If you’re like me, you often feel pressured to say yes to every request. Can you make cupcakes for Wednesday’s bake sale? Sure! After school, will you run carpool for soccer practice? You bet! Can you make dinner for Mrs. Jones who just had surgery? Absolutely! Did I truly want to say yes to any of those requests? No. The reality is that I say yes to every request because I am motivated by that dreaded disease: the disease to please. And, as a result, I end up overscheduling myself into an exhausted lump of quivering flesh by the end of the week. Not only do I end up giving my second best to my children, I leave little to no time for myself.
A while ago, after several sessions with my therapist, I had an epiphany about my disease. I discovered I was trying to become this ideal superwoman who could work full time, take care of her children, teach piano lessons, take classes for personal improvement, and serve others whenever asked. If someone asked me to do something, I always answered yes because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. If I couldn’t think of a really good reason for saying no, like a conflict in schedules, I would always feel guilty if I didn’t say yes. What my therapist helped me realize is that saying no to a request is actually saying yes to yourself. He emphasized that I should say yes to myself as frequently as possible especially to meet emotional needs, desires, and dreams. Further, he emphasized, that saying no is an essential skill in life and that there are many ways to do it in a positive, relationship-affirming way.
- Saying no can save relationships. If you find yourself always saying yes to your SO, you may be slowly building resentment between the two of you. If your SO wants to go fishing every Saturday and you say yes but inside you feel like you would like him to fish only once or twice a month, then you need to articulate this to him. If you say yes and then resent him for it, that resentment is like poison that builds up and destroys relationships.
- Saying no is a form of self-care. It is vital for your own health to know where your limits need to be. You only have 24 hours in each day. Eight of those need to be for sleep. What are your other obligations? What is essential? What is optional? Make sure that each day you have put yourself on your schedule. Do not give away “me time.” Guard it as carefully as you would a work meeting. Creating boundaries is not a rejection of another person. It is a compassionate way of advocating for yourself.
- When you say no, offer an alternative IF you feel like it. No doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation if you don’t want it to be. You can offer an alternative that you feel more comfortable with. If your friend wants to go out dancing for a girl’s night, but you are not comfortable with the bar scene, tell her, “I would love to spend time with you. Could we consider a different activity instead?” Don’t ignore the request or lie and say you’re busy. Be gracious and be honest. This will help you build your relationship by avoiding the trap of resentment.
- Consider the situation in reverse. Have you ever hosted a party and had a friend arrive extremely late and then only stay a few minutes? It probably really hurt your feelings. What if that friend had been honest and said that they just couldn’t make it? You may have been sad at first, but then you would’ve appreciated the honesty and not wasted the emotional energy on worrying about if/when your friend would make her appearance at your shindig. If you’re tempted to say yes when you really need to say no, remember that people will understand when you need to turn them down. They would rather you know your limitations and honor your boundaries then agree to something you simply cannot do.
- When saying no, use “I” statements. If someone wants a little more explanation when you’re turning them down, try to focus on your feelings and needs. If you don’t want to go dancing at a bar, tell your friend, “I do not enjoy the smell of alcohol. It gives me a headache, and then I feel sick the whole day after we go dancing.” This allows you to honor self and communicate your needs at the same time.
For some people, saying no is not difficult. For me, it’s extremely difficult. It feels mean. Even if I have a really great reason for saying no, I still feel like a jerk when I need to say it. What I have to remind myself is that saying no to someone is saying yes to myself. Saying yes to myself will lead to a healthier, more balanced version of me. Offering my family and friends the happiest version of me is the best gift I can give them. Steve Jobs said, “It’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” Regardless of where you are in this journey of life, saying no will help you take time for what matters most!