in place.
A good way to assess if we should do a requested task, or not, is to check in with our obligation meter. Ask ourselves if we are truly responsible for doing this task. Then turn it around and ask what obligation we have to ourselves.
Not everyone will be thrilled when we start saying “No”. But we need to practise being OK with that. If we are saying “Yes” so that people will like us, then we are trying to manipulate other people’s thoughts about us. And it never turns out well, in the long run, when we try to control other people’s thoughts, feelings, or actions.
And finally, we should realize we can say “No”, without being blunt or rude. Below are some examples;
- I can’t help with that, but is there something else I can do?
- This sounds like a great opportunity, but I have to pass. Thank you for considering me!
- I appreciate your time, but no thank you.
- No thanks!
- Not today, thanks.
- Not for me, thanks.
- I’m not really into [heavy metal/yoga/whatever], but thanks for asking!
If we are really struggling to say “No” and it is affecting our mental or physical health, having a few sessions with a good coach, counselor or psychologist could be very beneficial.
Remember, if we are saying “No” to one thing, then we are saying “Yes to something else. Its’ about being authentic and honest in our life. If we say “No” when we want to say “No”, then people learn that they can trust us. We tell the truth. By practicing saying ‘No’ (with care and compassion), we can learn to put our needs on an equal footing with other people’s.
Written by Lynda Timperley Btch, Dip Psych, Cert Life Coaching