The word NO: How does something that looks and sound so simple have such weighted implications? In general, for women especially, saying no is not something we are taught. We learn quickly to put others first and forget about our needs in the process. How do you get back to yourself? It starts with setting boundaries in your relationships and your external commitments. Recently, I have begun to extract myself from more and more external commitments. This in turn has allowed me to say ‘yes’ to myself and the people I care the most about in the world. Basically the more I say no, the more my life becomes my own again. Guilt has been my biggest obstacle in setting these new boundaries. It’s possible that the guilt may always be there, but the relief and open space in my life far outweighs any negativity.
“No is a complete sentence.” -Anne Lamott
When asked to do something that I know in my gut isn’t right for me, a simple ‘no’ will suffice. If you have come to peace within yourself about your decision, all you need is a ‘no’ and nothing else. Justifications offer up loopholes to the other person that may allow them to hook you back into a yes. Saying no and meaning it is the equivalent of telling your child ‘because I said so’. If I’m saying it, then that’s all you need to hear. Of course, being caught off guard with a request or facing a person directly can throw you off your course. A wise friend once shared this tactic with me: defer to a later time, say you need to check your schedule or check in with your spouse or partner first. Then, when you’ve had some time to gather up your courage and craft an articulate response, you can circle back with your ‘no’. Those of us new to the No Game may need a buffer like this until we get more comfortable saying no as soon as we feel it.
I have found saying no to someone I care about is often the hardest kind. I have learned that if the person respects me, they are able to handle the ‘no’ gracefully. I am finding that saying no shows me clearly who in my life cares about me as a person as opposed to what I can do for them. So, really, saying no is a great way to parse out who authentically cares about you. I’m not saying that there won’t be painful realizations along the way, but in the long run, it feels better to be in relationships with people who accept you as you are without having to earn their approval.
When someone is genuinely interested in you and your well-being, when they run up against a no from you, they may take the time to ask you some details about your decision. You can tell rather quickly when someone is asking because they care and not because they are trying to find that manipulative loophole like I mentioned above. If you are feeling manipulated, keep it short and sweet. In some instances, I have found if I am friendly with a person, sometimes I am comfortable explaining my ‘no’ a little bit more. There are some explanations that I feel comfortable sharing and some that are private and personal. On occasion, I will share the private and personal if the other person has earned my trust. It helps to remember all of us are complicated human beings with complicated lives. A ‘no’ that doesn’t seem justified on a surface level could have many deep layers to it that aren’t seen or known by many people.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” —Wendy Mass
I recently had lunch with a friend that I have continued to say ’no’ to concerning a non-profit that we both are involved in. She is someone I trust and I finally shared some of my personal reasons that ’no’ is where I am at right now and will be for the foreseeable future. Her response was awesome. “Only you can know what you need to do to take care of yourself. When you have that figured out, do that.” Not only did she accept my ’no’ with grace, she cared enough to encourage me to stand strong in my ‘no’.
At the end of the day, the world keeps spinning if you say ‘yes’ or ’no’. Wouldn’t you rather enjoy your day than have it given over to too many outside responsibilities and commitments? The answer is yours to give.
Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent