Just Say No - Overcoming the disease to please
Author: Linda S. Hopkins
Scene 1: It’s Friday afternoon, and the end of a stressful work week is in sight. You can’t wait to get home, kick off your shoes and settle in for an evening with Netflix. Then comes a desperate text from your sister. Her babysitter has bailed and she needs you to keep her two kids for the night. Single and dateless, of course, you are “free,” and you do love your niece and nephew. How could you not oblige?
Scene 2: You have plans to spend a fun, relaxing weekend at home—sleep in for a change, make pancakes for the kids, maybe go for a bike ride, do a little shopping, pack a picnic and head to the park. The phone rings. The Sunday school superintendent is sick and cannot lead the church’s weekend youth retreat. Could you possibly fill in? Out of your mouth comes, “Yes, of course. I’m happy to help.” But are you really happy about changing your plans?
In either case, you feel put upon. Resentment bubbles up with a touch of anger, tempered by an undercurrent of guilt for feeling resentful, angry and put upon….
Why is it so common to burden ourselves with other people’s problems? And why do so many of us feel compelled to say yes when we would rather be doing something else?
The short answer is because we have been socialized to be nice. We all want to be thought of as good people (helpful, generous, kind), and we all desire to be liked. One of our greatest human needs is to belong—to fit in, to be connected. Saying no can be extraordinarily painful, because it is predicated on fear—fear of not being liked, accepted, admired or respected.
While it’s natural to feel sorry for another person’s predicament, we are not obligated to fix the problem. Failing to recognize this and set appropriate boundaries can drain us of our last ounce of energy and goodwill. For the sake of health and happiness, it is sometimes essential to say no. The trick is to do this and still feel good about who we are.
The slogan that can set you free
“Just Say No” is a catchphrase most closely associated with the anti-drug ad campaign championed by former first lady Nancy Reagan during her husband’s presidency. The program aimed to educate teens on the dangers of drugs and teach them to manage the associated peer pressure. For most mature, responsible adults today, saying no to illicit drugs is a no-brainer; but what about saying no to demands on our time, energy, money and resources? Denying the entreaties of street beggars, telephone solicitors and savvy salesmen can be challenging, but far more gut-wrenching is the effort it takes to turn down requests from people whom we most want to please—family members, bosses, colleagues, children, friends and partners—for favors big and small, requiring varying degrees of generosity, sacrifice, effort or inconvenience. We are often subject to a subtle, indirect kind of peer pressure, which, coupled with our self-imposed sense of duty and desire to be liked, elicits a yes when we secretly wish to “just say no.”
Obviously, there are occasions when saying no isn’t an option. Each person’s life comes with a set of obligations and responsibilities, based on circumstances of both choice and chance. We all have to cooperate and compromise, and we can’t always get what we want. But many times, we do have a choice that we simply fail to exercise.
How to say no
Megan LeBoutillier wrote a handy little self-help book on the topic of personal boundaries. Read no further than the title and discover a profound and life-changing concept: “No” is a Complete Sentence. Sometimes the best approach is to simply say no, but we want to say it in a way that is honest and loving. Here are some examples of ways to say no kindly but firmly:
• “I’d love to, but I can’t.” Notice that this includes no reasons or excuses. You don’t have to explain. An effective “no” does not open the door to argument or make way for guilt on your part.
• “Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for me, but thanks for thinking of me.” Again, you are saying a definite no without the need to explain.
• “I’m not available at that time.” This one leaves the door open if you want to say yes at a different time or offer an alternative.
Don’t expect others to make this easy. No one likes hearing “no,” and often the person on the receiving end will try to “guilt” you into changing your mind. You can try the broken record technique, simply repeating yourself until your no is understood to be final. If that approach fails, you might take it a step further by adding a follow up:
• “I know you are disappointed, but no.”
• “I understand that you feel let you down, but no.”
• “I care about that, but no.”
Like any skill you wish to perfect, the art of saying no clearly and with ease takes practice. Here are a few strategies:
Make an absolute yes list. Remember that saying no to one thing means saying yes to something else, and vice versa. It’s impossible to know from day to day what might be requested of you. So, make a list of activities and responsibilities as well as purchases that are priorities. Examples might be time to exercise, play with your children or help with homework, shop for your family or for yourself, work in your garden or simply relax and read a book or magazine; money priorities might include saving for retirement, your child or grandchild’s college fund, a vacation, a new appliance or a monthly massage. When you are clear about what’s important to you, then it’s easier to determine when to say no.
Buy some time. Oprah Winfrey once divulged that when put on the spot, her answer is, “Let me pray about it.” Then, she can always say that Jesus told her to say no! While she said this lightheartedly, she was dead serious about the tactic. Don’t immediately say yes.
Ask for time to think about it and get back to the person with your answer. This not only allows you to respond gracefully, but it also commands respect, because you gave consideration to the request.
Write your own script. Most people have a tendency to over-explain. Rather than invent or stumble over a string of excuses, use the suggested scripts above to craft your own response, and practice putting “no” into words that you feel comfortable saying. Remember that you don’t owe anyone an explanation or apology for the way you choose to invest yourself.
Just say no, and say YES to a rich and rewarding life.
Linda S. Hopkins is a former weight loss coach and a recovering people pleaser. From years of helping others learn to say no, she has, at last, said yes to herself. She is using her newfound time and energy to keep in shape, lunch with the ladies, and enjoy each day.