As we get older, though, saying "no" gets harder. We learn pretty quickly that saying "no" to Mama and Daddy doesn't work too well. Saying "no" to teachers doesn't work at ALL well. We hear "no" more often too. Women especially learn that saying "no" is harder because we're expected to be nurturing, kind, caring - all those things that fly in the face of an honest and sometimes appropriate "no."
Dealing with "no" and setting/maintaining healthy boundaries is a big part of CBT, DBT, and Assertiveness Training Skills - with good reason. Many of us don't learn what good boundaries are and have little to no idea of how to set and maintain our own, or how to deal with others' boundaries.
Saying and receiving an appropriate "no" is a boundary issue and something that we have to learn to deal with everyday in a multitude of situations. For example, I recently learned that I did not get a job I for which I'd hoped to hired. This was a clear "no." Whether it was appropriate or not (my opinion certainly differs from the hiring committee!) isn't the issue here - the issue is how I deal with hearing "no." I won't lie and say I wasn't disappointed, but I'm also not getting into a death-spiral-funk about it either. My boundaries and sense of self are intact enough that I don't take this as a reflection on me as a person.
And that is the trouble with hearing "no." Often, we take it as meaning that we are not good enough or right enough when we hear it. Like children, "no" may mean not getting what we want and we equate it with "no, you're not worthy of/good enough for __________ (fill in the blank)." It may feel like a personal attack, or that the person saying "no" doesn't love us enough, want us enough, or care about us enough. Hearing "no," though, really doesn't mean that it's a reflection on who we are - it simply means that the person saying "no" simply can't or won't meet our need at that time. The reason doesn't matter, what matters is how we deal with "no."
Honestly, there are a lot of ways we can do this. We can do the emotional equivalent of having a temper tantrum and yell, insult, or fight with the person saying "no." (You see this all the time in comments sections under articles or stories on the net.) We can turn the cold shoulder and freeze the person out. We can try and try to change their mind, even when it's a clear "no." However, all of these methods are boundary violations - we are violating the boundaries of the person who said "no."
So how DO you deal with it? First, recognize that it's not a reflection of your value as a person or your value to the person saying "no." That's a hard pill to swallow, I know - many of us learn through life experience that our value to others depends on pleasing them, and we alternate between trying to do that and rebelling against that internalized message. The idea here is "no" simply means "no" and that it doesn't mean we're bad people or that the other person doesn't care about us.
Next, ask yourself how you would want the other person to act if you had to say "no" to them. (I know - I can hear a lot of you saying, "but I wouldn't say "no" to them!" Just go with me on this, ok? :) ) Would you want them to scream, cry, threaten you, insult you, try to change your mind? Somehow, I don't think so. This is where the "golden rule" really has value - treat them the way you'd want to be treated.
Also, if you have to vent - if you think the "no" was unfair, was mean, etc - vent in your journal or to someone else. Venting is not a bad thing; you just want to use it appropriately. Venting at the person saying "no" isn't going to help and may in fact damage your relationship with the person beyond repair. So think about how you want to react to them, and where you REALLY want to vent - and then do it in a way that is safe and respectful. Respecting the other person's boundaries is something we all have to learn to do.
So, what if you need to say "no"? Well, again the golden rule applies: we don't want to be mean, sarcastic, threatening or insulting. The goal here is to first respect our own boundaries and then be respectful of the other person's. Assertiveness training and skills come in handy here, but generally a kind but firm "no" is all it takes. You don't have to explain it (you can if you want), and you don't have to change your mind, even if the other person doesn't respect your boundaries. You can use what is called the "broken record" technique if you need to. "I'm really busy that day and can't drive you to the picnic." "I'm really busy that day and can't drive you to the picnic," etc.
If the other person is not respectful of your "no," you have the right to remove yourself from the situation or to be firm and clear about your "no." You don't have to be angry or threating in your tone of voice (although you may feel justifiably irritated and annoyed!). Women especially have a hard time saying "no" appropriately because we've been socialized to be the nurturers and caregivers. Saying "no" contradicts the "take care of everyone else before you take care of yourself" mantra that is the undercurrent around traditional women's roles. Saying "no" is an important skill.
So here's an idea for you: Keep track of how many times someone says "no" to you and to how you react. Also, keep track of how many times you wanted to say "no" and didn't, and how you felt about yourself and the other person. Finally, keep track of how you did say "no" to others, and how you felt. It's an interesting exercise and very eye-opening. Even simply paying attention to the pattern can help you see and work on appropriate boundaries. And that, my friends, is a very good thing.
Please Note: The content on this blog is intended for informational purposes only. This is not therapy, and if you wish to work in therapy, please contact your local mental health agency or your physician for a referral.
If you are in crisis or danger, please call 911 for immediate help. Please, again, realize that seeking out help really IS a sign of strength and not a sign of weakness. You don’t have to be alone in facing these things – there are people who care and who will help. Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also call me at (970) 776-6043 for information.