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Why is "No" So Hard?

By Lori Radun

When my older son Kai was in elementary school, I was so proud of him when he won the best essay in his class for D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education). At the time he was learning this valuable education, he probably didn't realize the other important lesson he was being taught - the significance of saying no. While the "Say No to Drugs" campaign is instrumental for children in learning to resist peer pressure and unhealthy choices, mastering the art of setting healthy boundaries by being comfortable with saying no is a life skill many adults still struggle with.

Why is saying "no" so hard sometimes? Whether it's saying no to that delicious chocolate cake when you're trying to diet, saying no to spending money on something you know you don't need, or saying no to a child when you know he will be disappointed, it can sometimes be difficult to honor what we know is best for us and our loved ones. At the same time, it is essential to develop the "no muscle" so you can live more authentically into who you are.

Identifying what stands in the way of saying no enables us to move through these obstacles and increase our comfort level.

I feel so guilty when I say no.
When we feel guilt, it implies that we have done something wrong. Sometimes we are conditioned to believe that choices we make are wrong, even when we know they aren't. At times, we react to old guilt for choices we have not forgiven ourselves for. For instance, many newly divorced parents find it difficult to say no to their children because they feel guilty about the sadness or hardship their children may be suffering. While mommy guilt is common, it is necessary to change the behavior or expectation that is causing the guilt, so it can be released. Releasing guilt frees you to say no when your heart and intuition is telling you to do so.

I am afraid of people's reactions or judgments.
There is no doubt people will sometimes react when we say no, and a few individuals will at times cast judgment. There have been many times myself that I have felt extremely disappointed when someone told me no. When we hear no, it often means we aren't going to get "our way". Some of us handle that better than others. However, this should never deter you from saying no, especially if the issue is important to you. Others' reactions and judgments belong to them, and not to you. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself, and let others do the same.

It's so much easier to say yes.
Sometimes saying no requires a lot of self-discipline. It may even call for us to take an honest look at some old habits that aren't serving us. If change is difficult for you, it may feel much easier to just say yes. Yes can be familiar. Yes can allow the comfort level we are used to. Saying no to those choices we know we should be making forces us to find ways to cope with life in different ways. The good news is a new habit can be learned and reinforced in about 21 days. Up until about a month ago, I had a lifelong habit of going to bed without washing my face. Then my mom and I had a girls' night out at the Estee Lauder counter and I purchased some cleansing and moisturizing products for my skin. At the time, I doubted my ability to follow through with this system, but I surprised myself and developed a new healthy habit.

I'm not sure what I want, or I don't trust myself.
It can be hard to say no when we're not sure if our answer is yes or no. Some decisions in life come with a fair amount of uncertainty. Unfortunately, there is no real guarantee that we are always going to make the "right" decision, if there is one. Perhaps you've made a decision in the past, thinking you were doing the right thing, and it didn't turn out so good. Each experience like this can create self-doubt. Even when that little voice inside is screaming at us to say no, we ignore it, or question it. Remember saying no rarely has any real serious consequences, and it's always okay to change your mind.

I don't know how to say no gracefully.
My friend called the other day. She needed to say no to someone who wanted to adopt one of her foster dogs. She knew in her mind why she needed to say no, but it was difficult for her to articulate that in the "right" words. She said to me, "You need to teach a class on how to say no." Learning to eloquently express ourselves when saying no takes practice. It's important to communicate clearly what our needs are, and at the same time, stay cognizant of how our message might be received. Role playing with someone who has strong communication skills and experience with gracefully saying no can be very beneficial in helping you feel comfortable.

Saying no is a skill that gets easier with practice. Start today by identifying opportunities to honor yourself more fully by saying no.

Copyright © 2009 Lori Radun, CEC
Lori Radun, CEC is a certified life coach for moms.
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