Have you ever known someone who had trouble saying no? Is that someone possibly even you or someone you care about? This is something I have struggled with at times, so I can relate. My stepmom was once describing a lady she knew, and she said, “She’s really nice, and she reminds me of you…she never tells anyone no.” I’m pretty sure she meant it as a compliment, but is it really? If we can’t say no, even when we really want to, then it’s a pretty good indication we have trouble setting boundaries.
If you think this is a minor issue, think again. If you want someone to take on some extra work, who are you going to ask? The person who won’t say no. If you want someone to loan you money, who are you going to ask? The person who won’t say no. If you want someone to do something for you that you really should do for yourself, who are you going to ask? The person who won’t say no. It is a big issue…if YOU are the one who won’t say no.
So why do some people struggle with setting boundaries and saying no? According to Henry Cloud and John Townsend in their book “Boundaries,” there are several reasons…such as:
Fear of hurting the other person’s feelings
Fear of abandonment and separateness
Fear of someone else’s anger
Fear of being seen as bad or selfish
Fear of being unspiritual
Fear of one’s overly strict and critical conscience (i.e., guilt)
As you might expect, the root of the issue starts in childhood (doesn’t everything?!) Frequently, people who can’t say no were peacekeepers as children. They were the kids who got stressed out by confrontations, so they would try to smooth things over when there was friction between family members. They were also the kids who came to believe saying “yes” was good (it resulted in approval), and saying “no” was bad (it resulted in hurt feelings and a perceived withdrawal of love). So their coping mechanism became, “Just say yes.”
But a funny thing happens after years and years of not setting boundaries. It’s called resentment. A person who thinks they are a bad person if they say “no” and it hurts someone’s feelings or makes them angry will eventually begin to feel that others take advantage of them. I know, duh?! But it’s painful when the realization sinks in. We begin to wonder, Am I really loved for who I am? Or just for being compliant and easy to get along with?
There’s one way to find out. Start saying “no.” Go ahead, be a 2-year old again. If you’re not sure you want to do something, say no. You don’t have to justify it. If someone really cares about you, they’ll accept your “no” without withdrawing their love. When someone asks you to do something for them, you do have the right to say no. (Just remember that they have the same right, and don’t “punish” them by withdrawing emotionally when they say no to you.)
In my newsletters and articles, I’ve talked a lot about freedom. It is truly freeing (and incredibly scary), when you begin to establish boundaries. For the first time in your life, you may finally begin to figure out who you really are and what you really want. Your “yes” is good when it is freely given. But your “no” is good too and sometimes needs to be used to protect your time, your money, or your peace of mind.
So next time someone asks you to do something that you really don’t want to do; take a deep breath, muster up your courage, and ever so gently…just say no.