Learning to Say “No”

24.01.2021 |

Episode #8 of the course Self-confidence for women by Jenny Tudor


Welcome back, we’re getting there! Yesterday we learned about changing our mindset. Today’s lesson is another biggie, saying “no”.

Saying yes to all and everything can leave us feeling resentful if you don’t care for yourself and your own needs. You’ll find you have little of yourself to give—both to your priorities and your own goals. Think back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

I’ve struggled to say no for most of my life. I’ve worried about coming off as unapproachable or, worse I think it’s an honor to be asked or that I’m unique in some way. Nope.

Saying “no” is hard. The difficulty with saying no always boils down to one reason. It means we will need to tolerate difficult emotions from others.

• Suppose you say “no” to your manager’s request to take on a new project. You have to tolerate the anxiety that goes along with imagining that they’ll be disappointed in you.

• Suppose you say “no” to a family member’s request for your time. You have to tolerate the guilt they put on you about not being loyal or loving or caring.

The reason it’s difficult to say “no” is that we all have a hard time doing the right thing – when it feels wrong. So to avoid the unpleasant emotions that would come from setting a boundary and saying “no”, we give in.

Even though it feels like a relief not to have to live with the anxiety or guilt or stress that comes from saying “no”, it’s never worth it. Setting firm boundaries and mastering the art of saying what we think and how we feel will provide more benefit in the long run.


So What Can We Do?

Delay your response: You do not have to respond immediately to other people’s requests. Consciously or not, other people will use pressure to get the reaction from you they want.

Like a salesperson, making things seem urgent and time-sensitive. They pressure you into making a quick decision, which is usually a “yes”.

Try to remind yourself that you don’t need to respond to other people’s requests right away. What’s more, if you get in the habit of delaying your response—you’re training them not to expect immediate yes from you.

Anticipate annoyance from friends, family, or colleagues: you’ve probably unconsciously trained other people in your life to always expect a “yes”. So saying “no” can prompt some upset from loved ones. And, the most common form of upset is in the form of guilt-tripping.

For example:

• After turning down your friend’s invitation to go out tonight, they tell you about how much fun it’s going to be and how you’ll be missing out.

• After saying you’re too exhausted to see your parents at the weekend. They comment that they never see you anymore and you don’t have time for them.

It’s not enough to set boundaries on what you’re willing to do when it comes to saying “no”. You also have to enforce these boundaries.

The difficult part about enforcing your boundaries and saying no. Is tolerating the complicated emotions that come with them.

Whenever you’re in a situation where you’d like to say “no”. Remember that it will be hard, that they’ll guilt-trip you somehow. But it’s doing what is right for you.

Out of all of our lessons, this is challenging work. But if you can expect these difficult reactions and learn to tolerate them, you will feel much better in the end.


More on Boundaries

If tolerating uncomfortable emotions from others is the key to becoming more secure and assertive. Then the key to accepting painful feelings is by starting small and working your way up.

By starting small and by practicing being assertive and saying “no” you will become more comfortable in doing it. Start practicing in small ways.

This could be something like, saying “no” to a co-worker who wants to hand over some work—saying “no” to a friend because you’d like to spend an evening to yourself. Or saying “I need to save money, so I’m going to stay in tonight”.

Personal boundaries are crucial. We’re taught to put others before us and neglect the way we feel. But it is okay to say “no”; it is okay to stand up for yourself and say “no” when someone is affecting your mental health.

Remember having the strength to say “no” is the willingness to respect yourself. Put in the practice, and it will become more manageable. And it will feel more comfortable to sit with the emotions that come with it.

Your task:

• Is there a particular person in your life you have a tough time saying “no” to?

• What emotions do you feel (or fear feeling) when you say “no”?

• What boundaries can you put in place to help you to say “no”?

In the next lesson, we’ll learn about public speaking.


Recommended book

Boundaries, When to Say Yes and When to Say No by Dr. Henry Cloud and John Townsend


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