Why, When and How of ‘No’

blue no symbol

So many of us struggle with saying no when we feel obligated, embarrassed, threatened or insecure. We feel as though our refusal will somehow hurt us, hurt someone we care about, or create a hostile, negative situation.

Unfortunately, there can be times when the power of refusal is taken away from us. This is particularly so when we’re children. However, as adults with the ability to make decisions and assess potential dangers, we can pay attention to warning signs. Listening to our inner ‘no’ is the most basic way to avoid unsafe, harmful situations if we possibly can.

Here’s the special thing about ‘No’… It’s a potent word and the saying of it usually creates a safe place of strength and self worth. When our instincts are telling us plainly that we really, really don’t want to do something, there’s almost always a good reason. We automatically create a ‘No’ response when we’re faced with things that are threatening or frightening. Our survival instinct is trying to protect us.

There are only two instances when that instinct is wrong… Being unwilling to try something new, or to go a little bit outside of our comfort zone is one of the few scenarios where ‘no’ can do us more harm than good. The only other automatic ‘nope’ that doesn’t benefit anyone, is when we ignore or refuse our impulse to help when it’s truly needed.

In just about any other situation, when we feel the urge to say ‘no’, it’s for a good reason and saying it is exactly what we need to do to protect ourselves from harm. We all have boundaries and levels of what’s acceptable to us or not. We all have an inner voice that tells us what we want and what we don’t.

Whether it’s at work, in a relationship, in a situation with someone we don’t have any reason to trust, etc., when we’re asked (or told) to do something that crosses our boundaries, saying ‘no’ is the best and only choice to make.

All of the reasons we hesitate to refuse, are based in fear. “If I say no to my boss, I may jeopardize my job.” “If I say no to my partner, I may jeopardize my relationship.” “If I say no to my friend, I may jeopardize our friendship.” “‘If I say no to this person I barely know, they’ll form a bad opinion of me.” And one of the worst ones… “I can’t say no to a family member, because I’m obligated and my refusal will make that person and my other family members angry with me.”

Those fears are valid in their way, but they’re also completely unnecessary. Because of one incredibly simple thing… Anyone, ANYONE who doesn’t respect our ‘No’, doesn’t deserve our time, our energy or our consideration.

If we work for a boss who disrespects our boundaries, we need to find another job. Even in a bad economy, other jobs are out there. Life is too short and too long to spend many hours each week, being in a situation where we feel small, worthless and resentful.

If we’re in a relationship with someone who doesn’t accept and respect our ‘No’, then we need to end that relationship. Being alone is better than being with someone who treats us badly. Having respect for ourselves will result in meeting a better type of person for our next relationship. Yes, it is that simple.

Any true friend loves, appreciates and supports us. If we have a friend who punishes us in any way for saying no to them, that person is not actually a friend and we absolutely don’t need them in our life.

If strangers push us or want something from us that we aren’t comfortable with and we say no, what have we got to lose? They don’t know us, they have no impact in our daily life, what they think of us doesn’t matter on any level.

If anyone in our family asks or insists that we do something for them and we say no, that doesn’t make us a bad person. Being related does not give anyone the right to dominate or demand things from anyone else. The exact reason we so often give in to family when we don’t want to, is the same reason why we shouldn’t. These people are connected to us forever. Establishing and protecting our boundaries is essential to getting through a lifetime with our family as happily as possible.

So those are the whys, the whens, the wheres of ‘No’. What about the ‘how’?

‘No’ is one of those words that stands best on its own. It doesn’t need to be accompanied by lengthy explanations or apologies. In fact, overly explaining or profusely apologizing, reduces its power and gives the impression that we don’t actually mean it.

Long explanations are a waste of breath. The person we’re saying no to, doesn’t want to hear all of our reasons, because it’s always obvious we’re explaining in detail just to make ourselves feel better about refusing. As for apologizing, only if it’s genuinely meant. If we aren’t regretful about saying no, then don’t add in an insincere and dishonest ‘Sorry’.

A simple ‘No, I don’t want to do that’ or ‘No, I can’t do that’, is all we need to say. It’s strong, it’s clear and saying it doesn’t make us unkind or bad, it makes us honest and healthy.


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