Do you wish you could put your foot down sometimes and say no? Many of us feel compelled to agree to every request, and would rather juggle a million jobs than refuse to help, even if we are left with no time for ourselves. But learning to say no can earn you respect from yourself as well those around you.
So why do we continue to say yes? It could be that we believe that saying no is uncaring, even selfish, and we may have a fear of letting other people down. On top of this may be a fear of being disliked, criticized, or risking a friendship.
Interestingly, the ability to say no is closely linked to self-confidence. People with low self-confidence and self-esteem often feel nervous about antagonizing others and tend to rate others’ needs more highly than their own.
Perhaps overbearing parents or experiencing parenthood yourself has encouraged this tendency. Women in particular are prone to falling into the trap. You may have been raised to be a “sweetheart” who was always good and took care of the other children. These childhood influences are key to the formation of beliefs such as “I’m only lovable if I’m compliant and helpful.” If you feel you have become a “people-pleaser,” your self-worth may have come to depend on the things you do for other people. A vicious circle develops in which the people around you expect you to be there for them all the time and comply with their wishes.
Being unable to say no can make you exhausted, stressed and irritable. It could be undermining any efforts you make to improve your quality of life if you spend hours worrying over how to get out of an already-promised commitment. If your spare time is taken up with committee meetings and myriad other engagements, your family may be suffering.
Don’t wait until your energy runs out before you take a much needed step back to assess the situation.
Top Tips for Saying No
- Keep your response simple. If you want to say no, be firm and direct. Use phrases such as “Thanks for coming to me but I’m afraid it’s not convenient right now” or “I’m sorry but I can’t help this evening.” Try to be strong in your body language and don’t over-apologize. Remember, you’re not asking permission to say no.
- Buy yourself some time. Interrupt the ‘yes’ cycle, using phrases like “I’ll get back to you,” then consider your options. Having thought it through at your leisure, you’ll be able to say no with greater confidence.
- Consider a compromise. Only do so if you want to agree with the request, but have limited time or ability to do so. Suggest ways forward to suit both of you. Avoid compromising if you really want or need to say no.
- Separate refusal from rejection. Remember you’re turning down a request, not a person. People usually will understand that it is your right to say no, just as it is their right to ask the favor.
- Don’t feel guilty for saying no to your children. It is important for them to hear no from time to time so that they develop a sense of self-control. It is hard to negotiate adult life without this important skill. Rather than cave in to their protests, let them know who is in charge by setting boundaries.
- Be true to yourself. Be clear and honest with yourself about what you truly want. Get to know yourself better and examine what you really want from life.
Reference and other resources
Collingwood, J. (2007). Learning To Say No. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 26, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/learning-to-say-no/0001173
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.