This is a guest article and video by Corinne Sweet. Corinne is a Psychologist, Psychotherapist, Life Coach, Writer and Broadcaster, and author of 14 books. If you would like to hear more. Book your tickets to her next talk with this link.
How to say “No”
No is such a little word.
Yet so hard to say.
- Do you find yourself saying “yes” to things – and then regretting it afterwards?
- Do you often feel pressurised by a “needy” friend or social obligation?
- Are you working too long hours to “prove” you are a great worker/colleague?
- Do you find “pester power” from your children hard to resist?
- Are you volunteering for things and then wish you’d kept your mouth shut?
If any of these things are true, you might be suffering from the “Happy Helper Habit.”
Saying ‘No’ takes practice. Saying a default ‘yes’ or a passive aggressive, ‘OK, if you want’, is a collapse. Saying ‘No’ is a way of beginning to find a new way of being, a way of kicking a bad habit. Of finding a new shape, a new you.
The Disease to Please
The other way in to finding your ‘No’ is to understand your motivation. Perhaps you think you will be loved, respected, more adored, if you are a model wife, a good citizen, a perfect employee, a great family member.
Of course, these things are valuable. However, the motivation to be all these things is more authentic when it is from the heart, from a feeling of wanting to give and be there, volitionally. If you are secretly trying to earn some emotional Brownie points by being the martyr of the month, it somehow defeats the object.
Many of us have the disease to please – shorthand for co-dependency – because we are caught in giving other people the very thing we want for ourselves. Somehow, we believe if we do all these things, model rescuing, being perfect, somehow people will do it back for us.
Ironically, the case is often that the takers continue taking, and the givers continue giving, until they run out of slack. And then there is Armageddon, with misunderstandings, fallings-outs, blow-ups. Co-dependent behaviour is, in fact, a coercive behaviour that intends to manipulate the other. It is a form of control.
On the outside, it looks like ‘making nice’. Yet, on the inside, it is a way of making others beholden. That is not nice. More authentically, if you can say, ‘No thank you’ or ‘Not this time’, your interactions will be based more on mutual respect, than when you make the other person indebted and beholden because you are such an emotional doormat.
This sounds harsh. You might be thinking, ‘But surely if we all do what we want all the time, society will be selfish, nasty and no-one would ever do anything for anyone?’
In my experience, quite the opposite happens. If we learn to say what we want, and we educate others as to what we need and what works for us, communication improves. If we communicate well, then healthy relationships can grow.
We often teach children they must say ‘yes’ and be polite at all costs. And indeed, the cost is they don’t know who they are by the time they grow up. They become the people-pleasers.
However, if we have a respect for children, as young people, and give them choices, and allow them to experience their ‘no’ and voice it, we can grow people who know themselves and know what they want.
Saying ‘No’ cuts across so many areas of our conditioning. So, it can feel difficult when we are straining every sinue:
- As women, trying to be perfect, trying to please and appease;
- As men, trying to be providers, manly, brave;
- As ‘good’ dutiful family members – doing the ‘right thing’;
- As appropriate cultural members – doing right by our community.;
- At work, trying to be model workers – employee of the month.
Tyranny of Oughts, Shoulds and Musts:
Our culture is cluttered with an array of ‘oughts, shoulds and musts’. I see clients struggling with ‘I ought to be thinner’; “I should be earning more by now”, “I must find a partner to have a baby with – I’m getting on”; “I ought to be better with money.”
We all beat ourselves up, especially in such a meritocratic world, where no-one is trusting anyone any more. We are trying to prove ourselves, win love, gain approval. So we say ‘yes’ when we mean ‘no’. We find ourselves volunteering, when we don’t want to. We feel guilt-tripped into taking things on, when we would rather not.
Insult to Form
In fact, when we do this – say ‘yes’ when we mean ‘no’ – it is an ‘insult to form’. This means we go against what we really feel, in our gut, about something and we force ourselves – superego-led – to ride roughshod over our real feelings.
Perhaps this was acceptable in Victorian England, or even in wartime, but in a world full of choice and awareness, and pressure and stress, it is time for us to tune in and take a moment.
It’s time to pause. To take a second to feel what we feel. Then to think. Being authentic means we do not put ourselves – our minds, our emotions, our bodies, our souls – into some contorted twist of perfection. If you are asked to do something, go somewhere, perform something and you know it is not right for you – saying ‘no’ is liberating.
Yet we get flattered, pressured, into feeling we ‘ought’. Especially women. Social sanctions are tough, and the labels of ‘selfish’ and ‘self-centred’ are bandied about when we don’t conform.
However, the person who is clear what they can or can’t do it a delight to be around. They are clear about themselves and their objectives. They are straighter in their dealings. There is nothing more uncomfortable than being with someone who is with you, or doing something, through gritted, resentful teeth.
This talk will also help you identify where you say “yes” when you mean “no”.
It will also help you practise saying “no” to people face-to-face.
How can you really decide what you do and don’t want?
- How do you say no?
- How do you get to yes?
This talk will help you think about how you see yourself and also how to resist social pressure:
- From your family.
- At work.
- In your love life.
- Even in bed.
Look forward to meeting you on 26th June.
Get ready to find your “No”.
If you would like to hear more from Corinne Sweet, you can book your tickets to her next talk with this link.