When True Kindness Means Saying ‘No’

“Saying ‘No’ does not always show a lack of generosity and that saying ‘Yes’ is not always a virtue.” – Paulo Coelho

To follow up on an earlier post, I wanted to take the time to address one of the most common myths surrounding saying “no”: that being generous or kind means saying yes to people.

As I see it, the opposite is often true. This is true in several different contexts:

1. Sometimes giving people what they want is not what they need or is not in their best interest.

We’ve all likely been in situations where people ask us to help them with something or do something for them that we do not believe to be in their best interests. This can include, but is certainly no limited to, people struggling with addictive behaviors or codependency. It can be particularly challenging to say no in these situations, especially when there is an emotional investment in the other person or when the other person responds with threats, intimidation, passive aggressiveness, or any other type of manipulation.

The two most important things to remember in these situations are to 1) not take the other person’s request/ behavior/ communication personally and 2) uphold your boundaries. I will write more about how to say no specifically in my next post.

2. Saying yes to too often causes us to be spread too thin. This can lead to stressed inputs, mediocre outputs, and commitments left undone. 

It is important to remember that when we say yes to everything, we are actually allowing the things that we will end up not finishing/not doing well up to chance. The way I see it, it much more preferable to prioritize and decide for ourselves what we wish to devote our time, attention, and energy on.

In the words of Suzette Hinton, “We must say ‘no’ to what, in our heart, we don’t want. We must say ‘no’ to doing things out of obligation, thereby cheating those important to us of the purest expression of our love. We must say ‘no’ to treating ourselves, our health, our needs as not as important as someone else’s.” Until we learn how to say no to the many things that are constantly vying for our attention, we will always say yes to so many things. One all too common cause of regret is a life that failed to balance YES and NO. A life that did not recognize when to courageously say no and when to confidently say yes!

3. Saying yes when we mean no cheapens our word, diminishes our sense of self-respect, and compromises our integrity. 

Saying yes out of a sense of duty, guilt, obligation, insecurity, inadequacy, a desire to be liked, or a desire to maintain the peace is a recipe for diminished self-esteem and self-worth. People-pleasers often struggle to say no, even if saying yes makes them feel uncomfortable. What we don’t recognize in the moment is that saying yes is only a temporary Band-Aid solution for our underlying insecurities, inadequacies, and other feelings that we will have to address at some point. Saying yes under the pretense of saving a relationship is only a front for a crumbling relationship foundation that must be addressed.

Remember that what you do not do determines what you do. You can be just as proud of the things you have not done as the things you have done. It’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that really matter.

In the words of Stephanie Lahart:

“Let today mark a new beginning for you. Give yourself permission to say NO without feeling guilty, mean, or selfish, Anybody who gets upset and/or expects you to say YES all of the time clearly doesn’t have your best interest at heart, Always remember: You have a right to say NO without having to explain yourself. Be at peace with your decisions.”

Questions to consider:

  • Are there certain individuals or contexts (i.e. work) or topics around which you find yourself automatically saying yes?
  • What are the things you would like to say no to in your life? Why? What would the consequences or results of these no’s be?
  • What are the things you would like to say yes to in your life? Why? What would the consequences or results of these yes’s be? 

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