Do you find saying ‘no’ to people difficult?
Why is saying the word ‘no’ to people so difficult for us?
There are so many negative connotations attached to saying ‘no’ which makes it such a difficult concept. How many times have we been told that it is ‘selfish’ to put ourselves first, as well as ‘lazy’ to not help others whenever they ask for it. Adding this society’s view and other judgments on saying ‘no’ we also have added to the mix our own psyche, which will interpret other others views and judgments according to our own beliefs, and this is then what will affect our self-worth and self-esteem and many other aspects of mental health. Therefore, we try to say ‘yes’ as much as possible in order to avoid being judged, and to be valued and accepted and in turn we hope to feel confident! So why does this not seem to work?
The impact of not being able to say no’ and the self-neglect involved of always putting others first affects us more than you realise. This effects our self-worth, self-esteem, confidence, independence, it builds a sense of unwarranted guilt, a belief of having no control or power over our needs or decisions, it builds a dependency on others and the need to be liked and needed, and more!
During the therapy process we see this cycle of struggling to say ‘no’ time and time again, and therapy aims to enable clients to break this cycle. This process involves gaining self-awareness to recognise the self-neglect involved, challenging negative thoughts and behaviours and then making changes. This then leads to becoming assertive and putting their own needs and desires in the forefront sometimes too! This process then helps clients to see that there can be a healthy balance between attending to their own needs and to the needs of others where appropriate. Saying ‘no’ at times can actually be empowering, especially when you realise that even if you say no – nothing will fall apart and you can still be liked, and at the same time you can focus on the things that you need to do for yourself and when you then do help others you will not resent it or feel these negative feelings because you will enjoy life more and enjoy doing things for others.
So how do we start this process of changing this difficult concept that we all live by and believe is the best thing to do? Firstly, we need to look at our ‘negative beliefs’ and explore them a little further. We need to look at the assumptions we make about ourselves and others, and the reasons behind them. For example, when you want to say “no” do you then believe you are being selfish and that others will judge you negatively? Do you then expect them to respect or value you?
If this sounds familiar then ask yourself first, is this a ‘projection’ of my own insecurities, where deep down I believe I am not a good person and therefore I assume that others will think that? Or is this that I have seen others being judged and I know it can happen, but I will still take it personally and believe they have the right to judge me and treat me badly?
Either way here, you are trapping yourself and you will end up with no way out other than to say ‘yes’ to others to avoid any negativity! So, you see why we need to challenge and change these thoughts!
Then we need to look at challenging these ‘negative beliefs’ and try to rationalise them so we can open up some other options for us to choose, to enable the possibility of saying ‘no’ and for it not to have a negative effect on your mental health.
So, using the example again I gave before. If you believe you are being selfish for saying ‘no’, then we need to rationalise this belief by looking at the evidence for this. We then need to think about alternative thoughts/beliefs that are more rational, and that leave you feeling less effected by others opinions, and even your own judgments and assumptions. The idea here then is that you start breaking the cycle of negative thinking, and you can start to change your behaviours of always putting others first. Then you can start to feel more self-confident and happier even when you say ‘no’.
So, what is the evidence? Do you have any? What are the ways we can challenge our thoughts? What facts do you have that prove that saying no leads you to not being liked or valued? When you have said ‘no’ in the past has anything happened to suggest this? Did you fall apart and find you could not cope? Ask yourself are you avoiding any confrontation or risk of rejection because that is your own issue so it is feels easier to just say ‘yes’, Are you always saying yes because you feel everyone else is more important than you? Is it for reassurance to feed your low self-worth? Is saying ‘yes’ fulfilling some other need I have within myself for example to fulfil a role I have been give that I always take care of people? Do you have to always be the responsible one? Will you feel you have no purpose if you are not always there to help? Do you feel guilty if you say ‘no’ and if so, what is this guilt really about? Do you maybe need to address something else in your life currently or in the past that is playing a big part in this and is causing your further issues?
So, asking yourself these types of questions will challenge your negative belief and should help you to see where you are being irrational and unfair to yourself.
Then try and think of more rational and encouraging thoughts you could tell yourself for example, if I say ‘no’ it will be because I do not really have the time because I need to get something else done first for myself first, and then when I do say ‘yes’ there will be no self-neglect or resentment for helping out of a sense of duty or fear of rejection. This thought should then leave you feeling calmer and less stressed, and happier and more self-assured. You should also feel empowered and have a greater sense of independence and control over your decisions. Therefore, you should then release how you can find a healthier balance of being kind and available for myself as well as others, which is a much more sustainable way of being.
Antonia Kelly PgD Reg MBACP (Accred) Cert
Telephone: 07956 175 224