By Mary Grace Garis in WELL + GOOD
Even if you don’t harbor people pleaser tendencies, learning how to say no can sometimes feel like a Herculean task—especially if you skew toward being an empath. Texting allows some people to find the easy way out in the form of thinly veiled lies like, “Maybe I’ll swing by.” But when someone in your IRL social sphere asks you for a favor (read: a demand) and you really don’t want to do it, you’re suddenly tongue-tied. It doesn’t matter if it’s a loathed boss, a trusted friend, or your own damn parent. It’s one word, two letters, and somehow tougher to say than slaying the Nemean lion.
Luckily there are pros who can offer some guidance, thus relieving your endless sense of guilt: “You can’t give a real wholehearted ‘yes’ if you don’t feel like you can ever say ‘no,’” reasons Helene Brenner, PhD, licensed psychologist and creator of the My Inner Voice app. And wow, do I feel seen. Building up relationships and being true to your own needs can be a super-tricky balance to strike—especially when those two forces are working in opposition.
Sometimes a “no” is really necessary for the sake of personal wellness. If you, too, need a guidebook on the art of saying no, here are some handy tips to follow:
3 things to consider if you’re on the fence about saying no
1. Check in with yourself
Listen to your gut feelings about your ideal situation. “When you first heard the request, was your first inner reaction along the lines of ‘Oh my God, I really don’t want to do this?’” Dr. Brenner asks. “If the thought of doing something gives you a terrible sinking feeling, rethink your decision.”
2. Remove emotion from the situation and ask yourself: “What do I really know to be true here?”
Let’s consider the scenario of being asked to do a favor at work. If your coworker is taking a long-weekend trip and asks if you can help her out with her to-do list, here’s what we know: You are a responsible, capable employee who tries to be a team player. Here’s what we also know: You don’t think you should be punished for being a responsible, capable employee who tries to be a team player.
Dr. Brenner advises that you ask yourself if you’re really indispensable in this situation. “Are you the only person who can do this task?” she asks. “Will disaster strike if you say ‘no’? More likely, the person who asked you may be temporarily at a loss as to what to do, but will then find some other way to meet whatever need you were fulfilling.”
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Dr. Helene Brenner is a psychologist in Frederick, Maryland and author of I Know I’m in There Somewhere: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner Voice and Living a Life of Authenticity (Gotham Books, 2003).