Have you ever said yes but what you really wanted to say was no? How did that feel?
Stuart’s ex called him weekly with one problem or another. The furnace was making a funny sound, the satellite TV stopped working, the window screens weren’t where they were supposed to be. He inevitably ended up back at his old house, finding the window screens in the garage, calling the satellite company, checking the furnace. Every time that happened, he felt a mixture of resentment towards his ex and disgust at himself for—once again—saying yes when he wanted to say, “No, I won’t be coming over. You are a grown-up and can figure this out.”
When Stuart figured out how to say no, his whole being lightened. His body felt less heavy. His mind cleared and he could see the possibility for a new love on the horizon. His ex-wife somehow managed to get by, and their relationship actually improved with clearer boundaries and increased civility.
I have worked with many clients—too many to count—on how to say that one simple word: no. Too often (like Stuart) we don’t realize we need to find our no until we have already said yes way too many times. This state of affairs is not natural to humans. The inability to say no is a learned behavior.
For small children, no comes easily. They don’t worry about what other people think. Well-adjusted children (meaning safely attached to parents who love them unconditionally) know what feels right and what doesn’t. If a child does not want to play a game, be friends with the kid next door, or kiss Aunt Janie—he says, “No.” That child is living in alignment with himself. His interior barometer is functioning properly.
“Isn’t it rude to say no?” I hear that all the time. Why do so many people believe that saying no is impolite? There is nothing inherently rude about no or polite about yes. When you think about it in exaggerated terms, that becomes obvious. Is it rude to say “no” to someone you don’t want to have sex with? Or to say “no” when a friend asks to borrow $1000 you don’t have? These examples seem obvious, right? It’s your body, your money…. So why is it okay to say yes to a date you don’t want to go on or tell your boss, sure, I’ll have that report done by tomorrow, even though you know it will take eight hours to complete and it’s already 6 p.m.
Being realistic and honest is the only path that respects both you and the other person. That means you know how to say yes when you mean yes, and no when you mean no. In a relationship of any kind—with a romantic partner, boss, child, friend—being able to say no sets clear rules and teaches the other person how you wish to be treated.
So don’t wait to be overwhelmed with the weight of saying yes instead of no. The fallout of yes-instead-of-no usually comes in the form of over-commitment, dread, fatigue, self-sacrifice—none of which honor you or your core values.
How to learn no instead of yes:
- What are your triggers? Who do you have a hard time saying no to? Everyone? Your kids? Your co-workers and boss? Your life partner? Knowing the people or circumstances most likely to defeat your ability to say no is the first step.
- What does it feel like? Recognize and identify how not saying no makes you feel. Do you feel shackled? Like you gave away your power? Where in your body do you feel it? In your gut? Chest? Does it manifest as anger, resentment, despair, dread? Once you actually realize how your body reacts to your own ability (or inability) to set these boundaries, you will be far more likely to proactively change course next time yes is about to slip out against your better judgment.
- Take baby steps and remember that practice makes perfect. Start by saying no to yourself. “No, you don’t need to buy that coat. You have six coats already.” And do some roleplaying with a friend or coach. Literally rehearse—so you know your ‘no’—what it sounds like and feels like.
Saying no to a situation that is not serving you is the same as saying yes to yourself. When you are living in alignment with yourself, saying yes when you mean no feels all kinds of wrong. Is saying yes always wrong? Of course not! Say yes! But only when it is right for everyone—including you.
To sum up, say yes to you by:
- Knowing yourself
- Understanding your needs and wants
- Realizing you do not have a responsibility for others’ feelings or reactions
- Being absolutely clear that you have the right to feel secure and comfortable
- Empowering yourself with no
For more on boundary-setting and saying yes or no, check out my blog called Thanks, but No Thanks: A Vital Life Skill. And now that you are not saying yes to everyone and everything, you’ll have time to do what really matters to you. Yay!