Do you constantly find yourself saying “yes” to activities that you don’t even really want to do because you are afraid of hurting someone else’s feelings? For some of us, turning someone down and saying “no” can induce feelings of guilt and anxiety. Our automatic response may be to say yes to everything even when we’re already feeling overwhelmed, because we want to be liked and want others to see us as a competent person who can handle a lot of things. Were brought up in a culture where working hard and being busy all the time is seen as a sign of success. The truth is, when you say yes to everyone else, you are saying no to yourself in some way. For example, maybe you had something you really wanted to do one weekend (or maybe you just wanted some time alone to yourself to unwind), but you once again find yourself with a jam-packed schedule doing things other people want you to do. If you say yes to working overtime once again, you are saying no to having dinner with your family or friends. So give yourself permission to say no sometimes. Remember that you are just one person and you don’t have to be everywhere at once, pleasing everyone else in your life and exhausting yourself in the process. The following are some steps that can help you in learning to say “no”.
- Know what the consequences of saying yes are. Before automatically saying yes, pause and consider the following. How will this affect you if you say yes? Will you have any time for yourself this week? Do you have the time for this? Most importantly, is this something you actually want to do?
- Be clear about your goals and what you want. If you have decided you want to be healthier, it is ok to decline a night of going out drinking with your friends. If you have decided you want to save money, it is ok to turn down an expensive weekend trip. You can always offer an alternative such as going for a walk or grabbing coffee.
- Keep it simple. You don’t need to give an elaborate excuse for why you are saying no or apologize profusely. You can give a short simple firm no, stick with it, and remember its always ok to propose another time to do something when you don’t feel so overwhelmed.
- Avoid the nice trap. Saying no to something doesn’t mean you are being a bad friend, and conversely saying yes to everything doesn’t necessarily make you a nicer, kinder person. You can still be a kind compassionate friend who takes the time to listen when someone is struggling, without also saying yes to everything you are asked to do. Also, if you always find yourself saying yes to everything that is asked of you, you might end up resenting the other person.
- Realize that saying no is ok. People aren’t going to think that you are impolite or rude. We tend to be the ones who create inaccurate stories in our heads where we imagine the other person being angry or upset with us for saying no. The reality is that most people understand that life gets busy and won’t fault you for it. If someone does actually get angry at you for saying now isn’t a good time, it says more about the other person not being respectful of your time rather than what it says about you. Likewise, if you always say yes, you may end up being taken advantage of and seen as the person who will go along with anything.
The more you practice saying no, as with anything, the easier it will become. It can also be empowering as you are taking charge of your life and deciding what is a priority and what you value.
If you would like to talk to a licensed therapist, get in touch with Symmetry Counseling today. We offer free 20-minute consultations for in-person and online counseling in Chicago. We’re here to support you.