How we can unpack the deeper reasons we don’t say ‘No’, and reclaim ourselves in the process
What can I get you? I’ll take an entrée of ‘NO’. Large please. And actually can you bring me a side of ‘No’ topped with a generous dollop of some more ‘No’? Thanks.
If only it were that easy, like ordering a la carte off a restaurant menu. News flash: It is.
No (pun intended), this isn’t a new idea. But I sense that I’m not the only one who contends with this 2-letter word. As a matter of fact, I see it pop up around me regularly with interactions in every realm: work, friendships, family. And our inability to convey it confidently is causing us dissonance.
When we don’t say what we mean and mean what we say, the truth works its way out one way or another but may take a pound of flesh with it in the meantime.
Perhaps this emerges repeatedly because of our perpetual resistance, reticence and roadblocks in the implementation department. Let’s face it, not many of us were brought up with healthy Communication 101, but rather told to be sugar and spice and everything nice. What does that really mean anyway?
What results is that we often say yes when we really mean no. We do it with our work commitments, with our social plans and in our relationships. It’s a pervasive epidemic, doling out the responses we think that others want to hear. The truth is that — this ultimately serves none of us. Why do we wait until we are so frustrated that it pours out blanketed in anger?
Let’s unpack ‘No’ (and I’ve added a little talk back for you):
- We’re afraid to disappoint others. (That’s on them, not you. Don’t disappoint you)
- We don’t want others to disapprove of us. (Get clear on your motivations. Approve of yourself)
- We want to be liked. (I know, but get real. Like yourself first)
- We want to be everything to everyone. (Not even possible. Be everything to yourself)
When we don’t assert our ‘No’s’, when we sacrifice our own needs — saying ‘Yes’ when we really mean ‘No’ — we start getting cranky. We feel it in our bodies and witness our joy fade away.
I grew up in a house where, for the most part, if you didn’t have something nice to say — it was best you didn’t say anything at all. My Dad didn’t really abide by those laws, so in many ways his emotions were the only ones expressed. They were big like he was, so they took up a lot of space. The rest of us skirted the issues and played nice, relinquishing and retreating emotionally…stuff it down, stuff it down, stuff it down. That compromised our ability to communicate in healthy ways, to talk about the ‘tough stuff’, to share authentic emotion with ease. I can’t speak for my siblings, but I had to go out into the world and learn how to do that. That on-the-job-training wasn’t always so neat and tidy — and there were some hard knocks along the way.
My download as a kid that I carried into adulthood is that I was too sensitive, too emotional, too mouthy. In other words, what that really translated to was: I had an opinion, and I regularly got in trouble for expressing it. God, I wish I had figured that out sooner. I’ve spent a long time finding my way back.
Right-siding this isn’t actually so complicated. It simply takes a new awareness and some patience to put it into practice. Think of it as a new gym membership. It’s time to flex a new muscle. And here’s the best news: there is no rush to respond to the requests of others. When someone asks you something from a social commitment to a work deal, you get to push pause.
But here’s the part you may be unfamiliar with: checking in and discerning how it makes you feel. Is it a hell yes? A maybe? Or a no flippin’ way? Are you a knee-jerk responder, one who feels they need to give an instant answer to any question? Practice PAUSE and then figure it out. It isn’t so hard, but will require some follow-up, i.e. listening to self.
So the next time something comes up for you — a question that triggers you, a pesky person in your life who’s poking at you, or you find yourself in an uncomfortable conversation — simply follow these prompts:
Pause. Listen. Follow-up. Serve.
Pause: Create some room to breathe, to figure out how something is making you feel in your time.
Listen: Allow the truth to emerge — you’ll get cues from your body, mind and soul. Life isn’t about people-pleasing.
Follow-up: This is where you do something for your true self. You honor and act upon the feelings that come up.
Serve: Dish up a serving of guilt-free ‘No’ (or Yes, if it resonates).
What may seem unnatural at first, what may make you uncomfortable or even feel a tad bit guilty is often just expressing yourself clearly, openly and honestly. People-pleasing is a slippery slope and ultimately a breeding ground for resentment (and lifelong baggage).
‘No’ isn’t a dirty word. It can be a fierce act of self-love. I don’t like to say it, but my inability to utilize it has led me astray and I wasted a lot of precious energy back-peddling, cleaning up the residue and rerouting. I’m not talking ‘No’ for no’s sake — I’m talking contemplative ‘No’ — touching base with your highest self, your true compass.
Do you need a brush-up in this department? Could you dish-up some self-loving, authentic, guilt-free ‘No’s’ today? They say to practice what you preach. I say, practice what you feel. And if it’s not a Hell Yes, the rest should be a No, thank you!
Do you need a ‘No thank you’ reminder?
Please let me hear where ‘No’ might lighten your step little — leave a comment below!