Monday, February 23, 2009

Do You Find It Hard to Say No?

Tweet This Post
Excerpted from Grab the Queen Power

No—the pearl in a woman’s mouth that would shake the very foundations of the Kingdom. A word that for many of us sounds rude and uncaring and dangerous. Most of us can’t get that word out of our mouths. If patience is a virtue, and other people’s opinions are more valid than ours, what right do we have to say no? When your job is to take care of people, and their needs come first, saying no can threaten your identity.

Many of the women I interviewed felt taking care of other people’s needs was simply part of the duties of a mother and a wife. One woman said, “I think it’s learned behavior. I know that my mother did it. It’s almost like if you put yourself first, then you feel guilty. There is a lot of guilt in being a woman.” Another took the responsibility of others first even further. “It’s really dumb. If I have something that someone wants, I might as well give it to them because I can’t enjoy it anymore.” She said, “It’s not saying no that’s hard.”

The inability to say no is driven by our desire for approval from others. Saying no is selfish. If you are selfish, you are guilty. And worse than that, nobody will love you. “I would transport the computer to and from work so that I could work on my writing at home,” one interviewee reported. “My husband would end up playing games on it. He didn’t understand why I would get so crazy. He always told me that he’d get off of it if I wanted him to. Once I’d get him off, my mind was so agitated, as well as guilt-filled, I couldn’t settle back down to work—telling him he couldn’t use it or asking him to get off of it felt like an act of violence.”

A forty-year-old subject shared a similar story, “Yes, I do this with everybody. For example, I stopped by to say hello to someone that was going to be a guest lecturer. I didn’t have a babysitter for my son, but wanted to say hello and explain why I couldn’t attend. I ended up staying (with my son in tow) even though I had dinner in the oven! By the time I got home, my supper was burned, my son was starving and it was all because I couldn’t say no to this person.”

As I entered my teen years, “No” was my mantra. The trouble was I had no middle ground. If I wasn’t going to agree with a lady-like compliance, then saying no became an act of rebellion. A selfish act. I truly believed when I said “no,” I was bad, a selfish person, and I went out of my way to prove it. I wouldn’t give a guest the best seat. I would grab the largest slice of cake—and even, oh horrors—take the very last piece on the tray. I knew that being selfish was almost a criminal act, but saying “no” was even worse. Not giving my time or myself made me a criminal of the heart.

Men are taught that it is okay to be more direct. Women are more concerned about hurting feelings or not wanting people mad at you. Even though I knew how to say no, I didn’t know how to deal with the aftermath and found myself often fretting about the reaction of others.
Our inability to say no means we take on countless tasks we don’t wish to do, or even need to do. It means we dismiss our own needs as frivolous. Or when we are determined to put ourselves first, we often feel as if we have gone beyond the pale, we see ourselves as outlaws. For whatever reason, the truth is saying no feels wrong to us.

Too bad. Saying and meaning the word “no” potentially brings us the most peace.

But over time, with enough pressure from those who surrounded you who seemed convinced that their practiced way was more valid than your way (and, therefore, ultimately better), you gradually begin to release your determination to guide your own life.
—Esther Hicks

Allyn Evans
info at

Technorati Tags:
, , , , ,


L. Diane Wolfe said...

Words from a wise woman!
Saying no is harder for us, because we are so geared to be the one who cares for others.

I have learned to say no when it involves my time, though. I already stretch it to the limit and know when I really have no more time. I avoid the guilt because saying no pleases my husband, who thinks I work too hard anyway...

Hmm... guess I'm still making someone else happy!

L. Diane Wolfe

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

I used to think I had to say yes to everything. I also thought I had to answer every question--right away. Actually, I didn't really think that. I just accepted it and didn't think much one way or the other. Then I read a book on it. Now we have you, Allyn!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Blogging at Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites pick,

Prill Boyle said...

Saying no is an ongoing struggle for me. Just when I think I've learned my lesson and got it down pat, yet another request appears in my in-box. What's hardest for me is that I've had so much help along the way to becoming an author that I feel a desire and, yes, an obligation to pay it forward. But every so often I find I have to clear my schedule and retreat in order to write. I feel a retreat phase coming on soon. :-)

Barbara Techel said...

Great post, Allyn. Saying no takes lot of practice... but it is so true. We just end up hurting ourselves when we don't. As a hospice volunteer we are strongly urged to be honest and say no when we need to say no. We are of no benefit to others when we say yes when we mean no.
I'm much better at saying no than I used to be... but will always need practice. :)

Beth Blair said...

I also used to think I had to reply with a yes or no immediately. Now I reply with, "Let me think about it." That was it gives me time to toss whatever "it" is around and come up with a response that is fair for me and the them.

Anonymous said...

And of course, saying "no" (even with the results you want) and fully believing your ability to say "no" or two different things. I say "no" alot, and always feel very guilty about it. And while it doesn't hinder my ability to enjoy whatever it is I'm doing because I've said no . . . I end up resenting the hell out of the people who keep asking me to do things I've repeatedly said "NO" to. I'm not even sure that made sense?

Allyn Evans said...

Yes, you made perfect sense! And good point about the guilt. That's another piece of the "saying no" puzzle.