We’ve all been in situations where we’ve said ‘yes’ to something, even though we’ve actually wanted to say ‘no’. Saying no can be a hard thing to do and it’s a skill most of us struggle with. So how do you do it? How do you say no without feeling bad or guilty?
Reasons why we struggle to say no
Let’s start off by looking at some of the reasons why saying no can be hard:
We are taught from a young age to cooperate, be polite and often, not to say no to people. We are expected to do what parents, teachers and other adults tell us and we listen because we’re afraid of being punished or because we think they might not love us otherwise. After a while we develop the belief that saying yes to things is ‘good’ and saying no is ‘bad’ and we carry that belief with us.
Humans are social creatures, and we are wired to connect with others. We want to be liked, to fit in and belong to a group. We all need our tribe. This can bring on a fear of missing out e.g. if our friends are meeting up and we’re not there. It can also lead to peer pressure – we’ve all done something we didn’t want to do because we felt it would help gain the approval of our friends. The pressure to do what others are doing can be powerful and it’s difficult to resist if you think you’re the only one who doesn’t want to do something others are doing.
Caring for others
Another reason why we keep saying yes is because we care about other people. We don’t want to let others down and we don’t want to hurt or upset their feelings. That’s why we sometimes do things that make the other person feel good, even though it might not be something we want to do.
Effect on our own Wellbeing
Despite how hard it can be to say no, it’s important to put your own wellbeing first and to practice saying no to things you don’t want to do. Continuing to say yes to these things can leave you feeling stressed, overwhelmed and anxious because you are doing things for others instead of putting yourself first.
Never underestimate the value of listening to your own instincts. Imagine a situation where your gut tells you no, but you feel pressure to go along with it anyway. Your body is usually quite good at detecting danger and by ignoring your body you might end up in a difficult situation. By listening to your body, you are keeping yourself safe. However, it is worth mentioning here that if you’re experiencing mental health problems like anxiety or depression your body might be sending out false alarms. For example you might be getting some of those danger signs, e.g. your heart might be beating fast, butterflies in your stomach, shortness of breath, even though you are not in a dangerous situation. In that case it might be a good idea to get some professional support to help you understand your body’s alarm system better.
Top tips on how to say no
One of the key things to do when saying no is to understand why you want to say no to something. Is it because you’re too busy, you just don’t fancy it, it doesn’t feel right, or it might get you into trouble? And what is stopping you from saying no? Is it fear of missing out, the pressure to join in, feeling guilty or worrying about how others might react? Figuring this out will help you decide how to respond. The next time, before you say yes to something, stop and breathe to give yourself a bit of time to think about how you really feel about it first. If you really don’t want to or you can’t do it, these 6 tips will help you practice saying no without feeling bad.
1. The first thing to remember is, it’s OK to say no! Keep repeating this several times a day. This will help you develop a new belief – the belief that it’s OK to say no and it does not have to be a bad thing. In fact, it can be extremely empowering.
2. Also, keep in mind that while you can’t control how someone is going to react to what you say, you can choose your own response. Think about how you are going to say no. Here are some ideas:
- Body language is important – a lot of communication happens through body language. This might feel funny at first but practice saying no in front of the mirror. If you have a friend who also struggles to say no, you could practice together and give each other feedback. Practice saying no with confidence: good eye contact, hold your head high and stand up tall. Or practice showing warmth by giving a smile, a head shake, keeping your face relaxed and offering a polite “no thanks”.
- Notice your voice: Think about how you want to sound and practice this e.g. being gentle and caring about someone else’s feelings or confident about your answer. Try and sound certain. If you seem uncertain then others might try and change your mind.
- Think about your answer: It’s ok to say, “no thanks” and not to explain why. Like this, others will be less likely to try and persuade you to do it. Or you might want to offer an alternative that does suit you e.g. “Thanks but I can’t do tonight. How about we meet at the weekend instead?”
3. Practice saying no in unimportant situations e.g. when a friend offers you gum.
4. Talk to your closest friends about how you feel, and they can back you up. It’s much easier to say no when you have someone else saying no with you.
5. You might come across a situation where it’s best to leave. Listen to your body and if it doesn’t feel safe or you really don’t want to do it, just leave. You could say something like “I’m not comfortable here so I’m leaving but I understand if you want to stay”. Or you can make up an excuse or say nothing at all.
6. If your friends want to do something that you don’t want to do, you can suggest a different activity instead. There might be others in your group who aren’t keen either and they would be glad that you’ve offered an alternative.
We all want to say and hear the word yes in most situations in our lives. But the truth is saying no is sometimes necessary for our own well-being and happiness. And importantly it helps us really understand the things we want to say yes to.
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