Trauma arises when our nervous system experiences events or situations that demand more from us than we are able to give or cope with. Are you always busy? Do you have lots of to-do lists and find that you are investing your time and energy doing things for others and you end up feeling tired and overwhelmed? Maybe even a bit resentful?
Are you saying yes to things that you don’t actually want to do because you don’t want to disappoint people, or because you feel bad or even guilty saying no? The reason you may find it very hard to say no, is because you do not like conflict, and you don’t know how to say no without feeling guilty.
When you are learning how to take better care of your nervous system, finding ways to say no to more requests can be one of the biggest favours you can do yourself and those you love.
Whenever you are invited out or asked to do something, the most important thing you can do is give yourself time and space to check in and see what your gut instinct is telling you. How do you really feel about this invite or request?
In order to do this, never give an answer straight away and get into the habit of always saying:
“I’ll need to first check and get back to you.”
Do not justify or give a reason why you need to check first. Be matter-of-fact and not too promising, so this prepares the person early on for the possibility that you won’t be able to help them and it encourages them to consider other options.
This buys you valuable time to think through the questions below before answering and committing.
To help you to decide how you will answer, it is important to ask yourself:
- How do I really feel about doing this? Is it a 100% yes?
- Is this something I really want to do, or something I absolutely need/have to do?
- If I say yes to this request will it make me feel calm, relaxed and fulfilled?
- If I knew this person wouldn’t be angry, disappointed or upset, would I say no?
This helps you to think things through so that you avoid letting yourself be pressured into over scheduling, saying yes to things you really don’t want to do, and taking on too much stress.
Saying yes when you really want to say no ultimately causes you to feel anger and resentment. In order to protect your time, energy and emotional needs you need to set limits, put boundaries in place, and learn to say no.
If after contemplating the questions above, you decide that you do not want to be involved then simply say:
“I said I would check and get back to you and it’s just not possible right now.”
Use a sympathetic, but firm tone. If pressured as to why, simply reply that it doesn’t fit with your schedule and change the subject. Do NOT defend or justify why. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. The fewer words the better.
Most reasonable people will accept this as an answer, so if someone keeps pressuring you, just keep repeating your answer in a broken record style “It’s just not possible right now” and change the subject or even walk away if you have to.
If you would really like to do what they’re requesting, but don’t have the time then say: “I can’t do this, but I can …” and mention a lesser responsibility that you can and want to commit to. This means you can still be involved, but it will be on your terms.
Doing this will take some practice and like anything else the more you do it the easier it becomes. Boundaries are to protect you and your needs. Not everyone will respect that.
If you always said yes and now begin to say no, you can expect some fallout and you may even lose some relationships.
While you can’t control how someone feels or how they react, you can control how you feel and how you choose to respond.
There are only so many hours in the day so this means that whatever you choose to commit to limits your ability to do other things. When you say no, you may feel relieved and this frees up some time for more important things like self-care practices.
Remember that when you say no to others you are actually saying yes to yourself and your needs.