I’ve been thinking about all the older Black Women I knew. And they’ve always had this one trait, the inability to say no. and I thought about what price do you pay when you don’t say no? I observed them and I saw that it cost. It cost a lot and you wear your yes and nos on your body. You hear it in their long sighs, curved backs, soft but callused hands, and ability to gather the strength at any moment. You see them be there for everyone and realize that they weren’t taught to say no. I realized that this is a really big hurdle for women.
Socially, women are often taught to shy away from no. When a boy hits you, we aren’t taught to say no don’t do that, or tell them to stop. The advice given is that they like you. When those same girls grow up and become teenagers, these teenage boys once again violate the bodies of young girls by touching them inappropriately. And once again their No is ignored. Or if you grew up in a dysfunctional family you may have become the surrogate parent. Once you are forced into this role, your No was removed. You were expected to contribute that way, so as a result you often ride along with no objections.
When we learn about the power of no, we often do so by having it removed from us. We are either told it is unladylike to say no (aka boys won’t like you) or we are abused by the people closest to us and feel as if we have no choice (aka do this to keep the family functioning). As a result, we go along with things we hate. Date people, we don’t like. Develop no boundaries and allow people to impede on the things we need. In the words of Oprah, “No, is a complete sentence” and that statement says a lot.
When I talk about incorporating the word no into your vocabulary. I am often met with a lot of hesitation and fear. People fear being abandoned, they fear judgment, and they fear conflict. Today we are going to address some of these fears, teach you what no is, the cost of not saying no, and finally, we will go over strategies on how to say no or phrases that will help get you there.
So first, fears.
One of the biggest reasons why people steer away from no is because they fear being abandoned. Often these folks have warped childhoods where boundaries were not respected. They may have as kids voiced their displeasure, but quickly realized it meant nothing. They may have said no and had it weaponized against them. You know the whole how dare you to say you don’t want to say yes when I’ve done x,y, and z. Or they may have had a situation where someone essentially voiced if you don’t allow me to disrespect your boundaries, I will leave you. Either way, the message is the same I will leave you if you tell me what you need. Now ask yourself, why would you be comfortable with that? Why would you be comfortable with someone saying I can only love you if I disrespect you? Because that’s what they are saying to you.
When you fear judgment, you are fearing what YOU think about you, not what they think about you. Think about it, if you say no and they scrunch up their face if they don’t vocalize it you have no clue what they are thinking. They could have scrunched up their face because their nose was itching at the same time. They could’ve scrunched up because they had to sneeze. They could have scrunched up their nose because they didn’t like it. The point is, you don’t really know. So, where are the assumptions and thoughts about what they think coming from? They are coming from you! You are the person who thinks this and you use certain circumstances to try and confirm it. And If you really examine your thought patterns, you will notice that whatever you think they are thinking about you is very similar to what you think about yourself.
Here is an example of a scenario.
I said no to an excursion that my friends wanted to go on. Now, I think they are going to think I am difficult and bitchy. Now, if I had high self-regard. I might think something completely different. I might think nothing of it because my friends are ok with respecting my wishes. Or I may think maybe next time. However, I would not jump to a negative assumption about myself because 1. I don’t know what they are thinking 2. Thinking badly about myself would not be my first option.
So, remember that unless they say it or their body language blatantly shows it, those thoughts come from you. When you feel fear around no, you have to remember the only thing no does is create space for you and remove people who think you don’t deserve a say in your life and don’t you want that?!
So, what is No?
In the words of Oprah, No is a sentence. It says I have respect for my needs and myself. No is not Negativity. However, it can keep you away from certain joys. According to Dr. Sills, no is a moment of clear choice.  When you say No, you are deciding that the circumstances aren’t comfortable for you and you are going to opt-out. When you say Yes, you are agreeing to the circumstances presented to you by those around you.
Yes’s cost a lot. It cost time, money, temperament, personality, desire, energy, mental health, your body, and your reputation. So, when you say yes or you don’t say anything at all, you are simply giving away those things, which aren’t small mind you, with ease. Saying No may be very new to many and that is ok. The good thing is you are starting and though it may be hard at first, I’ll teach you some phrases and strategies to help get you there.
Here are some of my strategies
· Thank you but….
You want them to consider you for other opportunities or outings. So, lead in with graciousness but ultimately decline.
· Push your point
I understand that you’d like XYZ, but I need (fill in the blank with your point)
· Explain why?
Sometimes people need an explanation and it’s ok to give it to them.
· Be inflexible with your no
Some people are used to getting their way, and you may have to revisit no multiple times.
· According to Dr. Hawley from Psychology today:
You can also, remind yourself that you have to draw a line somewhere
Explain that it’s not that you don’t want to help—you’d love to help!—it’s that you can’t take on something new without letting someone else down.
· Remind them you are saying no to the request and not the person.
· Finally, just say no.
o People must get comfortable with boundaries and you can be that teacher for them!