Does Your “No” Mean “Yes”?
Updated: Feb 8
Often times we propel ourselves into painful situations because we say "no," but somehow it turns out to be a "yes." Do you know what I mean? Someone asks us something simple, like, “Do you have a minute?” And we say something like, “Not really, I have a lot of work to do.” But the other person takes our answer as a, “Yes.” Then we end up getting sucked into a conversation or situation for way too long. Inside we are feeling frustrated, irritated or just downright bored. Yet we don’t make a move because we don’t know how to get out of it without being rude. Sound familiar? The situation we get stuck in could be something minor, like a person talking for too long, or something major, like a person intruding upon our physical space boundaries such as yelling in our face, sitting too close, or in extreme cases, rape. Actually, the possibilities are endless on how we can end up getting into messes by permitting our "No's" to become Yes's.
So, what does a firm “No” look like, practically speaking?
It would look something like this:
You are sitting in the lunch room at work, and you have just eaten your last bite of your veggie stir-fry. Chatty Kathy has just sat down next to you to start her meal. You are filled with dread because she can talk for hours about herself, as you recently were a victim of her verbal diarrhea at the holiday party last month. You want to get up and go do your work, but she launches in…
Chatty Kathy: “Do you have a minute?”
You: “No, sorry, I have work to do.”
Chatty Kathy: “Okay, I will make it quick, just one minute. Did you know that Suzie is jealous of me? She is completely jealous! Did you see how she looked at me at the meeting this morning? She always copies what I wear and she studies me closely, like a predator watching its prey.”
Chatty Kathy takes a breath in, and in that one second of silence, you seize the opportunity for your exit…
You: “Sorry, I have to go.” (Smile at her to show you are not angry, then stand up and walk away).
Sounds harsh, right? How abrupt, you might think. I hear you. It is harsh. It’s called a boundary, folks. Boundaries are not soft, flexible things. No, they are firm, straight, rigid and inflexible. That doesn’t mean that you are that way as a person. It just means that this is the action that is required to protect your peace of mind, feelings, and needs. And that’s a good thing. Boundaries are a good thing, whether those boundary-invading energy vampires like it or not!
However, it is not so easy to, “just say no,” to others. We feel scared of making them angry, coming across as rude, a party pooper, or just plain mean. But do we ever stop to think about what message we send to our own very sweet self when we don’t make firm boundaries? We get so worried what others will think about us that we forget to reflect upon what we actually need. This has to do with old childhood programming, in which we learned from our parents that their needs mattered more than our own. Therefore, we stopped expressing our needs and just worked hard to meet their needs. Better not make dad angry. Better not tell mom that you don't like it so she won't feel hurt. But you can stop that pattern any time now. You are not a small child and you don't have to be weak, and tolerating of others disrespecting your boundaries and personal space. Think about it. If we are saying yes to others when we really mean no, the message we send to our self is that we are not important. What we want, need, and desire is not as important as what the other person wants, needs, or desires. Yes, what I am saying is that you have to be selfish. Selfish in this sense is not bad. You have to take care of your own needs, and feelings before catering to the other. Because if you put the others first, eventually you can become depressed, resentful, anxious, and angry because you will feel that nobody understands you or cares about you. You may not realize this, but each time you agree to what others want instead of doing what you want, you are unconsciously hoping that the other will see you, understand your needs, validate your feelings, and take care of you. I've got some news for you. It doesn't work like that. If you get the feeling that someone is doing these things for you, look a little deeper. Most likely they are doing these seemingly caring things for their own selfish reason that may not be so apparent up front. Therefore, the only logical conclusion, the only thing that makes sense at the end of the day, is to make a boundary by saying, "no." This is how you take care of yourself and stop waiting for others to do it.
Making a boundary may be difficult to implement at first, because you are so used to tolerating others steam-rolling you. But, give it a whirl this week. Just once practice saying “no,” to someone in your life. And when you say no, mean it. By that, I mean your body language should match your words. In the case of making the boundary with Chatty Kathy, you would say, "I have to go work now," and then you would physically get up, and leave the lunch room. Get it? Got it? Good! Now, go do it!