Sometimes “no” is easy. Like when you say no to a telemarketer or to a child when they want something outrageously expensive. Other times saying no comes with anxiety, fear, tension, and guilt. Like when we say no, we are not going to volunteer to be PTA President (for the third year in a row), or when we tell a family member we will not be joining them for a holiday. Why does the word “no” hold so much power over us?
One reason is the fear of disappointing someone or feeling like we are letting them down. However, we are not responsible for how others react to our “no.” As soon as we begin to change our behaviors, values, and boundaries, allowing other’s emotional reactions to influence us, we are no longer being authentic to ourselves or to the relationship. Implementing healthy boundaries is essential in practicing self-care and self-respect. By saying “yes,” even when we know we do not have the time or energy, disempowers us and allows others to make decisions for us, making us feel helpless.
We sometimes feel guilt, as if we have done something we shouldn’t have or we failed to do something we should have. Toxic guilt is when we feel guilt without actually having done anything wrong. To offset this guilt, we feel that we must explain our “no” or we apologize for it. Like when we say, “I am so sorry that I can’t make six dozen cupcakes for the community bake sale. I am so busy with…” Yet, sometimes the guilt causes us to worry. Feeling that if we do not say “yes”, then the person/event/organization will suffer because of us. We do not need to apologize or explain ourselves when we say no. When we explain our reason, that can sometimes give the other person the opportunity to tear apart our objection and back us into a corner to say “yes.”
So, how do we effectively say “no?” It can be as simple as “no.” We could also say, “No, thank you.” We do not have to add anything else to our sentences. Sometimes the word “no” can be a bit abrasive for some of us to say. If this is you, soften the language by trying “I’d prefer not.” or “I would rather…” You can also use the Oreo cookie communication method, where you say something positive (“Thank you for the opportunity…”), followed by a tactful no, and end with another positive (I have really enjoyed serving on this committee.”)
Finally, take a moment to let it go. It is painful to know someone might be upset or disappointed with us. However, letting it go allows us to move forward with the things we have said “yes” to and honors our healthy boundaries.
If simply saying “no” is what it takes to create balance in your life, decrease your stress, and allows you to get your life back from feeling overcommitted, remember that the simple word “no” is a complete sentence.