“A place of NO” : Learning to say ‘no’ effectively without guilt

A common theme of anxiety is guilt. Many of us feel that we are never enough, that we never do enough, or that we could always do more. When we can’t fulfill every goal or be everything to everyone, many people can feel a sense of failure or inadequacy, which results in feeling anxious due to the pressures of doing much more than we are able to.

Recently I had heard of a book by popular reality TV star, Bethenny Frankel titled “A Place of Yes.”  While I have not read this book and don’t intend to, I found the title very interesting because many of my clients over the past few years often have a hard time using the word, “no,”  If you are a people-pleaser or are afraid of letting people down if you say no, then you may find yourself constantly stressed or anxious.  I use the phrase, “A place of no” because saying no is difficult for so many people and when they do say no, it leads to feelings of guilt, shame and disappointment and ultimately, anxiety.

The truth is, we can’t always physically or financially do everything that is asked of us. Sometimes people ask unreasonable things of us.  What are some of the fears behind saying the word no to someone? A few of the reasons are as follows:

1. I’m afraid I will disappoint myself and the person I am saying no to.
2. I’m afraid the person will be mad at me or won’t like me anymore if I say no.
3. I will feel like a failure if I can’t or won’t do what I feel is expected of me.
4. I will look incompetent or incapable if I say no.

Situations where someone may feel difficulty saying no are as follows:

1. At work
2. Events or favors for friends
3. With family or romantic relationships

We all have obligations and commitments we often can’t say “no” to but sometimes there are situations where we can learn to say “no” effectively without feeling guilt. Sometimes saying no is cathartic, lifts a huge weight and pressure and is good for your overall mental health and well being. Here are a few ways to effectively say “no” to something without causing conflict with yourself, or others:

1. Communicate HONESTLY: A lot of the times just saying “no” isn’t effective because the person you are saying no to doesn’t understand why. Communicating your point of view or where you are coming from helps explain to the person your good reason for not being able to do something. For example, if you are at work and are asked to take on another assignment when you are totally swamped with other assignments, you may want to say something like this: “I’m really sorry but now may not be the best time for me to take on another assignment. I’ve already got assignments that are taking a lot of my time right now and I would need more time to complete this new assignment effectively.”  Of course, this is in an ideal world. Not every boss or company is going to be understanding of you saying no to assignments. If you constantly feel that your needs are overlooked or you are overwhelmed, you may want to re-evaluate where you work and look for a place where the employees needs and feelings are listened to and valued.

2. Offer an alternative solution: These days most people have full calendars as they juggle work, relationships, children, hobbies, family, etc. You may not always be able to make events that you are invited to. For example, if you cannot make a good friends birthday party, offer to take them out for dinner or a drink at another time. If you don’t have time for that, send a card, flowers or a gift.  If it’s at work, offer an alternative solution or offer to do something at a later date when you feel you have more time for it.

3. Just say NO: Sometimes you don’t need to explain yourself or offer alternative solutions. Sometimes no really does means no. It’s a word that is about setting boundaries and sometimes saying no means you aren’t letting anyone take advantage of you.

Saying no sometimes means being kinder to yourself. When you do the best you can every day and you do right by others, remember that that is enough. Taking care of yourself is a very important part of being able to be good to others. Saying no sometimes is not only good for you, but for your loved ones.  Keep a healthy balance of “yes” and “no” and things will become a little bit easier to handle when life gets overwhelming.