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For so many of us the word “No” is one of the hardest words to say, but I believe that it is also one of the most important. Let me tell you why I think we have a hard time saying it, following through when we do, and why it’s so important to our wellness to say it, mean it, and practice it.

I am a people pleaser; it’s been ingrained into me since I was a child. Oh sure I was always the hyper kid, always on, but when it came right down to it, I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be liked so I did things for others, sometimes when I really didn’t want to. This has followed me into adulthood and has made it really difficult at times for me to say no to others. I also have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and if I am the slightest bit manic, I tend to overcommit myself, whether that is with different projects, agreeing to help people with their projects, volunteering my time with organizations, the list goes on and on and on. When I come out of that manic phase, I am left with a pile of commitments and not even close to enough time to complete them. This throws my balance right off, which ups my anxiety and then cycles me into depression. If you’ve ever lived in that place, you know that not much gets accomplished there. The one great thing that has come out of all of this is that it has taught me a lesson; I’ve learned how to say no.

Why is it difficult to say No?

  • We are people pleasers. I want them to be happy. I want to be the one to make them happy.
  • We are afraid of confrontation. If I say no there is going to be conflict.
  • We feel guilty. If I don’t agree to do this thing for this person I love I’m a terrible person.
  • There could be ramifications. My boss asked me to do this extra work for them when I have a full plate already and John over there has nothing but time. I can’t say no because it will look like I’m not part of the team or doing my job well.
  • Fear of rejection. If I don’t do this for them, they just may not like me anymore.
  • Feeling of responsibility. If I don’t do this, who will.

The examples above are very minimal when it comes to why it can be difficult for us to say no. There are so many reasons, everyone has a story, and it’s all individual. But, it’s pretty universal when it comes to how important it is to learn to say no.

What happens when we never say No?

When we are continually saying yes and prioritizing other people’s needs over our own, something shifts inside of us and the following can happen:

  • We can easily become enablers. If we start taking over the responsibilities of someone dependent on us, who really needs to take care of them, we’re not doing anyone any favors.
  • We can lose focus. Saying yes all of the time gets overwhelming and that can lead to us becoming unfocused. When we’re unfocused, balance goes right out the window. We must decide what takes priority.
  • We can get taken for granted. Sometimes the people in our life are used to us cleaning up their messes, or doing everything for them. It may not be a spiteful thing, but if we are always there to take charge of their baggage, they start to expect it.
  • We become unavailable to say YES to important things. If we’re always doing things for others, we may miss out on something really good for ourselves.
  • Our feelings can become invalid. We take everyone else’s thoughts, feelings, and views above our own.

How do we start to say No?

This is the hard part. If we have been saying yes to everyone for a really long time, it’s not going to be easy to just start saying no right away. The best way to do this is to become more assertive. I know what you’re thinking, “I’ve heard this before.” I’m completely serious about this. Being assertive has absolutely nothing to do with being aggressive; some people get the two confused. When you are assertive, you are getting your feelings and points across to the other person (or people) in a clear and concise manner, without attacking them. Here are a few tips to get you going on becoming more assertive:

  • Be sincere
  • Be receptive
  • Establish clear boundaries
  • Be willing and open to compromise
  • Listen
  • Use “I” statements instead of “You” statements

Assertiveness falls between passive and aggressive. It’s all about establishing boundaries, which is very difficult, but so healthy. If you want to live a healthier and happier life, learn to say no if it doesn’t suit you. Of course you’re going to help the people you love. Of course you’re going to try your hardest at work. Of course you’re going to try to make people happy. That is not what I’m talking about, well not completely. What I’m saying is that when you’re never saying no, and always overextending yourself for everyone else, eventually it will come back to you in a negative way. Saying no isn’t a bad thing. Taking care of yourself, and saying YES to you is healthy and good and full of promise. Try it out. Let go of the feelings of guilt. That takes us right back to my last blog, Me Time Is Not Selfish Time, maybe if you say no a little more often, you can find some extra time for YOU. Like anything new the more you do it, the easier it will become, and it is always a choice that you have to make for yourself.