Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saying NO

There was a time in my life it was extremely challenging for me to say "no". Much of this inability derived from my past conditioning and this incapacity played havoc in many areas of my life including the majority of my relationships as well as my self esteem.

In the past decade throughout my healing journey I am please to declare that saying "no" is a powerlessness I no longer possess.  In fact, those who are closest to me hear the word "no" quite often. I recall when I first began researching the many life skills I knew was imperative to my healing - and "Saying No" came up quite often in books and other programs I was fortunate enough to have introduced to me.

Stress Free Living by Dr. Trevor Powell was one of those books I recall quite well.  Dr. Powell is a clinical psychologist and stress management expert and shares ingenious strategies on an array of problems ranging from depression and insomnia to excessive behaviors and life skills.

Through the wise instruction of Dr. Powell as well as the works of other sources I learned saying 'no' openly and directly can assist to boost self esteem.  I knew that I had an extremely low self esteem during those initiative stages of my transformational journey, therefore I realized researching this particular area would be a foundational necessity towards healing and wholeness.

Many find it difficult to say "no", and most likely spend much of their time doing things for other people that they would prefer not to.  Often times this leads to a gradual buildup of frustration and even resentment that result in damaging the relationship.  They feel they have very little control over the time in their lives in general.

Dr. Powell uses the example of "It is like being flooded by water and not being able to turn off the tap".  Saying yes to the demands of others when you would rather say no can create tension and unnecessary stress in your physical body and much of the time it can bring on physical pain to the body as well with symptoms like headaches or backaches. I experienced headaches on a daily basis. "Saying "no" is equivalent of turning off the tap and stopping the flow of external demands or stresses."  

There are many reasons people find it challenging to say no.  These might include foundational beliefs such as: 

1.  "I want to be a nice person and this is what nice people do and if I would say 'no' it would be selfish and rude"  

2.  "They are really important to me, so I really have no choice"

3.  "I have to say yes otherwise they will be hurt, upset or offended and they won't care about me anymore"

4.  "I won't say no because I need to feel important and needed"

The inability to "say no" may often stem from two fundamental thinking errors:

1.  Thinking that saying no is rejecting "the person" and not "the request".

2.  An over-exaggerated estimation of the difficulty the person will have in accepting your refusal.

I have learned most people are happy to accept an honest and appropriately expressed reply of "no".  I know I do!  Often times it assists with deepening my relationships.  Since I am honest, it allows the other person to openly express their honesty as well.

The first time I said "no" - I am certain it was difficult for me - however, that first time was so long ago I cannot consciously even recall when it was or where it took place.  Today, it is like second nature to me.

This topic has been introduced as of late in the group sessions I have hosted and I must admit I was surprised at the discussions regarding the inability to "say no" including those who have shared the problems that are present in their lives by not possessing this ability.  Some say they weren't even aware that this was indeed a problem until this topic was presented to them.  The first step to change....... is awareness.  Ah...I love that.  I love it when we become aware of something and we can then take the next steps to change for the betterment of ourselves.

There is more than simply one way to "say no".  Different circumstances automatically will have different responses.  There are times when the way we are asked to do something will reflect the way we will respond.   For example: a pushy salesperson will receive a different response than from a relative who genuinely needs assistance.

For those who have no problem saying "no" - Good for you!  You've obviously been more fortunate to have been conditioned with this productive life skill.  For those who do not presently have this ability or who are now aware that they find it difficult to "say no" - please know you are not alone and even though somewhere along your life's path you did not have the opportunity or guidance to obtain this ability, you most certainly can acquire it.


1.  KEEP IT BRIEF.  Your reply should be short and to the point.  Do not ramble.  Avoid extensive justifications.

2.  BE POLITE.  "No Terry, I'm sorry, I can't make it, however thank you for the invitation."

3.  STAY IN CONTROL:  Remain calm, reply slowly and warmly when it is required you reply with a direct "no".

4.  HONESTY:  Always be honest.  You may reply with something like "I am finding this challenging....."

5.  MOVE ON"  Once you say "no" - if appropriate, move on.  Many may misinterpret you're staying with uncertainty.

6.  PRACTICE:  Role play, act out in a mirror.  The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

You may be surprised at the unique array of people who have admitted to having the inability to "say no".  We've had professional women in our groups who have presented themselves with strong, assertive mannerisms as well as those gentlemen who presented themselves with the "the tough guy mentality" and they have admitted to this inability of "saying no" on more than a few occasions.  Some initially expressed they didn't have a problem with "saying no" - yet further into the session - it was clear they actually did have a problem.

As with any type of change....change takes time - as it did for me.  However, change is possible.  Developing the ability to "say no" was one of the many skills I chose to master for a more fulfilling life.  Is life perfect just because I learned to "say no"?  Well, not exactly - however, tonight is perfect because I said "no" to babysitting a toddler and instead I am going out to enjoy an evening of dinner and bowling with my 22 year old son and his friends.  Perfect?  No.  Much better?  You betcha!

© Copyright 2011-Lisa Hardwick-All Rights Reserved.

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