Why You’re Saying Yes, When You Really Mean No
Your coworker asked you to work late for him on Friday. As soon as the yes was out of your mouth, you regretted it. You have plans to go see that new Leonardo DiCaprio movie with your girlfriend. Now, you’re going to have to cancel on her.
You were invited to have coffee with some of the moms from your daughter’s class. The only problem is you have a million things to do today. So, why did you say yes?
Possible reasons for saying yes when you really mean no:
- Afraid people will think poorly of you (you’re a slacker, a bad mother, not a team player)
- Afraid of conflict
- Don’t want to let people down
- It’s the polite thing to do
- Desire to be a nice or good person
My client, Jeremy* recognized that he’d accepted a date with a coworker even though he didn’t feel ready to start dating again. He was still healing after the end of his last relationship. Now, he was dreading the date and beating himself up for impulsively saying yes. Jeremy wanted out of the date, but was afraid to tell the woman he’d made a mistake. As we talked, Jeremy realized that he’d said “yes” because he was afraid of hurting her feelings, he was lonely, and out of habit. Saying “yes” was a way to avoid feeling guilty for rejecting this woman. He was used to putting others first and himself last.
Guilt is the feeling that you are doing something wrong. I challenged Jeremy to consider whether saying no was really doing something wrong. Is it wrong to act according to what’s in your own best interest? I say no (assuming it’s not hurting anyone else). Jeremy needed to honor his own needs by declining the invitation because he didn’t feel ready to date yet. Refusing the date aligns with his personal needs and feelings. Accepting the date created tremendous stress. I pointed out that his efforts to avoid feeling bad by saying no had led to him feeling equally bad in another way. Jeremy was suffering as a result of saying yes when he really meant no. Jeremy felt intense anxiety about the upcoming date. He couldn’t sleep and was trying to avoid his coworker at the office.
When you agree to something you don’t want to do, you think you’re avoiding negative feelings but you’re just substituting one bad feeling for another.
You don’t have to explain why you’re saying “no”. However, if you choose to provide an explanation, keep it simple, polite, and focused on yourself. In this case, I suggested Jeremy could say something like: “I’m really sorry that I need to cancel our date. I’ve realized that I’m just not emotionally ready to start dating again and I regret that I didn’t recognize that when you asked me out.” Make sure your “no” is clear. Don’t say maybe, when you really mean no. It’s not fair to lead people on or drag out the inevitable.
You can only control your part of the exchange. Let go of the reaction. Most people will understand an explanation like Jeremy used. However, emotionally unhealthy, insecure, narcissistic, or toxic people will not. That doesn’t make you wrong or bad for asserting your needs.
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Other articles you may like: What Are Healthy Boundaries? or 6 Big Problems with People Pleasing and How to Fix Them.
*Name and details changed to protect privacy.
Photo credit: Artur84 at freedigitalphotos.net
Martin, S. (2018). Why You’re Saying Yes, When You Really Mean No. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 23, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/imperfect/2016/02/why-youre-saying-yes-when-you-really-mean-no/