Why is it So Hard to Say No?
All the people of the world can be divided into two groups: those who can say “no” easily, and those who cannot.
To the folks in the first group, it’s difficult to imagine why anyone would have a problem with it. Like the famous line from the old movie, To Have or To Have Not, “You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow,” people in the first group might say, “What’s so hard about it? Start with N, and end with O.”
But for many, many people, it’s just not that simple. Saying “no” for them carries enormous baggage. This is especially true for those who grew up in households which offered them little opportunity to say no. This is a version of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).
Four Barriers to Saying No
1. Guilt: People who struggle with this often tell me that they feel guilty for hours after saying “no” to someone, even if that person’s request was unreasonable. The guilt comes from feeling that they should always be helpful and willing, and that if they are not, then they are a bad person.
2. Low Self-worth: This is a general sense that you are not as important as other people. Your needs, your feelings, come second. Others’ needs and feelings are more deserving than your own. You don’t have the right to put your own before theirs.
3. Lack of Skill: If you have spent your entire life always saying “yes,” then you may not know how to say anything different. The idea of saying no may feel foreign and just plain wrong. How do you do it? How do you say it?
4. False Belief: This is a false idea that you have to give a reason for saying no. If a friend asks you to pick up her dry-cleaning, do you have to explain to her the reasons why you can’t do it? Do you have a good excuse? This false belief often leads to long, detailed, unnecessary explanations.
Four Principles For Saying No
1. All of the people in your life have every right to ask you for anything. In return, you have every right to say “no.” Your guilt will dissipate if you understand and accept your true rights.
2. Your needs and feelings are every bit as important as everyone else’s. You are the guardian of your own feelings and needs. You have a responsibility to yourself to prioritize them.
3. Saying “no” does not involve skill. It only involves a willingness to make yourself uncomfortable. The more you do it, the easier it will feel; not because you learned how to do it, but because you’re getting accustomed to it.
4. You do not need to give a reason. An extension of your right to say “no” is that you can do so with no explanation, no excuse. “I’m sorry, I can’t,” “I’m not able to do it,” or just simply, “No,” are all it takes.
Read these principles over and over. Post them on your bathroom mirror. Digest them. Remember them.
For they will set you free.