How many times when you were a kid, mom and dad said no to you?
Situations that, even after years, can bring back memories of unpleasant feelings of rejection, discomfort and sadness that we would not want to relive.
That’s why saying no is often difficult and sometimes frightening.
“What will people think of me if I stopped saying yes to their requests?”
The basic problem behind not wanting to say no, is the fear that others will not like us or will think of us as being rude…we have learned that if we say no, people often get angry, disappointed, offended, and are no longer as open to us as we would like. Because with our nos, we are less open to them and they might not like it. Besides, we might feel guilty and embarrassed…
Yet, saying yes, when we don’t want to, does more harm than you can imagine.
But why is it so difficult for some people to say no while others are not uncomfortable about it?
Our ability to say or not to say no is closely related to our self-esteem. Those who have high self-esteem are neither afraid nor ashamed to express their dissent in front of what they consider inadequate and inappropriate for themselves, and they know that in order to be happy there is no need to please anyone but themselves.
Learning to say no does not mean becoming selfish or indifferent to others, but by setting healthy boundaries, you are teaching others how to treat you.
This is different for those who instead want everyone around them to be happy and they would do anything to please them, this behaviour is a bit like saying “I say yes so you will love, accept and appreciate me”.
Maybe you are someone who tends to avoid conflict, who doesn’t want to appear rude or non caring: this attitude can mask the fear of not being loved, which can push you to do everything you can to be loved and earn the affection of others, even at the expenses of yourself.
When we doubt our own person and our choices, we automatically delegate others to choose for us in exchange for affection, complicity, consideration and acceptance. But it is worth remembering that NOBODY can choose for us.
If we always respond with a yes (when we truly want to say no), we show ourselves for what we aren’t, so we end up saying yes even when deep down our soul is crying to say no, just because we do not want to feel excluded, rejected, or alone.
The truth of the facts is that your loved ones will not love you more if you always say yes, or love you less just because sometimes you disagree and say no. In the same way, those who don’t love you won’t start doing so for your unconditional yeses.
If you believe that agreeing to the requests of others can somehow guarantee you their love, their affection, their time, their dedication, their presence, or their attention, you are taking away the love for yourself.
When you say yes to others, you are saying no to yourself and to your own choices.
1: Get used to making your own decisions
The first thing you need to do is to learn how to make your own decisions.
Learning to say no presupposes that you have the ability to determine exactly what you want to do without letting yourself be influenced by the judgment of others.
Start by training yourself to listen to your own voice, to understand what you want and what feels right for yourself. The secret is to start noticing what happens every time you are about to make a decision, even a simple every day one…
You can practice becoming aware of the choices you make by asking yourself some simple questions: imagine nobody was with you to judge your decision…
How do I want to dress today?
How do I want to spend my day off?
How would I respond to a message?
What do I want to eat?
Where do I want to go on holiday?
How do I want to spend Saturday night?
Are your answers based on what YOU really want or are they the result of other people’s expectations?
2: Set healthy Boundaries
The second important thing to do is to set healthy boundaries.
If you are constantly saying yes to other people, then you are constantly saying no to YOURSELF.
Also, being unable to say no can make you exhausted, stressed and irritable, don’t you think? Perhaps you may think that it makes your life easier to just say yes all the time, or that it shows that you are a nice person.
Nobody wants to come across as mean, lazy, or uncaring but saying yes (when all we want is to say no) is exhausting. There is a big difference in saying ‘yes’ to something when you feel it in your heart, versus ‘yes’ out of fear of the dreadful “I should do this” type of thinking.
Learning to say no to more requests can be one of the biggest favours you can do to yourself. Sometimes we do things that make others feel better, even if it’s not quite what we want to do, and that’s okay.
But if saying yes is affecting yourself and your life, then saying yes to others means you are saying no to yourself. If you are uncomfortable being firm or are dealing with pushy people, it’s OK to say, “Let me think about it and get back to you.” This gives you a chance to think about what your real answer is. Let the fear of being judged, rejected or disliked stop you from being yourself!
3: Listen to your body
What is fatigue or tiredness telling you? It is warning you that you need to take a break and rest.
To learn to say no, you first have to learn to recognise the limits of your body. When you are tired, you will have more difficulty in managing negative emotions and thoughts. That’s why it is important to become aware that if your body is asking you to take a break, it might be difficult to help someone who is asking you for a favour.
When you are tired, but you still want to help someone, it is important to understand that you are free to postpone it; explain why at that moment you have to say no and offer an alternative where you will have the strength and energy to help them.
4: Get used to judgment
A man and his son were once going with their donkey to market. As they were walking along by his side a countryman passed them and said, “You fools, what is a donkey for but to ride upon?” So the man put the boy on the donkey, and they went on their way.
But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said, “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”
So the man ordered his boy to get off and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other, “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”
Well, the man didn’t know what to do, but at last, he took his boy up before him on the donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at.
The men said, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours — you and your hulking son?”
The man and boy got off and tried to think of what to do. They thought and they thought, until at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them until they came to a bridge, when the donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle, the donkey fell over the bridge, and his forefeet being tied together, he was drowned.
Got the metaphor?
You have to get used to being judged because no matter what you do, what you wear, what your choices are, people will always talk, it is just part of human nature.
Try to please everyone, and you will please no one.
Once you realise this and you become aware that you have to make the right choices for yourself, you can say no (or yes) with ease and you will be free from judgment! And I will tell you this…it is liberating when you stop caring about what people think of you.
5: Don’t be unprepared
Anticipate the requests that others may make to you, especially if they are frequent and maybe in the past you have handled them badly, not knowing how to say no.
Think about that specific pushy person (everyone has one :))…and decide, with a calm mind, what to answer.
Do you want to say no? Perfect, decide how you are going to do it.
Imagine the moment, the scene, decide what you are going to say, how you are going to handle it and imagine saying the things in your head.
One of the reasons why we struggle to say no is that we often don’t know how to do it and can’t find the right words to say it properly and nicely.
As we have seen so far, saying no does not mean becoming selfish, but it is about learning to respect ourselves and knowing how to set healthy boundaries.
Having said that you might fear rejection, abandonment, being judged by people who are perhaps used to getting what they ask from you.
Allow yourself to do the things you prefer, decide for yourself and reject anything you don’t want to do.
Once you will stop caring about what people think of you and you will learn to say no with confidence, you not only improve your ability to communicate with others, but you also improve your quality of life.
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