Saying “no” can be self care. It can free us from being a disgruntled giver and improve every area of our lives.
It can also help us form connections, get on the right frequency, and show ourselves that we are deserving. It’s self love y’all!
“The greatest love of all.”- Whitney Houston
Unfortunately, some of us (like myself) were falsely lead to believe that saying “no” in certain circumstances is rude, aggressive, inconsiderate or downright wrong. Or that if we say no, then people won’t like us or we will be abandoned. Or that saying no will make us selfish in a derogatory sense.
Simply put, we were taught extreme, unproductive, limiting thinking.
And while we don’t want to be rigid, saying no isn’t as negative as we’ve been lead to believe.
Saying “no” is beneficial. It’s confidence. It’s empowerment. And we need to learn to correct the false narrative about saying “no” so we can live in tranquility with balance.
Here I share my story of learning to say no so you can see it’s possible (and how awesome it feels). From there I’ll share 7 tips to help you say no too!
“No, no, no, no, no.” -Destiny’s Child
Before we begin, it’s important to note that while we may be able to confidently say no in one are of our lives, we might get stuck and feel unable to say no in other areas.
I was having trouble saying no to unrealistic and hypocritical requests from family. Here’s how that went down. (Law & Order theme song)
In my family there is a birthday tradition. The person celebrating their birthday chooses a restaurant and we all meet for dinner.
Everyone chooses a restaurant, except me of course.
On my birthday, I was told where we were going to eat. It was always out of the way for me and I started to hate my birthdays.
One year I drove 80 miles round trip to go to a restaurant of my mother’s choosing. The fish and chips were really good so at least I had that going for me.
The year after my aunt called me saying she wanted to go to a specific restaurant in the city.
So I had to drive from my home in the suburbs, in traffic, to the city, to a restaurant I didn’t want to go to.
On top of that, my aunt said it would be convenient for my grandmother if she didn’t have to drive. My grandmother lived an hour away from me in the opposite direction of the city and they expected me to pick her up.
I drove for over 5 hours on that birthday. I was an exhausted, poor, recent college grad in a recession who hated driving. Parking cost over $20. The food gave me heartburn—or maybe the stress did. Whatever the case, it was not good.
The best part was that when we got to the restaurant my aunt wanted a specific view of the water so I ended up facing the bathroom and getting constantly bumped into. I literally couldn’t make this up!
Understandably, I was exhausted and cried while driving home that birthday, after I finished chauffeuring my grandmother of course.
Then, a few weeks later I was told that I didn’t seem appreciative for the dinner and that I needed to reconsider my attitude. The year after my family didn’t offer to do anything for me for my birthday.
It broke my heart and I was hard on myself for being so “selfish”. I told myself I needed to be appreciative someone wanted to take me to dinner. I told myself I was wrong and needed to put up and shut up.
A New Tradition
I don’t know how, and I’m still confused about why. But instead of doing what I felt compelled to do—stay at home feeling depressed my family didn’t want to celebrate my birthday with me—I decided to do something that I would enjoy on my birthday.
It was a foreign concept but I was surprisingly good at it!
I went to the art museum and then for a long walk to my favorite coffee shop to see my favorite barista and get tiramisu and coffee.
I have a well-developed palate, my favorite barista loves this about me. He will give me a plate lined up with different gelatos on spoons without telling me what flavors they are.
He excitingly says, “do the thing.” And watches with a huge smile as I taste the gelato and then explain what I’m picking up.
“I’m sensing a dough, nutty flavor. Slightly sweet. The last time I tasted this there was a crunchy texture.”
“Biscotti!!!” he yells and slaps his hand on his knee in excitement.
A new tradition was born.
The Big N-O
A few years had passed and I grew to absolutely love my birthday! People would comment that I was, “living my best life,” and how they wish they could spend their birthday without family.
Two years ago the plan was to go to the Barnes Art exhibit and then a trip to see my favorite barista.
A week before the big day my aunt called me and I told her how excited I was for my birthday. She was happy for me said she wanted to take me to lunch to celebrate with me.
I could feel her words throughout my entire body. But I tried to live in the present and not let the past affect me. I told myself it would be different.
She insisted I pick, so I said a place in between the Barnes exhibit and her house that would be convenient for both of us. I was shocked when she agreed!
After the call I smiled and thought the past was the past and I am on to a new life where I consider myself!
Then, two days before my birthday, my aunt called me saying there was a sale at the mall and she wanted to go shopping so we should just meet at the mall.
The mall she wanted to go to was over an hour from my house, in the opposite direction of the Barnes exhibit. I asked her what time she wanted to meet.
She said it’s my birthday so I pick the time. I said 11am since I wanted to get to the Barnes. She said 1pm works better for her. I found myself auto-piloting and agreeing.
While we were on the phone, I was doing chores. And as I said “yes” to our new plans I was cleaning the mirror in my bathroom. I looked in the mirror at myself as my eyes swelled with tears.
I couldn’t believe I was here again. I was so sad that my happy birthdays were gone. I remembered how sad I was driving hours to restaurants I didn’t want to go to and how horrible it felt. I wish I could go back in time and give myself a hug.
I then imagined me on my birthday sitting around until noon to drive an hour to a restaurant I didn’t want to go to so she could go shopping while I missed out on the Barnes.
Then, something wonderful happened.
I Said No
Can’t remember specifics but it went something like this, “Actually, now that I think of it, the mall is out of my way for me and that time is right in the middle of the day. It will keep me from going to the Barnes and that’s what I want to do on my birthday. Let’s do lunch another time!”
It felt intense! My heart raced, and I hoped I was being assertive and not too aggressive. There was also a part of me that was jumping for literal fucking joy! We’ll call it my internal cheerleader. She was on the sideline cheering me on as I ran to catch the winning touchdown during the big game.
I was shocked when my aunt casually said, “no problem” and we ended the conversation in pleasantry.
After we got off the phone I had a smile on my face that I can still feel today. I waked around my house cleaning and saying “no” on repeat. I counted how many languages I can say “no” in—around 10.
Later that night, a guy I was dating knocked on my door to pick me up for a date (guys, don’t just beep, pick the lady up at the door!). I swung the door open had a huge smile on my face and excitedly exclaimed, “I did it! I said no!”
Understandably, he was confused but also excited to see me so happy. As we walked to the car I told him what I did and then I leapt in the air. I told him how good it feels to say no and asked him if he knew this feeling.
He laughed. I said “no” a few more times, told him I’m sorry not sorry if this is annoying him, and jokingly asked if he was reconsidering his dating choices.
He asked me what I was going to do for my birthday now that I would not see family. I said the museum and then probably have a night in, I seriously didn’t even care, I was too busy feeling ecstasy.
He said he would be honored to take me to dinner but only if I wanted to, only if I was up for it. He said he would drive and I could pick the place. Oh how the tides have turned.
I looked at him with a huge smile and said, “you should try it, just say it once for me.. it feels amazing!”
The Big Day
The Barnes museum was amazing. I got a parking spot right out front. And then I got some free gelato from my favorite barista.
Honestly, I could have stared at a wall and it would have been better than driving to a mall an hour away for heartburn.
Dinner was amazing, too. When I walked in the restaurant, the host greeted me with a card and cake.
There was no crying on that drive home!
After he dropped me off, I sat on my couch and stared into space reflecting on how proud I was of myself. I did it. I showed myself I was deserving and that I was not created to sacrifice for others. That I can say no and reject what others ask and still be a good person.
I felt free. I feel free. I’m happy.
Saying no can feel scary and nerve-wracking. Especially if you haven’t done it before or you are trying to work up the nerve.
Here are some tips from someone (me) who’s been there. Remember, everyone is different, so what worked for me may not work for you, or may need some tweaks.
1. Remember you can say no after you said yes. Of course you don’t want to leave someone in a lurch, but if changing your response will not hurt them, then change it. I did with my aunt. I changed it within the minute I originally said yes.
2. You may resort to old habits or forget to say no at first and then remember after the fact, if so, refer to tip #1. Learning a new habit takes time process. The first step is knowing the problem, then figuring out how to fix it, then catching yourself in the act. If you catch yourself, it can feel like you aren’t progressing, but that is progress!
3. It may feel intense to you but not to others. If you aren’t used to be assertive, it may feel very intense to start, and there is a chance you will come off as aggressive. Or you may be sloppy at first. It’s all good. Remember, progress not perfection. You can and you will do this. I can, you can! Do the best you can and continually remind yourself that you are a good person who is worthy and deserving.
4. There are serval ways to say no. It doesn’t need to be a flat out no. It could be, “I don’t like that journey for me,” or “Sorry, I can’t, how’s next week,” or “that wont work. Let’s figure something else out.” There are also different situations where you may feel more comfortable saying no and others where you are not. At work and in other areas I was comfortable saying no. I didn’t realize I had a problem until the birthday issues.
5. It’s a learning process on both ends! Just like establishing boundaries, people may not like you saying no and may not automatically accept it. You may need to repeat your “no” a few times to let it sink in. This may happen if people are not used to you saying no, it doesn’t mean anything bad about them (unless they were knowingly taking advantage of you), it means you are changing the rules and they need to get used to the change.
6. Saying no isn’t self-centered. The more I focus on my mindset, the more I learn I’ve been steered wrong. Saying no and not doing what someone else wants you to do (even if they are an elder or a parent) doesn’t make you bad or unappreciative. Yes, its selfish but that’s not bad either. Selfishness is on a scale and me choosing me doesn’t mean I don’t have consideration for others. It means I am taking care of myself. If I don’t do it, no one else will.
7. Any change can be very difficult, but it gets easier over time. If someone asked me now to drive 5 hours on my birthday, I’d laugh internally while politely rejecting. Remember to have self compassion and self-forgiveness. I used to be annoyed I drove all those miles on my birthday. But I’ve made peace with it because I appreciate my birthdays so much more now!
Think of times you do things you wish you didn’t. Like the time you helped a friend who doesn’t have your back. Or in my case, when I was driving for hours to please others on my birthday.
Consider how you can reduce the unpleasantry and how you are going to say no. If you resort to yes, then get back up and go at it again. Rinse and repeat!
It’s hard work but its worth it and it will drastically improve your life!