Throughout my years of treatment, many men and women have expressed fear of telling others “no.” This common theme for people struggling with perfectionism, depression, eating disorders, and other mental illness has also been a struggle for me. Only slow steps toward self-care and self-respect have helped me to begin conquering this fear.
In previous posts, I have blogged about my anxiety when telling others “no.” Although this post addressed my struggle, it did not give too many helpful tips that I have learned to counter this impulse. So, I decided to make a list today of ten tips that I use when I need to say “no” to someone.
Before I begin, I wanted to note that some people struggle with the opposite problem: saying “no” too often. If so, these skills might actually help you as well. Just as doing what others want all of the time is unhealthy, always disagreeing with people can lead to depression, isolation, and other negative consequences. By writing this list, I am not trying to say that we all should refuse to help or interact with others. My point is that some people such as me make decisions based on not wanting to hurt others, seem unkind, or be lazy. Being able to think clearly through a decision instead of immediately answering “yes” or “no” out of anxiety is a difficult but important life skill to learn.
- Give yourself time to think. Instead of answering right away, try telling the person asking something of you, “Let me think about that. I am not sure right now.” This helps you not to make a decision based on the emotions of the moment or the pressure of someone else.
- Ask others for advice. Before deciding, talk to someone you trust such as a parent, sibling, significant other, or friend. If needed, ask several people for their opinions. What would they do in your situation?
- Prayer or meditate. Spend some time quiet by yourself thinking about your decision. Close your eyes to shut out the rest of the world. If that is too stressful, use this time to unwind and calm down by reading poetry, religious books, or inspiring stories. When you are done, think about how you feel lead to make the decision.
- Breath deeply. Count in to ten and then exhale to twelve. Do this as often as needed for you to relax and think clearly. You can do this in the moment of being asked the question or later on if that is more comfortable.
- Inquire more about the request. Before committing, ask all of the questions you need to make an informed decision. How long will it take, where do you need to be, how much will it cost, etc. After collecting all of this data, you can use this information to choose your response.
- Give an exact reason why not. Instead of saying a simple “no,” state why you cannot. For example, state that you are already committed to be somewhere else on that day or you have no car to make it halfway across the state.
- Offer to help in some other way. Offer to help your friend setup her bridal shower if you cannot handle hosting it. Instead of giving that man on the side of the road $10, give him a granola bar in your purse. There are other ways to care for others without pushing yourself too hard.
- Stick to your decision. Even if someone tries to change your mind, stand by what you say. That being said, it is fine to change your mind. However, do not let someone bully or pressure you into that choice.
- Have a backup excuse. Without lying, find several ways to get out of any situation. For example, your parents need help with your younger siblings or your house needs to be cleaned. Fall back on these excuses if you need to say “no” but are too scared to do so.
- Say it with a smile. Saying “no” does not make you a mean, cruel, or selfish person. It simply means that you cannot do what was asked of you. Be kind as you turn people down. If they are true friends, they will understand.