The Magic of Saying No

“Whenever you say yes to something, it means you’re saying no to something else.” ~Susan Biali

We all feel badly when we have to say no to something or someone.  It is so much easier to say yes when people need help–even if it comes at personal expense. Though selfless service is necessary and admirable at times, there are other times where it is more applaudable to say no. Saying yes to everything means you will be spread too thin and will not able to get things done well or at all; it is physically impossible to take on something new without slacking on something else!  This post will focus on the magic of saying no in hopes of giving you the courage to say so when appropriate.

(Disclaimer, I am not specifically referring to saying no in relationships regarding boundaries and physical intimacy–though that topic is incredibly important. I will write about this specific subject in the future. Instead, I am referring to saying no instead of yes when asked to take on additional responsibilities that you simply cannot accommodate.)

Whether you have been asked to help watch a pet or child, pick something up, drop something off, or take on additional responsibilities at work, you have certainly been asked to help. Oftentimes it feels like yes is the only acceptable answer, even if it comes at great personal expense. Saying no means you could potentially hurt, anger or disappoint the person you are saying no to. You may fear appearing selfish, lazy, or uncaring. You want people to love (or at least like) you. So you inconvenience yourself and say yes.

However, saying no is actually a sign of strength because it shows that you know yourself and your limits. It allows you to give of yourself fully, within your limits, and not overextend or exhaust yourself. Having and maintaining personal boundaries can build important relationships by fostering honesty, openness and trust. (I am not suggesting you immediately decline an opportunity to help someone when asked. I believe in the power of service and have written several times about its power.) Saying yes when the answer should have been no only leads to frustration and resentment. Learning to say no can be a magical skill when used appropriately!

Now, let’s discuss the steps involved in the art of saying no:

Step one: Honor your time and priorities.

Time is an extremely precious commodity for everyone. There are only 24 hours in a day, so you must choose to spend your time wisely. Even if you do happen to have some extra time (which for most of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want or need to spend that time? Does it honor what is most important to you? Are your priorities in line? If you are asked to take on a new commitment that will cut into your valued family time, it may make saying no easier.

Step two: Take a moment + Raincheck

When someone asks for help, instead of giving an immediate (most likely affirmative) response on the spot, say that you need to check your calendar and will get back to him/her. If you end up needing to say no, maybe volunteer yourself to help in the future when you are more available. This can assure them that you are willing and want to help, but are unable to at the moment!

Step three: Do not apologize.

A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. Your time is your time. How you choose to spend your time is your choice. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about safeguarding your precious, finite time!

Step four: SAY NO.

You may cringe at the very thought of saying the abrasive, n-o word to someone. That’s okay! There are many ways around this that will still get your point across. Let’s say your friend asks to borrow your car, and you are less than excited about the idea. Here are seven ways to assertively, yet diplomatically, decline:

I prefer to be the only one driving my car.“

I prefer not to lend out my car.”

It doesn’t work for me to lend out my car.”

It’s important to me that I keep my car for my own use.”

“Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to lend you my car.”

I’m uncomfortable with letting others drive my car.“

I made a promise to myself that I’m not going to let other people drive my car.”  

Notice that all of these suggestions are “I” statements. This puts ownership on you and therefore makes it more difficult for the listener to dispute. If someone is persistent in wanting you to do what he or she wants, keep repeating “no” using any combination of the statements above. Hold your ground until the person realizes you mean what you say.

Remember, saying no does not mean you are an uncaring, selfish person. It simply means you know and honor your time, priorities, and limits. Saying no protects you, earns the respect of others, and frees you to spend your time doing what is most important to you. It is actually quite magical! Setting skillful boundaries is an act of self-compassion. It is liberating and it is your right.

Next time you are asked to help someone, consider your priorities and how you wish to honor your time, pause before answering, offer a raincheck, do not apologize if you are busy and cannot feasibly rearrange things, and if necessary, say no. Remember that there are only 24 hours in a day. In order to spend it wisely, sometimes it will be necessary to say no! As always, please feel free to contact me with questions, and click here if you would like to schedule a session.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.


The Most Forgotten of the Human Needs

The Most Forgotten of the Human Needs: Relationships | DFW Marriage & TherapyHave you ever experienced such pain or heartache in a relationship that you have sworn off future friendships or relationships? Has your trust or confidence in someone been shattered to the point that you never wanted to open up to anyone ever again? I think it is safe to say that all of us have been through a bad breakup or had an interaction with a friend, coworker, or family member that has left us feeling discouraged, rejected, or alone. In the moment we may have thought we would be better off living a life without ties to other people. But in the end, we nearly always end up making friends or falling in love with someone new. Why do we do that? Would you believe me if I told you that we legitimately need relationships in our lives in order to thrive and be happy?

A relationship is defined as the way in which two or more concepts, ideas, or humans are connected–in the case of humans, that connection could be through blood, marriage, sex, or friendship. This state of being connected functions optimally when both parties are mutually striving for closeness; when either side is withholding time, honesty, intimacy, or open communication, the relationship is strained.  I chose to be a therapist and work with couples and families because I deeply value relationships. I have witnessed tremendous healing when a client has strong bonds in their life. Although it takes a great deal of time, effort, and energy to maintain and improve relationships, humans have an innate biological and emotional need to be close to others. Brené Brown said it best, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all women, men, and children.”

Believe it or not, human biology is involved in the formation of meaningful relationships. You may have noticed your adrenaline pump, palms sweat, breathing get shallow, skin feel hot, or pupils dilate when you are with people you care about. Less noticeable biological activity is that our amygdala (the center of the brain where emotion is processed) gets highly active as we interact with others. We produce the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter dopamine as well as oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” or the hormone related to bonding.  Interacting with others physically makes our bodies feel good. We are literally wired to connect and form meaningful relationships with others!

We also have an emotional need to form and maintain relationships. I have never forgotten about a particularly interesting lecture where one of my college Professors described a Japanese concept called “amae” (甘え). Amae is the need to belong; the desired to be loved, to have someone take care of us, or even the unconscious need to rely on others. This amae is cross-cultural; American psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary subscribe to what they call the “belongingness hypothesis”, which states that people have a basic psychological and emotional need to feel closely connected to others, and that caring, affectionate bonds from close relationships are a major part of human behavior. We would rather have close relationships (even those marked by distress, conflict, or abuse) than permanently separate ourselves from those people (through breakups, divorce, death). Though unconscious, our emotional need to belong is incredibly strong!

Although relationships carry immense emotional weight, we need them in our lives. After all their research, Baumeister and Leary surmised: “It seems fair to conclude that human beings are fundamentally and pervasively motivated by a need to belong, that is, by a strong desire to form and maintain enduring interpersonal attachments.” If you are struggling with an important relationship in your life, and you want to make steps to rectify that bond, schedule a session with me today.

P.S. My first post in the month of May will delve into how the lack of meaningful connection can actually lead to addiction. Stay tuned!

University of Rhode Island: “Love: A Biological, Psychological and Philosophical Study”
Science of Relationships: “The ‘Need to Belong’–Part of What Makes Us Human”

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