Life Coaching Tip: If saying “no” is a challenge for you, start small. The more you practice setting boundaries, the more confident you will become at standing up for yourself. This is important, because in the end, it’s not about saying “no” at all. It’s about learning to say “yes” to yourself!
I can still remember the first time I said “no” to someone without apology or explanation.
It may sound odd that I remember this as a milestone in my life, but honestly, I do.
Like many people, I was taught from an early age NEVER to say “no” to an adult. As a matter of respect, it didn’t matter how I felt about it, I learned that it was wrong to debate the point, complain, or say “no.”
And it went on… because this wasn’t just true when a directive came from an adult. Really, I was taught that it was impolite to say “no” to just about anybody.
As a young girl, I was expected to smile, comply and “be nice.” This meant it was definitely not okay to “hurt someone’s feelings.”
My feelings? Well, they didn’t matter much. At least that was the messaging I received. All that seemed to matter was not “making” anyone else unhappy, disappointed, or angry.
And so, for much of my life, I was saying “yes” to just about everything. My plate was more than full, and I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and unhappy.
And the guilt! You see, as much as I tried to not “make” anyone unhappy, disappointed, or angry, they often were. Trying to anticipate other people’s reactions and getting ahead of it ramped up my anxiety and choosing between requests made me crazy.
I had no idea how to stop the endless pattern of trying to please others at the sake of my own happiness. Although I knew it would be a good idea to say “yes” to my own wants and needs now and then, it never felt worth the guilt that would follow.
I also didn’t really know what I wanted and needed because I had little experience with these thoughts. My brain was trained to tap into other people’s feelings and to consider their wants and needs, not my own.
Now I’m going to stop here for a moment and say, I know, for sure, that I’m not the only woman on the planet who grew up this way.
Unfortunately, I think most of us did. The conditioning, often from very well-meaning, loving adults, started early and we took it from there.
And today, we receive conflicting messages from the media and elsewhere telling us to make ourselves a priority, practice self-care, and “just say no” to all that does not serve us. But if this is unfamiliar, it can bring on even more uncomfortable, shame producing feelings.
So, if you can relate to any of this and also have trouble saying “no,” here’s what worked for me…
I practiced saying “no” in little bits. First with people I hardly knew, like at the grocery story, and then I gradually made my way to acquaintances and those closer to me.
As I practiced, I tried doing so without explanation or apology, giving up the idea that I needed to gain the other person’s approval to make it “okay.”
Sister, that was a hard one! But I’m much better at it today. Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of tapping into my own wants, needs, and values, and saying “no” to all that doesn’t align with them.
Now going back to the start of this story, I’ll finish telling you about that first memorable time…
It was my daughter, Marissa’s, senior year of high school, and she was finally coming back after being injured for most of the track season. As you might imagine, I was excited (and a little nervous) to see her run again, and I knew it might be the last time I’d see her compete in high school.
Well, the night before that meet, I received a call from another team member’s parent.
She was very direct and said, “I’m putting together a schedule of team parents to volunteer at the concession stand tomorrow. You need to pick a time.”
“What? I never signed up to do anything like that,” I thought but didn’t say aloud.
She went on. “This is a requirement for all the parents. It raises funds to support the team, and we all need to do our part.”
I wanted to tell her that there was no way I would be in that concession stand and miss my daughter’s races. I also wanted to say I felt it was rude and presumptuous to call with this type of expectation.
But I didn’t.
Instead, this is what I said: “No, that doesn’t work for me.” (silence)
Her: “But… (blah, blah, blah)”
Me: “The answer is no. Hope to see you at the meet. Have a good evening.”
I was so flippin’ proud of myself!
No guilt, no explanation, I just said “no”!
Ready to give it a try? I encourage you to start “small” like I did.
Other than simply saying “no,” here are some more ways to say it…
- “That doesn’t work for me.”
- “I’m not comfortable with that.”
- “I don’t want to.”
- “That is not acceptable
- “I’m drawing the line here.”
- “I’ve decided not to.”
Pretty powerful, right?
And as you move forward setting new boundaries, here are some things to consider to help with the uncomfortable feelings and mind-drama that might come up:
- You have a right to prioritize your own needs, feelings, and desires.
- It’s not your job to take responsibility for others or “fix” them.
- You deserve to be treated with respect and consideration.
- You have a right to say “no” without guilt or explanation.
- It’s okay to reject other people’s expectations of you, even if they feel angry or disappointed.
- You are enough. There’s nothing to prove.
If saying “no” is a struggle for you, then I encourage you to work at it. The more you practice, the more comfortable you will become.
Because in the end, it’s not about saying “no” at all…
It’s about learning to say “yes” to yourself.
PS – Boundaries create the space for you to level-up your life and grow into “Future You”. This is why learning to set boundaries is a key component of the Shine On Group + Coaching Program. Ready for more? Join us sister! We’ve got you!