Just Say “No.” Really.

Let’s talk about a short little sentence: “No.”  You really can say it, really can mean it, and really can deny responsibility for how others receive it.  Understand this:  it is absolutely imperative that we learn to say “no” if we want to be emotionally healthy and have healthy relationships.  Let’s take these one at a time…

An Emotionally Healthy You

If I don’t say “no” to something I don’t want to do, someplace I don’t want to go, something I don’t want to eat, etc., I pay the price in regret, bitterness and resentment.  When it comes to doing something, or going somewhere I don’t want to, I also experience S-T-R-E-S-S.  For me it tends to start about two weeks before the Big Event, and it escalates daily until about 3 days beforehand, when it escalates hourly.  Let’s add guilt to the list, because at the end of the day, saying “yes” when I mean to say “no” is dishonest.  And being dishonest is damaging to my peace and happiness, as well as my relationship with God.  Are you beginning to see how important this is?

Having Healthy Relationships

If I say “yes” to someone when they ask me to attend or participate in an event, project, assignment, etc., and it’s something I really want to decline, guess what?  Those same feelings of regret, bitterness, anxiety, resentment and guilt come into play – but now they’re not just in my pretty little head. They build and feed on themselves and by the time the event arrives I’m in a particularly crappy mood, and everyone knows it.  Now I’m dealing with all those same nasty effects as before and, if I haven’t inconvenienced and disappointed everyone by bailing out at the last minute, I’m messing up other people’s good time!  Wow!  And you know what happens then? Later on, they may be reluctant to ask me to do something, and it might be something I really want to do!  More importantly, this scenario all too often taints the relationship for a period of time at best and causes serious damage at worst.

The Price Tag

There is a price to pay for saying “no,” so be prepared.  When you say “no” to people, even spouses and friends, they aren’t always going to like it.  (Do you always like it when someone tells you “no”?)  In fact, sometimes they’ll dislike it a LOT.  But stand your ground and exercise those healthy boundaries.  They’ll get used to it over time (and you will, too), and eventually the ones who really matter will begin to appreciate it when you respectfully decline their requests and invitations.

People Appreciate Being Told “No”

Now, you may be thinking, ‘What?!  They’ll begin to appreciate it when I say ‘no’?! No way!’  Way.  Really.  Here’s why:  they don’t like it when you’re cranky, and they don’t like it when you back out.  And in time, they will begin to appreciate it even more when you say “yes,” because they can depend on you, and they know you’ll bring your best to whatever it is.  They will likely even start to see a pattern for the things you’re likely to invest yourself in versus the things you habitually say “no” to, and tailor their invitations accordingly.

I have learned to respect, value, and even encourage people to say “no” to me.  I would much rather know that they are all in when they say “yes,” that they’ll be happy about their choice, and that they’ll help spread positivity about the idea/event/whatever.  Also, when I give someone space to say “no,” and I receive their “no” with respect, I build trust with that person.

Say “No,” and Say It Fast

When you need to say “no,” say it.  And say it fast.  I have waited and waffled and hedged until I have caused rifts in important relationships because I really cared about the person and didn’t want to say “no.”  I have thought maybe I’d feel more like saying “yes” down the road a bit, and I’ve thought that delaying wasn’t as hurtful as saying “no.”  The fallacies here are many, but here are two: 1) I’m still going to say “no,” but now they’ve hoped I’d say “yes” for too long and thus their disappointment is greater; and 2) I’ve stressed myself out unnecessarily, trying to talk myself into wanting to do “the thing.”  Another serious problem here is that I’m deceiving myself.  If you’re reasonably certain it’s not something you’re interested in, say “no.”  If you think it’s going to stress you out, say “no.”  If you get that sinking feeling in your stomach, say “no” BEFORE you justify it in your head.  You know what I’m talking about: ‘Oh, it’s my best friend and she’s always there for me – I really have to do this.’  No. You don’t.  Or, ‘Wow, he’s so hot!  If I say ‘no,’ he’ll never ask again.’  Good riddance.  Say “no” immediately and resolutely.

Don’t Make Excuses

“No” is a sentence.  (Don’t pick this apart, just roll with it.)  You don’t have to offer an explanation.  But if you do, make sure it’s rock solid and true…lies have a funny way of biting us in the behind!  This is the toughest part for me.  I don’t actually owe anyone an explanation.  I’m Southern and Christian, so I really feel like I must explain myself in the interest of being polite.  That’s a bunch of hooey.  It’s my business, and I have no obligation to soften my “no” by giving the other person a reason that validates my response.  It’s valid all by itself, and I don’t have to have a “good enough” reason for it!  And brace yourself, because the Bible has something to say here: “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37, NKJV).

Don’t Be a Jerk

Just don’t.  Be firm and don’t leave room for doubts or to be wheedled into changing your mind.  But say “no” in a way you’d prefer to receive it yourself.

A Caveat

Sometimes – but only rarely – it is a good idea to say “yes” when you don’t want to.  Have I lost my mind, and all the precious time I’ve spent on this blog??  No.  There are rare occasions when we simply must do “the thing.”  A close friend or family member’s milestone celebration.  A retirement, special birthday, speaking engagement of special significance, and even – gasp! – the occasional wedding.  You have to go.  Suck it up, buttercup, and go.  Do some meditation, take your Xanax, whatever.

But I want to reiterate: this only happens rarely, and only on monumental occasions.  Baking 12 dozen chocolate lava cupcakes for the church fundraiser is NOT a monumental occasion.  Someone else would love to show off their mad baking skills, so step back and give them the chance to shine!

Go Forth and Say “No”

Saying “no” is very difficult; I think even more so for women, and for Christian women.  By and large, we want to do for people, and please people, and help people.  All are fine within healthy limits, for the right reasons.

So, go on out there and start practicing your respectfully delivered “no!”  I won’t take “no” for an answer!  😉  (Y’all saw that coming, right?)