I’ve been thinking a lot about saying no lately. Meghan O’Malley and I just finished our very first #nopeAF: A Boundaries Workshop for Women on Saturday, and it was AMAZING. We talked a lot about saying no, and also a lot about saying yes—when we really feel enthusiastic and aligned with what we’re saying yes to.
So many of us grow up thinking we should try to accommodate as many people as possible—is there any way I could say yes here? Could I move anything around to make it happen, even if I'm not really into it? Maybe some of this is my mid-western background (or maybe a little Catholic guilt?), but the people I grew up with are accommodating. Like, so accommodating. They are the kindest, sweetest people you will ever know—and I wouldn’t be surprised if sometimes they get burned out and resentful and pretty annoyed that they’ve bent over backwards and their feelings weren’t considered or honored the next time they needed something. And it makes sense, right? In a lot of ways, we have a cultural expectation that if we do something for someone, they will eventually do something for us.
I used to think that the more I accommodated people, the more they would love me. It feels sad and vulnerable acknowledging that, but it’s true. Have you ever felt that way? I have come a long way since those days, but sometimes I sense the pull of that old pattern creeping up and it doesn’t feel good. Now it’s a major red flag for me. Because what I’ve learned is that when I would do whatever it took to give someone what they wanted, I started to feel a whole lot of resentment and anger—and that they totally owed me.
And here’s why this is problematic: debt is not fun. Debt is not light. We don’t consider our debt or debtors and say “wow, they’re amazing.” Our hearts don’t fill with love when we feel our debts. Instead, our nervous systems are activated, fight flight freeze shows up, and we tend to feel frozen or panicked. Expectations breed resentment...and a reactive nervous system.
Saying no when we can’t do something/don’t feel inclined to do it instead of saying yes actually means we are doing our best in relationships. We are being clear on the front end that we just can’t make it happen, and that gives the person asking an opportunity to figure it out another way. They know that when they ask us for a favor or for help, when we say yes, we are saying it with enthusiasm and without resentment. They won’t be thinking about whether we’re annoyed as they fall asleep at night. And we won’t be annoyed, because when we said yes, we meant it. Clean and clear boundaries create more JOY in relationships as well as more trust.
Let’s talk about ways to say no that are clear and kind:
• I really appreciate that you asked me, but I can’t do it.
• I can’t commit to that right now.
• I want to, but I can’t.
• I really wish I could help you that day! I’m not free Saturday, but I am Sunday. Could I help you then?
• I can’t do _______, but I can __________. Would that be helpful?
• That won’t work for me. Anything else I could support you with?
Let me warn you: when you first start saying these phrases, you are probably going to feel SUPER uncomfortable. You are probably going to want to jump in right away when you see the look of confusion, sadness, or frustration on the other person’s face. Or they may be totally fine hearing “no”, but you’re not totally fine giving it—so you quickly change your mind or overthink it for hours. Be ready for discomfort. That’s a normal side effect for changing a lifelong pattern. Sticking with it, even when it feels kind of gross, is the way to create new, healthier habits of communicating and being present in relationships.
So, what do you think? How does it feel to consider saying no more often, so your yes is more powerful?
Talk to you soon!
P.S. Even though our first workshop is over, we have another amazing offering coming up SOON for folks who are ready for a boundaries intensive. This offering is ONLINE (and therefore accessible to people who live outside of Asheville!) and starts mid-March. Curious? Learn more here!