THE BLOG
03/31/2016 04:36 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why We Say Yes 'Till It Hurts, and How to Start Saying No

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How good are you at saying no? Most of us can probably benefit from examining our responses (and the underlying motives) when we are asked to do something.

Try saying, "No thanks, I don't like that," or "No, I can't help you tonight." These statements can be hard to say out loud to ourselves, much less to anyone else! Unfortunately, our society has conditioned us to be polite till it hurts.

We will continue to sacrifice our time and well-being to avoid saying no until the payoff to be polite is outweighed by the consequences of being too nice.

When work has sucked the last drop of self-neglect out of us, or when a relationship has pushed us to the brink, only then we might finally say, "No." We can learn to spare ourselves a lot of misery by learning to embrace those magical two letters—N O—long before self-destruction is imminent.

Learning to Say No

Coming from a family full of people pleasing, I was as guilty as the next person of saying yes when I really wanted to say no. Circumstances early in my life forced me onto a recovery path where I learned that "No" is a complete sentence. At first it felt very difficult to start saying no to people. It came out like, "No?" or "Uh, um, no." With practice, it became simply, "No." And sometimes, "No thanks!"

I also learned I didn't have to decide everything on the spot. A transitional statement became my go-to response if I wasn't sure of my answer or wasn't prepared yet to say no. To give myself some additional time to make a decision, I would say, "I'm not sure. Let me think about it and get back to you." Or, "That might be worth considering. Thanks, I'll let you know." This technique was especially helpful when I truly didn't know how I felt about something.

As a good people pleaser and someone desperate for external validation, I had grown accustomed to ignoring my true wants and needs. Too often, I couldn't hear my inner voice clearly which made knowing my truth on the spot challenging. Buying myself some time became a great way to handle requests until I could go inside and get the real answer.

Making decisions using logic and reason was more familiar to me, rather than trusting my intuition and spiritual connection.

Trusting Our Gut
We have a heart and a logical mind. Our logical minds can talk us into all the reasons why, on paper, this job or relationship looks good and why we should basically keeping saying, "Yes." Meanwhile, something inside our hearts is screaming "NO! This is not right!" or "This doesn't feel good."

I used to be afraid to trust my heart when the black-and-white information looked good, or good enough, and my logical mind felt obligated to say yes. But experiences have shown me time and again that my heart is seldom wrong, even when I can't prove in the moment why I feel a certain way.

There are times I may have unknown resistance when everything looks good on the surface, or unexplained confidence to move forward when all of the facts indicate it's not a wise idea. It doesn't mean I do everything I get a whim to do, or not do, with complete disregard for reason. It does mean I listen to my heart and my gut a whole lot more than I used to.

Now, more often than not, yes means yes, no means no and postponing a decision means I'm taking good care of myself and will have an answer when the answer becomes clear.