LEARNING THE ART OF SAYING "NO" GRACIOUSLY

We all have to learn to say "No" for our mental and physical wellbeing. Let go of people pleasing and look after yourself.

WHEN YOU SEE YOURSELF IN OTHERS

A friend shared a link to another blogger's brand new blog the other day with the thought that I could leave an encouraging comment to help start her on her new journey. It was no problem at all to pop over and read her beautifully written post, but I find that life can sometimes show us a little bit about ourselves when we least expect it  - and this was one of those occasions.

HOW THINGS USED TO BE

As I read her post I could hear my own voice from not that many years ago in the words in front of me. The writer was telling the story of how she was feeling put upon by a friend who was asking far too much of her at a time when she was feeling a little fragile and over taxed. She really wanted to say "No, I'm sorry I can't do that right now" but was also not wanting to upset her friend or look like she didn't want to help out.

I thought back to all the years (and years, and years!) where this was me. I was the classic oldest child,  who took responsibility for everything and tried to please everyone. I sooooo wanted to say Yes to everything so that I would be liked and not upset anyone. I figured if they were happy then I was happy, my self-worth was completely tied up with how other people saw me and how I thought I should behave to keep things "nice".

LEARNING THE ART OF SAYING "NO"

I've come a long way in the last several years - I'm not as tied to others as I used to be. I've been working on my ability to master self-differentiation (that's still a BIG learning curve for me) and discovering how to allow others to be annoyed or upset without taking it all onboard and trying to fix it. I hate other people being at odds with me - I'll do almost anything to keep things happy and pleasant, but I'm also learning that you can't sacrifice yourself on the altar of people pleasing - not if you want to have anything of yourself left at the end of it.

To read this blogger's story about feeling compelled to agree to something that wasn't good for her at this particular time made me so aware of how much growth it takes to move from that mindset into one where we value ourselves enough to say "No" to things that aren't in our best interest - even if it annoys the person asking, or makes us look like we're not being as lovely as we'd like people to think we are.

It's okay to say …. NO, if you don't want to do it. NO, if you're already overscheduled. NO, if you don't have the time.

SAYING "NO" GRACIOUSLY

I think the biggest lesson for me has been learning to decline a request with grace. To not allow a situation to roll along until it reaches the point where saying "No" causes major inconvenience or hurt. I'm also not a fan of just saying "No" without a valid reason - and being able to state that reason in a pleasant and calm way. You don't need to give all the details, but it's always nice to let the other person know that you're not in the right place to be able to accept their request right now.

There have been times recently where I could have taken something on (and sometimes I do) but when it doesn't feel like a good fit, then I'll "man up" (or should that be "woman up"?) and be brave enough to turn it down. It often kills me a little inside knowing I'm disappointing someone, but - particularly after allowing the dreaded work situation to go on for too long - I know that my needs and wellness have to have priority. I have to create boundaries and not always be the person who steps up to take on whatever needs doing or fixing.

Today I said No - and I didn't apologize,  or explain myself,  or make excuses. That felt really good. Brooke Hampton quote

REFRESHMENT AND RELIEF

I wanted so badly to tell this blogger that she'd feel so much better in the long run if she could take her courage in both hands, stand her ground, and said "No, I'm sorry but I can't do that for you at the moment". I know that sometimes we have to go out of our way to help out, but when it's not coming from a good place, then it's better to bite the bullet and stop trying to pour from an empty vessel. You can't convince another person of this though, you have to wait for them to discover it themselves, and I hope she arrives at that place a lot more quickly than I did.

Every time I say "No" I re-hash and second guess my answer, but despite that, I've never felt it was the wrong thing to do. When it comes down to it, saying "No" can sometimes be the best thing we can do for our own wellbeing - if someone is asking too much of us, then we need to face that, own it, and be brave enough to step away and make our own needs a priority. It's a hard thing for a people pleaser to do - it feels easier to say "Yes" and just do it, but the more we respect our own needs and listen to our own hearts, the easier it gets to graciously turn down those requests that don't sit well with us.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

Do you ever struggle with saying "No" when someone asks you to do something that is too much for you, or that takes away too much of your time or energy? Is it easier to always say "Yes" rather than putting your foot down and looking to your own needs occasionally?
We all have to learn to say "No" for our mental and physical wellbeing. Let go of people pleasing and look after yourself.


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This post was shared at some of these great link parties
Cresting the Hill - a blog for Midlife (Middle Aged / 50+) women who want to thrive
We all have to learn to say "No" for our mental and physical wellbeing. Let go of people pleasing and look after yourself.
Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others. We can't base our own worthiness on others' approval - Brene Brown quote


42 comments

  1. Leanne, I believe trying to say “no” will resonate with many people. It is still something I am working on, yet, I am getting better. Your word “graciously” is key and a beautiful word.

    I get it on the eldest child syndrome and wanting to please everyone. I also believe it is a skill set we learn and the language we use. As I get older, I have more tools in my arsenal. Yes, Leanne, I am smiling too, on variations of the word “arsenal.”

    I realize we do not need to explain our “no.” I think I mentioned to you how I have learned to buy some time, instead of a quick, “yes.” Such as can I get back to you on this. Or, unfortunately, I would love to, yet I am unable.

    I think I have mentioned to you how I am sometimes caught off guard and I may still say, yes, too quickly. A great post and a great reminder on how far I have come. Yet, something I still need to work on. xx

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    1. Hi Erica - I was talking to a younger woman the other day about my blog and how I wrote for Midlife women. She said that she'd read some of it and found plenty that she could relate to. It made me realize that the generations who are following us are learning the same lessons as us - but a decade or two earlier - which made me really happy.

      I think women are particularly prone to allowing ourselves to be 'guilted' into saying Yes to things at times, but as we develop our self-understanding and focus on our own wellness, we get better at figuring all this out.

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    2. Leanne, I enjoy and appreciate everyone’s responses to this topic. I agree with you and I believe it is more of a woman, thing, and as a Mother, we often have significant responsibilities 24/7 to care for others.

      I agree with Deb, and bringing me back to earth. And, Sue and Jo, how we are a WIP. I want to mull more on how Donna wrote “air traffic controllers” of our time. Many layers on this gem.

      Great post, and I appreciate sharing and learning from each other. xx

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  2. A thoughtful response to this issue Leanne. I agree with Erica, the word graciously is key and something I probably couldn't have used in the proper context back when I was younger. It seems that only with age and experience can I move on to these areas of self awareness. I too am the oldest child and hear what you are saying. I am still in the midst of learning how to say no graciously and enjoy reading posts like this one to bring me back to earth. Thanks :)

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    1. Hi Deb - I think a lot of us have battled with this. We have a deep seated need to keep the peace and to smooth the way for others (often at our own expense). I think we're gradually figuring out the balance between self care and not being selfish - which then allows us to be able to choose when to say Yes or No to a request. I really like that I'm slowly getting a handle on the being able to say No without feeling guilty or upset.

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  3. Hi Leanne, I still at 63 have trouble saying 'NO'and probably always will. It can be very difficult and stressful for some and we feel the need to have to explain. I agree that we can say No graciously and it is better to do it as soon as possible rather than letting it go until the last moment. I have come to realise that most of us are and always will be a WIP and as long as we keep trying that is the main thing. x

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    1. It's strange that it's something we all seem to have in common Sue - I wonder if men struggle with it anywhere near as much as women do? We are always the peacemakers and peacekeepers and I think that makes us want to agree to everything so everyone is happy - even if it's not always good for us.
      Learning discernment and when to say No is definitely a learning curve and I'm so grateful I've finally begun the process - and we'll definitely always be a WIP!

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  4. Hi, Leanne - Work taught me to say no, but it also conditioned me to believe that I continually needed to be the peacekeeper. Yup, that's a truly intricate balance.
    I believe that when we learn to say no, we all develop our own style of doing this. I like how Erica buys herself time so that she can make a fully-informed decision. I also like how you, Sue and Deb focus on declining things gracefully and respectfully.
    When saying no, I often see if there is something that I can say yes to. "I'm sorry that I can't take XXXX on, but I could do XXX if it helps."
    A while ago, I heard an expression saying that we are the "air traffic controllers" of our time. And time is a truly precious (and finite) resource. This really stuck with me.
    Thank you for this thoughtful post.

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    1. Hi Donna - Yes, I think we definitely need to be air traffic controllers or we end up with so much flying around us that we lose track of who we are and what's important. I know that I spent far too long trying to do everything so that I'd keep everyone happy. It wasn't a problem to do that, but it probably sucked a lot of time and joy out of my life. Now I know better, I'm more intentional in my Yes and No - being taken advantage of is just not going to be part of my lifestyle any more - I'm getting better at knowing what my time and headspace is worth :)

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  5. I was about to reply with something else & then when I was catching up on my newspaper columns at lunchtime I saw this little sippet from Nigella that seemed to say it: "If, when you’re asked to do something that you know you can’t take on for whatever reason, you delay replying because you feel guilty about not giving the response wanted and worried about disappointing people, stop it now. It helps no one, least of all the supplicant who lives in deluded hope. So you must learn, in the words of the late, great Ed Victor, “to give the second-best answer: a quick no”. Do it without prevarication or procrastination, so that whoever has asked you to do something has time to get someone else to do it, and to prevent your becoming mired in anxiety. I actually phrase it like that, complete with quotation marks, in all my regretful replies and suggest you do, too."

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  6. Oh, I forgot to say, I'm terrible at it...saying no. Just terrible.

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    1. Oh Jo I LOVED that quote! It said perfectly what I was trying to get at - we say yes when we don't want to, or we dither around while the other person dangles. Being brave enough to just suck it up and say No and take the consequences (good or bad) is what I've been learning - and it's much better for my mental health. I like that it also means the other person has the time and space to find someone else who might be better positioned to give them the Yes they're looking for.

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  7. I have trouble saying no, too. This post really resonated with me. Thank you for it.

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    1. Hi Lydia - I find that really interesting because you seem like someone who knows their boundaries and is so confident - it helps when I see that even that type of person has issues in this area. We're all WIPs!

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  8. Leanne, I am a firm believer of 'moving out of the way quickly and decisively.' It isn't just about me. An older friend taught me years ago to set aside my ego,'just because you can doesn't mean you should.There will always be someone there who needs or wants the job and your indecisiveness blocks their opportunity'. I'd never looked at it from that perspective before and just assumed it was about how it fit into my schedule. Very thoughtful post. Ditto to Donna's summary of the other comments. All good stuff.

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    1. Hi Suzanne - I think ego definitely has a part to play in all this - and that incessant desire to be liked and accepted that is such a hidden motivator for women. Doing something just because "I should" isn't enough anymore - putting my hand up for things that aren't mine to accept isn't going to happen either. I like that I'm able to say No with conviction these days.

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  9. I moved from being someone who always put others first, to learning to say 'no', politely, yet firmly. The beauty of life is that we can actually change and grow, isn't it? I love reading about your journey, Leanne, because many parts of it are a lot like mine.

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    1. Hi Corinne - I love that we're on similar paths too - it's definitely a Midlife woman thing (no matter what country we live in). The polite and firm "No" is going to be a big part of my life here on out because I refuse to be a push over anymore - and that's quite a liberating place to be in.

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  10. Great post. It is difficult to say no on many levels. It is something my husband finds it particularly hard to do. I've had to help him figure out how to refuse something several times.
    Janet’s Smiles

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    1. Hi Janet - interesting that it's your husband and not you with the problem - I guess personality types (and birth order?) plays into more than I first thought. Being a peacemaker and not wanting to upset anyone definitely has a role in the process too. But I think it's something we can grow through and move on from - and I really like that :)

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  11. This post resonates with me as an Enneagram 2 - The Helper. People pleasing is my motivation and saying NO was not part of my vocabulary for most of my life up until a couple years ago. Sadly, I had to leave a couple of friendships when I realized that my not being able to say NO was taken advantage of. I find that I am still caught off guard but, especially with work, have learned that saying it is not a bad thing.

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    1. Hi Christine - I'm still working on the whole "No" thing - I wish I'd been better at it in my toxic workplace, I wish I'd started saying it a lot sooner in my church situation, and I am grateful that I found it before too many more years had slipped by. Sometimes I still feel guilty when I turn down something that I could fit into my schedule, but now I'm okay with focusing my energy where I feel it's best needed.

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  12. Hey Leanne! I'm convinced that nearly every woman who is at all close to your/my generation was trained to play nice and be a good girl growing up. And there's a good chance that the mothers among us have done the same. After all, who wants to have a difficult rebellious child to deal with. But the downside is a bunch of women at our ages that can't say no because we often equate that with not being lovable or accepted in our tribe. BUT, like you I am not getting to the point where I no longer accept that message. I realize that even if I DO say yes to something I don't want to do, that does NOT guarantee that I will be loved, accepted or even liked...it just means that I have given them what they want regardless of what I want or need. Anyway, thank you for the reminder. I think we need to hear this message over and over and over again and eventually it DOES sink it. Congratulations on your progress and I can't wait to see where we will be in 20 more years!!! ~Kathy

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    1. Hi Kathy - it's definitely a thing for our generation isn't it? We had a very strong willed daughter and I remember reading a great book on curbing the will without breaking the spirit - and it was something I wish my parents had read! Nobody wants to be the pushy, insensitive, loud person, but we also don't want to be squeezed into a little box that involves pleasing everyone so we feel loved or accepted.
      I'm reading Untamed on your recommendation and it resonates with me a lot in this area - the freedom to choose on our own terms is such a revelation isn't it?

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  13. I did struggle to say No Leanne but I’m much better at it now. I think it’s a generational thing. We were brought up to be all things to everyone in order to be a ‘good mother’. My mother would never ever say no even if it meant she had to change her plans. But I’m sure that’s changing. My daughter wouldn’t think twice about saying no and wouldn’t think she needs an excuse. It makes me happy every time I hear her say no.

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    1. Hi Jennifer - I thought exactly the same about my daughter. She puts herself and her marriage as her highest priorities - and that means saying No to a lot of things I'd never have dreamt of saying at her age and stage. I respect her choices and just wish I'd been as confident as she is - maybe my parenting wasn't too bad after all!?

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  14. I think it all stems down to our upbringing. Help others, do as you are told. There was a time when I did uncomfortable things just to please others. I just couldn't say no. I am still learning the art of saying no without offending others.

    Ruchi Nasa https://the vagabond.me

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    1. Hi Ruchi - it's definitely a learning process figuring out the difference between self care and selfishness. People who never say Yes aren't who we want to become - we just need to work out when it's right to say No and how to do it without guilt and without offence - it's a tricky process!

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  15. Hi Leanne, I loved reading this post and I think you already know that I was, and still am at times, a people pleaser. It also took me years to learn to say no but to say it politely and compassionately rather than as an aggressive reaction. More recently though, and interesting timing with your post, I've been learning (again!) to say no to family. Somehow it took longer for me to get over the sense of duty and realise that even though they were family, I still have my boundaries and my values. Your picture was a nice reminder which I have saved - thank you ;)

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    1. Hi Anne - I think family is the hardest place to say No with integrity and firmness. Last Christmas I made the decision to say No to the extended family gathering (with my fairly disconnected brothers) and the fallout surprised me. You'd think we were kindred spirits instead of people who saw each other once or twice a year! I stuck to my guns and have no regrets, but man it was difficult to not give in for the sake of keeping up a good show - so I totally get where you're coming from!

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  16. I could definitely see myself in your post, Leann. I had to learn to work up the courage to say "no" too. I think a lot of us were people pleasers when we were younger, especially women. It's the way we were brought up. It was expected of us. Now that we are older, we are much more likely to stand up for ourselves, even if it means disappointing someone else. Your suggestions about the WAY to say "no" were spot on. Great post!

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    1. Hi Laurie - it's definitely a thing for Midlife women - I think we raised our daughters to be more autonymous and more able to step away from the idea of keeping everyone happy. I'm glad we're all learning and that we still have decades ahead of us to fine tune it and become truer to ourselves x

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  17. Something that I am learning. I am really trying to work on this. It is hard to say no but I am setting limits.

    Thanks for sharing these great tips.

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    1. Hi Patrick - I think it's a generational issue that hopefully we've managed to avoid passing on to our own children - and I'm really glad we woke up to it for ourselves before it was too late.

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  18. Great topic Leanne. I'm a lot better at the art of saying no these days. Sometimes though I may pop in a little white lie to help me not feel so bad about it. If something doesn't feel right - I'm not going to do it anymore. Once upon a time I would sacrifice my own needs in order to please others but not anymore. I still do have a ridiculous need to feel valued and approved of by others though ... so I'm far from perfect and always a work in progress. xo

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    1. It's that need for approval that undermines a lot of the decisions we make Min. I think I'm slowly learning how to separate myself from it, but it still kills my heart when I know I've disappointed someone or looked less than perfect to them. We'll get there inch by inch!

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  19. We women are the carers, the pleasers, the connectors and more...so we want 'everyone to be OK' . I don't think men (and yes, I am generalising) feel this to anything like the extent we do. My take is this, if I am wanting to say no but saying yes because I am 'flattered' that I was asked, then I need to re-think it. Recently, and it has happened to me a couple of times because of head and neck cancer and my on-line presence, I was asked to be a member of a cancer app where I could share my story and have others be 'inspired' and also get paid for this. ohhhh...Paid? Mmmm. I said I would think about it and then I let my wiser self take over. She said "do you want to continue to be a free and independent person or beholden to a group where you are paid?" My answer was a kind but firm, thanks but no thanks and the offer is still there for me but I will not pursue it.

    Thank you for linking up for life this week. Next week's optional prompt is 37/51 Remembering Sydney 2000. 14.9.2020 Hope you link up Denyse.

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    1. Hi Denyse - it's tricky isn't it? We are offered "opportunities" that may prove to be burdens, we want to say Yes, but saying No is so much healthier. It's always a call on our wisdom and discernment - and our ability to know what self-care looks like as opposed to giving until we resent it, or being taken advantage of. I'm so glad you found the strength to choose your freedom and independence.

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  20. Hi Leanne, I think knowing our own core values, setting and staying true to what's important to spend our time on make it easier to say no to requests that don't match. Being honest about it helps both the requestor and the request recipient to move on. Very good comments before mine, too.

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    1. Hi Natalie - You're so right, and it takes experience and wisdom to truly recognize our core values and to stay true to them. Once we honour our "self" and follow what feels right, it certainly makes saying No easier - and gives us a good way to explain why we're refusing.

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  21. Good question, Leanne. I am much better at saying no now than I used to be. It still makes me a little uncomfortable, but I do it. If I'm waffling, I ask myself why. Why the hesitation? And I let that guide my answer. One of the great things about growing older is we hopefully gain a little wisdom along the way and come to appreciate the value of time and invest it wisely. Thanks for the important reminder!

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    1. Hi Christie - I know that it took 50 years to reach the point where I started to understand that it was in my best interests to not agree to every request. I soooo wanted to be liked and appreciated, but if we're trying to earn approval at our own expense, then it's wrong on a lot of levels - now I just need to remind myself of that when I start to dither too.

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