Saying "yes" might be a knee-jerk reaction for many people and sometimes we say yes only to maintain status quo.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on January 23, 2020. It has since been updated.
Are there times when your insides are screaming a "NO!" but you find yourself saying "Okay, sure"? And then immediately regret having said "yes"? Well, you are not alone. An inability to say no indicates a lack of clear boundaries and is often nurtured by guilt or fear of what others might think of you.
Whether it is saying yes to a pushy friend asking you to go out when you are tired, or taking up house chores after a long day at work, or saying yes to a colleague or a boss that adds more stress to your day, the inability to put your foot down and express what you feel can have an impact on your mental and physical health.
Before you judge yourself, it is important to understand that the lack of strong boundaries can stem from childhood experiences. According to Harley Therapy, it could be a result of strict parenting that never gave you the opportunity to voice your views or unexpected consequences due to poor parenting skills. It could also be due to abuse or trauma of any kind.
According to Psychology Today, boundaries are important to develop meaningful and healthy relationships.
A) The trick is to get objective and deal with it like a transaction: Think about what it is going to cost you aka the opportunity cost. You could be losing time, money, and health when you say yes to something you would rather not do. You might be forced to give up valuable time to rest, reconnect with yourself, do something that is far more interesting or spend the energy or money in something that gives you joy and improves your overall sense of wellbeing.
B) Another tip is to start small so that the anxiety of it doesn't overwhelm you: You can start your journey of reclaiming your time and energy by practising this in everyday situations.
C) Check-in with your body: When you are not sure of how you feel about a certain request made to you or a situation, check-in with your body. If you feel a knot in your stomach, or a sense of dread, this is a clear sign that agreeing to the request is not something your system is ready for. The next time someone asks you for something, give yourself the permission to pause and take a moment to "feel" what your body is saying. This will make it easier to express what you feel authentically.
D) Get comfortable with people being disappointed: The biggest fear most people have is the fear of being judged or misjudged by others. But let's get one thing straight. There is always going to be people who are not okay with something or the other. The sooner you get comfortable with this, the easier it gets to be true to yourself.
Once you decide that you want to say "No," you can do it in many ways. There might be some people who get put off, but that's a choice they are making. A healthy relationship respects a person's desire to maintain healthy boundaries. Here are some options to tackle tricky requests.
This is an easy and simple way of turning someone down. One of the important things about refusing someone is being firm and direct. You can use a phrase like this, or say "I’m sorry but I can’t help this evening." Unless you do feel bad to decline, you don't owe anyone an apology. A statement like this when accompanied by a strong body language indicates that you are telling them that you are not going to be able to help rather than asking permission to say no, according to Psychcentral.
Instead of an automatic "yes," play smart and buy yourself some time by using these phrases. When you do this, you'll get more to sit with yourself and decide what you want to do about the request. If you want to decline, it also gives you the time to come up with reasons and expressing it at your own time and pace. Many times you might say "yes" as a knee-jerk reaction. Using these statements can limit those moments.
This is a good way to let people know that while you are interested, you are unable to do it right then. If you genuinely do want to help or join them later, you can add something like "Can you check with me post-April?" This lets them know that while you cannot say "yes" right away, you are willing to consider the request in a moment suitable time.
This is one of the firmest but polite ways of saying it. You are being super straight with your response without giving them any reason. At the same time, you have expressed your intention that if you could, you would have. This phrase relieves you from explaining (when no explanation is owed) and stops you from being apologetic (when you don't need to be sorry). This is a good response for those people who always rely on you to help them out or expect you to make things better for them without considering how you might be placed (emotionally or practically) at the moment.
If you think that it will burn bridges when you say no, you can suggest an alternative, according to Greater Good Magazine. You can offer solutions or assist them to find a replacement resource or a willing helper who can be requested instead of you. It's a bit of a compromise since you are going to have the responsibility of finding the replacement rather than walking away from it entirely. Still, it shows that you are considerate about the other person.