The word ‘no’ is losing its power. Often people who say ‘no’ get ignored, labeled as high maintenance or weak, or become guilted into saying ‘yes.’ When did a word that is a clear stop sign become a suggestion to change our minds? Spoiler alert: it isn’t.
The Power of Words
The word ‘no’ is too often interpreted as a shut down of the asker. ‘No’ is negative and boring, while ‘yes’ is fun.
Psychology Today differentiates the two terms beautifully. Judith Sills writes, “Yes supports risk-taking, courage, and an open-hearted approach to life whose grace cannot be minimized. But No — a metal grate that slams shut the window between one’s self and the influence of others — is rarely celebrated. It’s a hidden power because it is both easily misunderstood and difficult to engage.” ‘No’ is the boring grump you don’t want at your parties, while ‘yes’ is the one who starts said parties.
Why We Avoid Saying No
I can’t be the only one who suffers from people-pleasing. I need everyone to like me in order to move on with my life. Somehow, I’ve managed to convince myself that saying yes to anything and everything, no matter how busy, incapable, or uninterested I am, is the way to get the praise I crave.
When did saying yes, overloading our plates, and neglecting our boundaries become the way to get people to like us? Shockingly, doing all of those things is more likely to get you burnt out, make your work and social lives suffer, and possibly make people frustrated with you.
But there’s still a taboo around saying no. It carries with it a connotation that you’re accepting defeat or you’re incapable of accomplishing tasks. Saying no or backing out of commitment is too often associated with weakness. But saying no is often the hardest thing you can do.
When to Use and Withhold Your No
There are many instances when we don’t have to use the word ‘no’. Saying a flat-out ‘no’ can agitate the situation or make something a bigger deal than it actually is. This could be when your partner wants to do something that you don’t necessarily want to, or when you know doing something would be for the best, but might not be enjoyable at the time — like working out, going to work, or cleaning. ‘No’ shouldn’t be a shield against doing anything disagreeable or annoying. Using it at these times can drain power from the word. In these situations, the important thing to realize is your boundaries. If something is way out of your comfort zone, say no. If it’s something that’s doable, just not at the moment, think of rescheduling. And if it’s something you’re not completely comfortable with, try to compromise until you get to an agreement in which both parties are comfortable.
That being said, sometimes it’s necessary to say no. This week I worked on saying ‘no,’ keeping in mind that saying no is a symbol of my strength, not my weakness.
I am tired of saying yes to things I don’t want to do. The holiday season is when you’re the most likely to get roped into doing things that you’d rather not do. While it’s a little more challenging to tell your mother that you don’t want to do years-old traditions for Christmas this year, I think this challenge came at the exact right time for me.
I’m going to try my best to be polite and loving during this week. I want to honor the power of the word ‘no’ and not overuse it. I also don’t want to be the reason anyone gets sad or upset this close to Christmas. But I do want to honor and respect myself and this challenge.
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I found that one of the easiest ways to say no respectfully is to compromise. One of the first things I said no to were some of my mother’s Christmas traditions.
My mother adores traditions. The only problem with traditions is that they don’t change. It’s been over thirty years and no one has thought, “Damn! Riding around in the back of a truck two days before Christmas actually isn’t fun. Let’s not do that.” So I did. I called my mom and asked (politely) if we could skip the freezing joyride, and instead drink Bailey’s and go through her Bumble account. Shockingly, she agreed and now we have a new tradition!
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The holidays are hectic, that’s just the truth. While I’d love to stretch my days and make them about ten hours longer, that’s not going to happen.
There were a few things I was invited to that I knew I would either be too busy or too burnt out to go to. I then debated whether it mattered that I was there for the event, or if it was my presence that mattered. The event wasn’t necessarily the important bit, so I asked to reschedule until after the new year. Rescheduling is one of the best ways to say no temporarily, but not permanently.
Ask for Help
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If you read ‘ask for help’ as ‘admitting defeat,’ I’m right there with you. I don’t ask for help. I like to think I’m capable of doing everything by myself. But that’s not always true. For example, my partner and I got a kitten for Christmas. She’s perfect and adorable and lovely, but she’s a kitten who is now living in my house. One morning, I couldn’t take it anymore – I called my partner and told him that I needed him to take over.
While this wasn’t necessarily a ‘no,’ it was a pause. No’s don’t always have to be hard and fast. Saying no to some responsibilities and asking others to help you can be temporary.
Make Clear Boundaries
Setting boundaries is one of the most important things you can do in every relationship of your life. I have boundaries for work, friends, family, and my partner. Once anyone crosses my boundaries, I tell them no. While it might seem scary and vulnerable, that’s when you gain the most respect. You’re the only person who can draw the line on how people treat you.
I have to reimplement the boundary of not talking COVID, conspiracies, or politics when I’m home with my mom. I walk into her house and tell her that I will leave if she crosses these boundaries. And I don’t do it because I want to shut her out or disrespect her – it’s because I know I’ll be more disrespectful to her if she begins talking about those things. The boundaries I set aren’t just for me; they also protect others around me.
This season, I give you permission to selfishly say no. You can easily lose yourself in the stress of life and often can get swept away doing everything for everyone. Take some time to be selfish and say no to at least one thing because you don’t want to do it.
I said no to a few things that then let me say yes to other things. My partner and I decided to both stop work and go see Spider-Man: No Way Home…twice. I also said no to other events and commitments so I could stay at home and rest before we headed out for the holidays. It’s okay to say no, even if it’s just for selfish reasons.
I can take weeks to text back. Sometimes, that pause is intentional. If someone texts me something heavy, or something they need a lot of help with when I’m busy or tired, I don’t respond. I know I can’t give their problems the correct amount of attention. Once I get my rest or find a quiet moment, I’ll call them or send a voice text. If their problem is bigger than what I can handle, I’ll tell them that too. Everyone who texts me knows that I’m only a phone call away, not a text message. If they truly need me, they will call.
There are times when your friends will expect more from you than you’re able or willing to give. Draw your lines and ask people to respect them. If they don’t, that’s their problem.
Shockingly, no one hates me after this week. I broke no friendships, no bonds, and no one looked down on me because I said no to them. I said it at the beginning of this article and I’ll say it again: saying no is one of the strongest things you can do. Setting boundaries and sticking to them is difficult, especially if you’re a people-pleaser like I am. But saying no, especially during this week, helped me really celebrate the holidays without feeling burnt out or tired, like I often do.
I respected my boundaries and asked others to do the same. Yes, I will probably continue to people-please, but maybe not to the extent I used to. I want to be very clear on what makes me happy and comfortable and what doesn’t, and I want to have the freedom to say no to things. It’s not a bad word – it’s a strong word.
How are you at saying no? What challenge should I do next? Comment below!
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