The Power of ‘No’

If you read my previous post, “The Power of Yes”, you will see I believe there is so much good that can come from regularly repeating that affirmation in our lives.  It helps build courage, self-esteem, not to mention a more positive approach to life in general. However, there is a whole different kind of power in saying, ‘No’.

After all…

“Our yes has no meaning if we never say no.”

Henry Cloud

Saying ‘No’ Takes Courage

There is quite a bit to be said about “The Power of No”.  Saying ‘No’ can take a lot of courage itself.  It requires us to have enough self-respect to put a stop to those who would push against our boundaries and limits—even if that someone is your teenager expecting you to clean up after him, or make food “magically” appear before him!   

No is a shield against exploitation Judith Sills

Nobody likes being told ‘no’.  Therefore, it’s only natural, that when we know someone will always say ‘yes’ to us (or at least not say ‘no’), we’ll keep making demands of them again and again.  Unfortunately, this means we’re exploiting their generosity. 

“Anybody who gets upset and/or expects you to say YES all of the time clearly doesn’t have your best interest at heart.”

Stephanie Lahart

When We Struggle With Saying ‘No’

Some people struggle with imposing limits and saying ‘no’.  I am one of those people

That is why, after only 3 years at my new job, I had triple the workload most of my peers did.  To make things worse, I repeatedly told myself that I had no right to be unhappy about it because I’m the one that had never said ‘no’!  Essentially, I had made my bed, and now I was forced to lay in it.   

Like they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step for me was recognizing I had a problem!  When people would comment on my workload, or my nonstop lifestyle, I would jokingly say, “Yeah, I have a problem saying ‘no’”.   

This was freeing—admitting it—and easier than I thought, because I was kind of making a joke about it.  It was a first step for me to mentally prepare to stand up for myself. 

Joking about not being able to say ‘no’ had an unexpected added bonus: I was able to recognize the people that really cared about me. Not because they would immediately jump in with offers to help lighten my load, but because they would offer encouragement to empower me to establish boundaries and reassurance that I should have no guilt in enforcing them.  To me, that was a real sign of love and friendship.   

Borrowing Strength from Others

By the time we become adults, our ability (or inability) to say ‘no’ is already well-established.  We hear a lot of talk about bullying and peer pressure among our youth—the antidote is knowing how to say ‘no’.  We have to build up our children’s confidence and empower them to say ‘no’ when their limits or values are threatened.  This is twice as hard when those limits are pushed by a friend.

As a middle school teacher, I saw plenty of bullying.  But what I saw way more of, was kids being pushed around by their “friends”. 

'F' paper

Every year I went through the same drill: the first time I caught a student cheating, I would make a big deal out of it.  Without calling out any names, I would very publicly express my serious disappointment that someone had cheated.  Then, I would let everyone in the class know that not only had the cheater received a big fat ZERO on the assignment, but the person who allowed their friend to cheat had also received a zero.  This always met with an uproar.  Students were shocked with how “unfair” they believed this was. 

That’s when I would step in and say, “use me as an excuse!  When your friend asks for your work to copy, tell them ‘no way, Ms. Hartman is so mean she’ll give me a zero!’”  This way, I’m empowering my students to say ‘no’.  I’m giving them a first step to help build confidence in standing up for themselves. 

One year, only a few days after my annual lecture, I overheard one of my 8th graders say to her friend who asked her to help him cheat, “no way! Ms. Hartman will kill me!” You have no idea how much joy that filled me with! 🙂

Give Yourself Permission to Say ‘No’

Whatever your reason may be for struggling with saying ‘no’: whether it’s guilt, fear of angering other people, a perfectionist drive to be able to do everything, or whatever, saying ‘no’ emphatically declares that we know our limits and we are comfortable and confident with who we are and what our values are. 

If we are ever asked to do something that violates one of those 3 things: our limits, our identity, our values, giver yourself permission to say ‘no’ WITHOUT any emotional strings attached!

When you fly in an airplane, what do the flight attendants always say about your oxygen mask?  If you’re flying with small children, secure your own mask before assisting anyone else.  Think of saying ‘no’ as your emotional oxygen mask.  You have to know your limits and take care of yourself, or your ability to help others is greatly diminished. 

“Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious.  You get to choose how you use it.  You teach people how to treat you by deciding what you will and won’t accept.”

Anna Taylor

Course Corrections

Saying no to the wrong people opens up space for the right people. Joe Calloway
This is true for both our professional & personal lives

Someone I am very close to has been considering divorce for a long time.  I am too close to her to be objective: I feel defensive, protective, and want to dig in my heels and fight.  My husband, on the other hand, who is blessed with being able to be objective, pointed out that saying ‘no’ to this failing relationship will enable her to say ‘yes’ in the future to someone who will treat her more appropriately. 

‘No’ offers a course correction when we feel we are going down the wrong road.  In college, a friend of mine told me about the wedding of a good friend he had attended a few years before.  His friend and fiancé seemed like a good fit together, nobody had any grave misgivings about their relationship.  But, just as the ceremony was about to start, after all their guests had been seated, the couple came out and announced together that they would not be getting married. 

Wedding picture

These two families had spent a lot of money—as we usually do—on clothes, venues, flowers, invitations, etc., etc.  Can you imagine how this couple’s friends and families felt for cancelling their wedding? 

They were happy.  They were proud.  Proud that these two individuals were both mature and brave enough to stand in front of their loved ones and announce that they were going to say ‘no’, and make a course correction now, instead of causing infinitely more heartache and turmoil to each other and their friends and families years down the road. 

Saying ‘No’ to Ourselves

Course corrections are a part of life.  They are a way of saying ‘no’ to ourselves.  Even though sometimes it requires we admit we were wrong: we took a chance, we tried something, it didn’t work, move on.  The only real failure is if we don’t learn from the whole process—(but that’s another article for another time!)

We say ‘no’ to ourselves for the same 3 reasons we would say ‘no’ to another: it infringes upon our limits, our identity, or our values.  There is nothing wrong with recognizing, “this isn’t who I am anymore”.  After all, we all change so much through our lives—I hope

We have children and our world-view changes.  We meet new friends and they expose us to hobbies we never thought we’d love.  We lose someone close to us and recognize behaviors we once thought harmless are actually devastating.  These are all ways that we can confidently say ‘no’:

  • ‘No’, I don’t see things that way now
  • ‘No’, I’m not going to be afraid of trying something new
  • ‘No’, I’m not going to do those things anymore. 

‘No’ has the power to change our lives.  If you have trouble saying ‘no’, stop believing you don’t have the exact same right every other person in this world has to say it.  If you have a relationship where you feel you cannot say ‘no’, you may need to re-evaluate this relationship. 

Become confident in who you are, and what your needs are.  Recognize that your values are just that: your values—you don’t need to defend them to anyone.  Most importantly, be patient with yourself.  Start small—with humor, or with depending on someone else’s strength if you need to, until you can judiciously say ‘no’ when necessary, confident in your assertion. 

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