It was a new concept for me as a “people-pleaser” (and a silent resentment holder) in my early 30s when a friend said,
“You know, you don’t have to apologize for saying no.”
First, there was the realization that I was apologizing for the littlest thing when I didn’t even realize it.
Second, there was the now heightened witness in my brain noting all the times that I was sorry for simply having a preference for something that was different than someone else’s.
Third, I understood I really didn’t know how to say a full NO. And my yeses were often not a full YES. Hence, my inner resentment of others and the energy drain I often felt.
There are two sides to this coin.
Do you know how to say (and know your) NO?
And do you also know how to say (and know your) Yes?
If you’ve ever been around a 2-3 year old child, you’ll have noticed they are the great purveyors of “NO!” Even when you offer them something that they like or want, the first response is usually NO, and then a quick yes will follow. They are inherently practicing the all important stage of development where individuation is key.
So what happened along the way when an adult cannot say no without feeling guilty? We can certainly go into the why’s, but instead, I have found there’s more value in practicing both saying no and saying yes to help develop (and retune or align with) what has the most value for you, your time and your energy.
Ideas to Practice:
I see this so much in my office. “Celeste, help me say no to my in-laws request that we stay with them during the holidays.”
Or, “Celeste, why can’t I assert myself when my dearest friend always wants to meet at loud restaurants or places that serve no gluten-free options?”
Sometimes I suggest a role-play: “I’m going to tell you to do things here in my office and every time, I want you to tell me ‘NO!’”
What happens is usually a mix of feelings will arise when asked by someone who you like and generally want to please: fear, empowered, nervousness, guilt or shame and embarrassment.
Then I suggest taking the experiment out into the world by starting with small and doable. Note that these suggestions are not necessarily stating a no, but rather, your preference:
- Go to a restaurant and say no to the table the hostess tries to seat you in if it’s not suitable (bad lighting, next to the kitchen or a noisy table).
- When a friend calls and it’s not a good time, don’t pick up. Or instead, answer and say, “I need to call you back.”
- When a neighbor catches you as you’re trying to leave, say, “It’s great to see you, I can’t talk right now, let’s resume this conversation later.”
Saying No is not about being rude.
You can be what I call, Lovingly Firm, when saying no:
“No, I cannot stay late today. And, I understand your predicament.” A genuine smile and firm stance will help the asker to see that you are clear.
If they ask why you cannot stay late say, without explaining any more than this, “My day is already filled and staying late doesn’t work.”
Adding as an option, “In the future, it’s best to give me at least a couple days notice.”
Saying No is the New Yes.
Saying NO is setting you up for something that is a YES for you.
Saying NO is a way to determine for yourself where you want to put your energy and where you don’t.
Saying NO will prevent you from feeling resentful of others. (We will work on releasing guilt later).
When you learn to be more clear with your yeses you’ll also be more clear with your noes. If you’ve been wanting to feel Self-Love, then I encourage you to instead go for Self-Respect. And having more self-respect means you’ll be more and more comfortable with saying no.
What to say when you don’t know if you are a Yes or a NO:
- “I heard your request and I need to sleep on it.”
- “I hear you and I’ll get back to you when I consult my calendar (my partner, my schedule).”
- “What a great idea and I’ll have to get back to you on what my input can be. Thanks so much for asking.”
- “Something you should know about me is that I need more time to make decisions and have learned not to make them upon request. So, I’ll get back to you on this.”
Be Your Own Gatekeeper!
Saying No is you having a boundary for yourself. Boundaries are healthy and important. Setting boundaries is not a selfish act. Practicing saying NO is actually an act of self-respect. And in turn, you’ll experience what self-love feels like through action and not a conceptual term.
Over-committing causes anguish and anxiety. Though it may feel uncomfortable to prioritize your needs first, a very common predicament for mothers, this practice will provide you with more time and energy for the most important people and activities in your life.
Building your strength and courage to determine who, what and when you will be a full YES, starts with knowing how to say no. You decide. You are your own gatekeeper. Claim that power and you’ll be claiming access to something that feels really good – your self-respect.