We all benefit from having healthy boundaries that help us communicate what’s important. An essential aspect of defining the way you expend time and energy is knowing how and when to say no. Whether in the workplace, in a relationship, or even when someone doesn’t understand your sobriety choice, with a little practice, you can learn how to use “no” with grace, kindness, and consideration.
Why Saying No is Hard
Without a doubt, most of us have the belief that saying no is a “bad thing” or makes us horrible people. We should all be accommodating in every situation, to anyone who asks, right? Well, not exactly. We’re not capable of fulfilling every request, nor should we. We also need to understand when oppressive personalities infringe upon our emotional, mental, or physical space.
PsychCentral points out a few factors that reflect what most of us feel about saying no, which we provide verbatim:
- As social psychologist Dr. Vanessa K. Bohns writes in a 2016 research review examining people’s influence over others, “Many people agree to things — even things they would prefer not to do — simply to avoid the considerable discomfort of saying ‘no.’”
- As social creatures who want to be part of the herd, we also want to preserve our relationships. So, we might blurt out yes because we don’t want to be seen as difficult, says Dr. Emily Anhalt, a clinical psychologist.
- Or, we don’t want to disappoint a good friend or hurt someone’s feelings, notes Dr. Nicole Washington, a board-certified psychiatrist and the chief medical officer of Elocin Psychiatric Services.
Anhalt also notes that many of us when we were younger weren’t allowed to advocate for ourselves, so we tend to say yes to things that may not benefit us. Adverse childhood experiences, our general upbringing, and negative reinforcement in other situations might also cause us to be conflict averse.
The Australian Counseling Agency (ACA) notes “if a child is controlled, engulfed, or dismissed in their family environment, they may develop conflict-avoidant and secretive behaviors and thoughts to maintain a sense of safety and security.” As we get older, this behavior often manifests into “avoidant relationship attachment”: the tendency to hold onto relationships by avoiding confrontation and connection and becoming a “people pleaser.”
To give ourselves permission to communicate our true feelings—and do so politely—is a valuable life skill. Here’s what may help.
How and When to Say No
First and foremost, let’s address the serious moments of when to say no. You have every right to refuse if:
- Your safety is in jeopardy.
- Someone is forcing you to do something that compromises your values and ethics.
- Your emotional, mental, or physical health is threatened in any way.
If you feel unsafe, we list some resources below that can help.
Now, let’s review five ways to expand your personal and professional boundaries in general daily life and effectively communicate your refusal with grace. ACA suggests being patient with this process. “Rome wasn’t built in a day, and overcoming your learned survival patterns is unlikely to be a quick process, either. Take it slow and work on one problem at a time.”
Each situation is unique, of course, but as you become more familiar with this framework, you’ll recognize how to reinforce your boundaries respectfully.
- Express gratitude. Begin by expressing appreciation for the opportunity or the request. This sets a positive tone and shows that you value the relationship or the consideration.
Example: “Thank you for thinking of me. I really appreciate the opportunity.”
- Provide a brief explanation. Be honest but avoid over-explaining or making excuses. Keep it simple and to the point.
Example: “Unfortunately, I have prior commitments that I need to prioritize at the moment.”
- Offer alternatives (if possible). If appropriate, suggest alternative solutions or offer assistance in a different capacity. This demonstrates your willingness to help while still respecting your boundaries.
Example: “Although I can’t commit right now, I’d be happy to help you find someone else who might be available.”
- Use assertive language. Be firm in your refusal while maintaining a polite and respectful tone. Avoid using overly apologetic language that may convey uncertainty.
Example: “I’m afraid I have to decline this invitation, but I hope we can find another opportunity in the future.”
- End on a positive note. This helps leave the door open for future interactions. Reaffirm your appreciation for the relationship or the opportunity.
Example: “Thanks again for considering me. I appreciate your trust.”
Remember, practicing these techniques regularly helps you become more comfortable with politely declining requests without causing offense.
Find Compassionate Care at Fair Oaks
At Fair Oaks Recovery Center in Sacramento, California, we specialize in addiction rehabilitation and dual diagnosis treatment. We understand there are many factors that lead to addiction, and we design a comprehensive continuum of care plan to help you understand the root causes of behavior and, most importantly, learn new wellness techniques to better your life. Call us today to learn how we can help you say yes to what matters most.
Additionally, here are some critical free resources to help you stay safe.
- Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender National Hotline: Use online chat or call the general number: 888 843-4564, Youth number: 800 246-7743, or Senior number: 888 234-7243
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: Call 800-799-7233 or use the online chat
- Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN): Call 800 656-4673 or use the online chat
- StrongHearts Native Helpline: Call 844-762-8483 or use the online chat
- Veterans Crisis Line: Dial 988 then press 1