How to Say “No” with Compassion for Yourself and OthersNone By Homaira Kabir
It's already 6 p.m., and I’m still working on that project I took on for a friend.
Dirty dishes line the counter, the groceries are yet to be done, and the kids are fighting downstairs—they must be hungry. But dinner may not be ready for a while.
I’m not in the midst of a creative outpouring that can account for this recklessness. No, I’m burdened by the compulsion to say yes, because I don’t have the strength to say no.
How often have you given in to this urge? And how often have you suffered the guilt and anger that ensue when house and family go neglected, or sleep and exercise get replaced by the endless expectations of people who are good at spotting “yea”-sayers like yourself?
I often wonder why I find it so difficult to say no. The logical and verbal me says it's because I’m a kind person, and genuinely can’t stand to see a person in need. And while there may be some truth to that, there’s a more silent and unsure part of me that points to a deeper truth.
My reason for helping is not always selfless. It’s actually quite selfish—for beneath the hushed suppression of what I’m truly thinking and feeling, there’s the deafening fear of rejection. And no amount of dirty dishes or fighting kids can match the dreaded prospect of being left alone.
Of course, that’s a fear that has roots both in our universal wiring and in individual early experiences. Which means that despite its apparent truth, there’s little likelihood that the request placed on us in the here and now is a judgment call on our worthiness of love and acceptance.
Easier said than done, of course. When the need for approval is high, saying yes when we want to say no is an impulsive reaction that haunts us only when we struggle to meet our own needs and responsibilities.
But there’s hope for your time-starved self. This six-step process can be a guide the next time you feel you have to be helpful to prove your worth.
Connect to Your Inner World
Our bodily sensations have a lot to tell us—if only we’d listen. When a request is made of you or a personal boundary has been violated, focus on your feelings and the sensations that come with them. Are there memories or images that flood you? Is there a part of your body that feels tight or hurts? What’s going through your mind? What do you want to say?
Engage in Mental Rehearsal
Practice the exact words you’ll say. How do they sound to you? Do they reflect your sincere intentions of wanting the best for yourself and the other p