“Heather, I am going to drop you off at Walmart and have you walk up to strangers and say, ‘No!’” my best friend’s mother counseled my teenage self. Like many people, I struggle to say yes to the right opportunities and no to the wrong ones. Perhaps you can relate?
In my fear of missing out on love and a happily ever after, I said yes to relationships which everyone else knew were doomed to fail. In my gut, I knew I needed to say no to my flesh and my fear; but, time and again, I batted my eyelashes at one wrong person after another. Though too proud to admit it, I was young, stupid, and completely unready to be in a serious relationship. My fear of missing out, among other things, kept me frolicking down the wrong paths and avoiding the right ones.
Saying No to Something is Saying Yes to Something Else!
In the previous post, we discussed saying yes more often and Finding the Freedom to Say Yes to the exciting opportunities which come our way; but as I was writing, I started thinking of friends (and myself) who have a tough time saying no to unhealthy relationships, to manipulation, and to unrealistic demands.
- No, I cannot stop cooking and come over right now. We can talk about your problem in the morning.
- No, I am not available for a date tonight. Thank you for asking, but I have made other plans.
- No, I will not be able to have those papers on your desk by Monday. I am in a wedding this weekend and will not be able to work.
As noted in the previous post, when we say yes to something, we say no to others as a consequence. The same is true for a no answer. When we say no, we might be saying yes to our sanity, yes to others in our lives, or yes to much needed rest. As Eric has said, “We teach people how to treat us.” When we always say yes, or we show them we can be manipulated into saying yes, we teach the people in our lives to manipulate and badger us until they get what they want – this is unhealthy.
When to Say No
For some, saying no is a piece of cake. Let us take my husband for example: in general, Eric has no problem saying no when he believes it is in our best interest to do so. Me, however, I am great at saying yes to other people’s best and no to my own.
- Yes, I will sponsor you in your marathon! Good for you, getting in shape and supporting a good cause!
- No, I do not think I am going to exercise today (though I need to); there is always tomorrow.
For those of us who say yes to others’ well-being, but no to our own goals and dreams, we need to work on differentiating between when it is good to say yes and when it is prudent to say no.
- Say no when it violates your faith. I have a strong desire to keep peace at nearly any price. I want everyone to be happy with me always – even though I know that is unreasonable. In Matthew 10:22, Jesus tells his disciples that they will be hated because of him. As Christ-followers, we are not always going to be liked, and sometimes we will be hated. When saying yes violates God’s laws and guidance, we should say no.
- Say no to manipulation and guilt from others. I confess this now… if I sense someone is trying to manipulate me into saying yes, I am more than likely to say no. Manipulation is evil. Manipulation says, “forget about what is best for you and concentrate only on what I want.” Manipulation sacrifices respect and good communication for tricks and lies. Manipulation expects you to give up what you need in honor of what another wants regardless of how badly it hurts or inconveniences you. Manipulation insults the recipient’s intelligence. If someone is using guilt or fake emotional pleas to force you into a decision, it is good to say no.
- Say no when you are guilting yourself. “I do not want to, but I should because…” This phrase has cycled through my mind so many times. “If I do not do x, y, or z, someone’s feelings will be hurt.” Sometimes, we do what we would rather not do as a way of preferring others over ourselves as we are told to do in Philippians 2:3. However, sometimes we do what we would rather not because we are repeating lies to ourselves. “If I do not go out with my friends tonight, I am a bad friend.” “If I decline the baby shower invitation, I am being selfish.” When faced with a yes or no question, take a step back and evaluate your reasons: Why am I saying yes? Why am I saying no? Is my reason sound and healthy?
- Say no when you are overextended. Recently, I invited a friend to a baby shower. Her response included a handful of reasons she was choosing to decline. She did not say, “I cannot go” because she technically could go; but, in doing so, she would be extending herself further than she was comfortable. Sometimes we need to rest or reset. We cannot attend every event or assist in every project. We have limitations.
- Say no when you are being used. Is it a one-sided friendship? Do you only get calls when your help is needed? “No” is the appropriate answer next time.
- Say no when you are being disrespected. When someone wags his or her finger at you and makes demands, calls you names, or insults you to make you act, you can (and should) say no. In some cases, you need to say no and goodbye. A boss, a friend, and most definitely a significant other who treats you this way needs to be a memory and not your current circumstances.
- Say no when you are physically or emotionally unable to assist. If your knee has been bothering you, it is not the time to help someone move. If you just buried a loved one, it might not be a good season to counsel friends about heartache. If you are going through a hard breakup, you might not be the best person to host a bridal shower. When your heart or body need a rest, it is okay to say no, or even to find other ways to assist people.
These are only a few examples. You will have hundreds of opportunities to practice saying no in your lifetime. If you struggle like I do, find your Eric. Find someone in your life who does not struggle to form healthy boundaries and ask him or her to help you get more comfortable saying no when it is the right answer.
What if I Keep Saying Yes?
You will explode if you keeping saying yes to everything. After years of saying yes and seething each time, you will eventually have a kaboom moment – sometimes private, sometimes not, but likely epic.
One fireworks moment I recall came after months of driving a friend from place to place. He was between cars and somewhere along the way I became his consistent ride (you teach people how to treat you…). After a long week, I attended a Friday night play at my church. My passenger friend starred in the show (per usual… he was a great actor). When I returned to my car, I found my backseat full of his clothes – socks, pants, shoes – from a week’s worth of rehearsals. With that arrogant display, I felt my annoyance rising as I wanted to go home. So, I walked into the church, found my friend, and said, “If you are riding with me, I am leaving now.” He responded that he wanted to stay longer and told me, “Just drop my laundry off at my house.”
Ding! My meter hit the top. At this point, years of saying yes when I should have had more respect for myself hit the boiling point. Heather had had enough of yes and it was time for no.
Shocked that he actually expected me to drive his dirty clothes home for him (rather than him coming and retrieving them from my car), I walked out to my vehicle and pondered what to do. Within seconds, I found myself opening my backseat and hurling his shirts, socks, shoes, and other personal belongings into a pile in the parking lot. With a sigh of satisfaction, I entered the driver’s seat, shut my door, and drove off feeling about a hundred pounds lighter.
- No, you are not going to use me anymore.
- No, I am not your unpaid chauffeur.
- No, I am not at the mercy of your desires.
- No, I will not take your dirty laundry home.
Now, that memory makes me laugh as we have all grown up and have matured since those days. But, I would not take a thousand dollars for that experience. We need to learn to say no before we lose our cool. “Parking lot laundry-gate” ended up amusing myself and several others, but my wrath could have come out in a different, more permanent way. Saying yes dishonestly comes with a price tag. Sometimes it costs us our mental health, physical health, friendships, and/or our peace and it is better to say no.
It is okay to say no so you can say yes to what is important.
Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough. – Josh Billings
If you want more time, freedom, and energy, start saying no. – Anonymous
Learn to say no; it will be of more use to you than to be able to read Latin. – Charles Spurgeon
Keep breaking free!!!
Do you struggle to say no to others?