I hope that you enjoyed the festive season and I wish you a very Happy New Year 2020.
I try not to make New Year’s resolutions since it is rare that I stick to them beyond January. I once tried giving up buying books and that lasted for the momentous period of six weeks before I finally caved. So, this year I chose to avoid making any resolutions at all. However, it is impossible not to reflect on the year and decade gone by over the Festive season and think about aspects of ourselves and our lives that we might need to change not as any resolution, but as a way of simplifying our life and giving us greater happiness.
For a long time, I have been aware that I rarely say no to anything or anyone. It is part of my nature to want to be kind towards others. However, so great is my need to please others that I frequently neglect my own wishes and end up in situations that I would sooner not be in. I’ve often heard my husband say to me, “Why don’t you just say no? It’s not that hard.” Yet for me, saying no is an anathema. I find it impossible. I would sooner cause myself additional stress and anxiety, rather than say that simple word of one syllable and two tiny letters.
Over the past few days, I have been reading up on helpful strategies to try and change this aspect of myself. It has been quite a difficult process of self-evaluation and self-awareness. The magazine and website Psychology Today claims that the ability to say no is crucial for our mental health and self-confidence. Yet, loath to disappoint others, many of us will go to extreme lengths to avoid uttering this small but significant word.
I believe that one of the reasons that I struggle to say no is down to my inability to deal with conflict. I will do anything to avoid conflict and confrontation of any kind. If anyone shouts near me, it is akin to the feeling others get from chalk scraping down a blackboard. It makes me shiver. I still have a fear of upsetting anyone or being ‘told-off.’ I think much of that is down to how I was brought up and the dominant authority figures in my childhood. I was terrified of being punished, but I was also desperate to please and to be loved. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. Furthermore, one of my greatest fears now that I have my own family, has always been that I would behave in any way similar to those authority figures from my childhood and that may be why I often struggle to say no to my children.
What techniques are most effective in teaching us to say no?
The Psychology Today magazine states that being aware of our inability to say no is a huge step forward in changing and learning how to say it. It really is a case of starting with small simple steps to change our behaviour over time.
Start saying no in minor situations, for example by not buying something at the supermarket. Try out some scenarios in your head to enable you to be more confident.
Pause and breathe for a few seconds before responding to someone. This should help give yourself the chance to assess your own needs and weigh up the consequences. Similarly, give yourself a get-out clause such as responding that you need time to think about it first or you need to check your calendar.
Remember that it is possible to say no and still be courteous. Saying no does not make you a bad person. Be firm and direct in your response so that people are not able to talk you around to their way of thinking. There is no point in lying to get yourself out of a situation as this will lead to further problems. Do not apologise for saying no.
Think of your own self-worth. Realise that you are valuable. If you continue to depend on the approval of others, then you will never be free or happy. Self-worth is not dependent on how much we do for others. You can still be a good person even if you say no.
Consider the guilt, anxiety and disappointment that you might feel if you do not do what has been asked of you and weigh up if this is more tolerable than the consequences of agreeing to something. In the same way, then consider the worst-case scenario of saying no. Will it really cause more anxiety?
Remember that it is perfectly acceptable to change your mind at any time. It is also a vital part of life that we make mistakes.
I have spoken to quite a few people who have made a conscious effort to say no more in their lives recently. Many state that whilst it can be difficult at first, it eventually becomes liberating and empowering and it helps to overcome the fear of rejection. It is certainly worth a try.
I’ll let you know how I get on…