When I became a vegetarian eight years ago (I’m not vegetarian now, but it was a valuable 3 years’ experience), it first hit me that saying no is difficult but necessary. I had to say no to meat directly, but indirectly I had to say no to dinners out when veggies aren’t available, barbecues, “sacrifice fest” which Muslims celebrate by sacrificing an animal, so basically any gathering. Saying no meant not settling for less, and knowing my standards and limits. At first it was very difficult, then it got really easy and felt I was validating myself.
However, I couldn’t apply these standards to other aspects of my life that easily. Like when someone asks if you are free that evening, you are, but you don’t want to spend it with that person. You just can’t say, “I don’t feel like going out with you.” like Sheldon does:
That would require like zero super-ego, which is almost impossible unless we live a solitary life.
And when you decide to live a minimalist life, you’ll have to say no to lots of things/people.
I think if we understand the underlying reasons of why we can’t say no, we can choose if we are saying yes or no to things for the sake of our well-being. So here are 4 reasons we just can’t say no:
1. We fear being rejected.
We feel like when we say no to someone, they will reject us and no longer love us. Why are we so insecure and needy? If we value them, they need to value us and our lifestyle. If they just can’t accept who we are, then there’s something wrong.
If you have a meaningful relationship and reciprocal understanding, then this person won’t judge or reject you. The people we can’t say no to might be, sadly, people that we can’t connect on a deeper level.
2. We fear sounding rude.
When we say yes out of fear of saying no, we actually betray ourselves and our priorities. I am a firm believer in being kind and polite at all times, but being kind doesn’t have to mean you never reject anything that is offered to you.
Maybe it’s as simple as a candy offered by your coworker. If you believe candies are bad for your health but you don’t want to be rude, you accept it. But actually, you are being rude to your body. Or, it may be a request for a charity donation whose cause you don’t believe in. You contribute a few dollars, just not to stand in the crowd. But inside, you fill with resentment, you start to hate yourself for not being brave enough to stand for your priorities. So, I think Cinderella’s advice is really valuable: Have courage, and be kind. If we practice enough, we can do both at the same time.
A good piece of advice that I read about this topic is delaying giving an answer. If you feel an immediate no will be quite rude, you can say “I’ll get back to you.” But some people just get away with this, never giving an answer. I think this is ruder than saying no immediately.
3. We avoid confrontation and conflict.
Saying yes is much easier than no because sometimes we are too tired to face confrontations or conflicts. This is especially true with the people closest to us. We fear if we end up fighting, it is going to be bad for our relationship, so we just shut up and agree with the other party. This is actually very very serious. If we suppress our feelings every time we need to make decisions that involves other people, it means our voice is never heard. This has two big consequences. First, the feeling of resentment towards yourself and the other person gets bigger and bigger, at the end possibly harming your relationship. Second, maybe you were right in the first place. No was the correct answer. By saying yes in order to avoid conflict, you ruined the chances of making the right decision for you. So, even if it causes conflict, try to make the other person consider the choices before you say yes or no.
4. We fear being selfish
If a person asks for help and for some reason we are unavailable, we are afraid to say no because we’re afraid it’ll look selfish. We’re afraid of being a bad person and not being loved again. This is indeed very selfish, because when we say yes when we aren’t available, we simply cry for the love and the approval of the other person. We sacrifice ourselves, not out of pure love, but out of the need for being loved and valued. This also results in resentment because you are not true to yourself. When you think of it that way, this really is pathetic, isn’t it?
What can we do about it?
I don’t really suggest you start saying no to any offer or request in your life, but I think saying yes to everything, everything we don’t really want is a big problem. So as I said before, requesting for some time before you make a decision is really a great idea. That way, you can think about it more clearly and make your decision from a realistic and objective point of view.
Seeing the reasons that I talked about helped a great deal for me, I think it’ll help you, too. Realizing the patterns and the motives behind our behavior makes us more mindful, creating the path to a more fulfilling life.
Being polite is always important, but just don’t say no for fear of being rude. You can still validate your friend or loved one without agreeing with their every idea or decision. It is tricky but I believe we can come up with millions of different ways of saying no without hurting the other person.
p.s. I was inspired by this video to think and write about this topic. I also got the four main subtopics from Teal. So I really recommend watching it. 🙂