The power of the word ‘No’ is often underestimated.

As a society we have a problem setting clear boundaries and saying “No”. We are people-pleasers. We tend to put everyone else’s needs before our own. Underneath every decision we make is the fear of rejection, a yearning for constant approval from others and the overwhelming desire to be wanted and needed.

This tendency to people-please is due largely to the fact that we suffer from self-neglect. We neglect ourselves in order to care for others and put our dreams and our own happiness on the back burner just to make sure everyone else is happy. We need constant validation, and fear that we will be looked upon less favorably, to the point of overcommitting and allowing ourselves to be manipulated and walked all over by those with stronger personalities among us.

Empathy is a beautiful thing. However when empathy infringes on our own wellbeing then it becomes unhealthy, causing ourselves overstress and over-anxiety about the needs of others. Of course, our hearts are saddened to see our loved ones going thru a difficult time and we certainly love them and wish them well. There is nothing we would not do and give just to see them happy and well. But if we ourselves are running on empty then where is our self-compassion? Haven’t we been taught to put the oxygen mask first on ourselves before helping put it on others?

Saying ‘Yes’ to everything means you’re not setting priorities. You’re not making a serious commitment, and you’re certainly not being conscious about your life. Saying ‘Yes’ to everything means you really have time for nothing. You can’t possibly say ‘Yes’ to everything because where will you fit it all? Your days will be crazy, and you’ll have no rest. And what’s even worse, you’ll more than likely not meet all your obligations and needs.

When you say ‘Yes’ to something you don’t enjoy, you are in fact saying ‘No’ to the things you love. You are saying ‘No’ to your dreams. Often it infringes on your personal life and relationships as well, because now you are saying ‘No’ to a fulfilling relationship and to your social life.

The habit of people pleasing is debilitating. So how can you say ‘No’ when something doesn’t feel right and goes against your convictions and your priorities? How can you say it firmly and still be polite and loving? Here are a few ways:

  • “I can’t this time.”
  • “That won’t work for me right now – but I’ll get back to you if anything changes.”
  • “I wish I could, but as a rule, I don’t lend money to friends.”
  • “Sorry – not today.”
  • “I’m sorry it doesn’t meet my needs at the moment”
  • “I have other priorities and I can’t work on this at the moment.”
  • “I’m flattered that you thought of me, but for personal reasons I’m not in a situation where I can take this on.”
  • “I’ve just got too much on my plate right now but I really appreciate you thinking of me.”
  • “Sorry, I really don’t have the funds to donate since I have my own charities I am supporting.”
  • “I know I’m going to disappoint you but I’ve decided not to volunteer this year.”
  • “I’ve really had fun in the past, but I can’t make it this year.”

Don’t be vague with your answer to avoid hurting others’ feelings. It raises false hopes for them, makes you seem indecisive and slows down the process of determining exactly what you really mean. Be respectful in your reply, value the other party’s stance and you’ll be fine. When you mean what you say you let others know you have integrity. Let your ‘Yes’ be a firm ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be a clear ‘No’. Keep your answers short and sweet. You mean well and want to extend kindness. Practice this formula for saying ‘No’:

  • Start with a compliment if the situation calls for it.
  • State your answer clearly but firmly.
  • Thank the person for considering you.
  • Encourage the person and wish them well.
  • Excuse yourself or change the subject.

If you’re still having a hard time saying “No” and feel a compulsion to meet everyone else’s needs before your own then consider this scenario: What if by not saying ‘No’ more often you could die? Because in fact, saying ‘Yes’ all the time adds extra stress to your life. There are some things you can never have back: your time, your health, your virtue, your life. These are all affected when you are constantly saying ‘Yes’.  So if something doesn’t feel right, you have the right to say “No!”

Don’t fear saying “No”. It may seem like a powerfully intimidating two letter word, but for such a tiny word, “no” is profoundly liberating. Learning how to say ‘No’ is one of the most useful skills one can develop. When you know full well that it’s a word that must be said then stay true to yourself and stick to the course. Saying ‘No’ frees you to say ‘Yes’ to the important things that you really, really, want to do.

Your life will thank you.

“When you say ‘Yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘No’ to yourself.”

~Paulo Coelho



© Rani St. Pucchi, 2016

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