Yesterday I brought up the often uncomfortable topic of saying no to family members. When you haven’t learned this skill over years of time, it can be a challenge to start. Keep these things in mind as you learn how to say no when you really need to.
Kind Canned Phrases – Keep a few example statements fresh in your mind to whip out when you need to. No need to be rude, just direct and with a bit of sweetness to acknowledge their interest in you. “Oh thanks for asking, that sounds great. But sorry, I can’t.” Or, “I’m so glad to see you. I’m in the middle of something, so I can’t let you in right now. I’ll call you later today. Thanks!”
Have An Exit Plan – If you have trouble keeping on schedule when you spend time with your sister, have a firm exit plan before you ever commit your time. Know you needs for making the transition between weekends and work or school days. Understand the time and stress level of traveling to her house. Understand your child’s limits for going back and forth and needing the comfort of home. Protect your child’s bedtime routine.
When you have these guidelines firm in your mind, you can make a more realistic plan. If you try to do this on the fly, you are more likely to be influenced by your sister’s emotions at the moment. If you set the boundary ahead of time, you can keep better control.
Hold Your Boundaries Firmly - I’m reminded of a funny conversation from a classic Seinfeld episode. Jerry makes a reservation for a certain car, but when he tries to pick it up, the rental company is out of the kind he requested. He laments to a rental agent about how they know how to take the reservation, but they apparently don’t know how to HOLD the reservation. And it’s the holding that really matters.
Just like with Jerry’s situation, holding to your stated boundary is what really counts. If you make a firm statement but let your family members bowl you over with little effort, they won’t change a thing about how they treat you. When you actually leave when you said you would, when you actually hang up the phone, when you actually say goodbye and shut the door, when you do these things in spite of their emotional reaction, then you will have started making something happen.
Be aware that this kind of change can take some time to get used to, both for you and the family member you have difficulty with. Even if they seem offended or react abruptly to your “no”, stay patient. If they become mean and hostile about the change, then maybe you don’t need so much of them in your life anymore.
Hopefully in most cases, some time and consistency will help everyone learn new habits. Just like when your kids test you, expect family members to continue trying to run over your boundaries at times. Old habits can die hard. Be kind and consistent and you will reap the rewards of more peace in your home. Saying “no” may not always be easy, but it can be a true gift to you and your family.
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From Psych Central's website:
PsychCentral (October 3, 2009)
GF Benz, MD MBA (October 4, 2009)
From Psych Central's Erika Krull, MS:
Happy Birthday Family Mental Health | Family Mental Health (May 3, 2010)
Last reviewed: 3 Oct 2009