Great journeys begin with one small step. In the journey of life, learning to say “No” is that small, but necessary step.
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash
Burt was the kind of guy that everybody liked. You could count on him to be the life of any party. He never met a stranger or if he did they weren’t strangers for long. He knew everybody’s name, looked them straight in the eyes as he talked to them.
And then he met Kristina. She was different. She was more structured, keeping a tight schedule and didn’t seem to be impressed by Burt’s jovial demeanor. Other women seemed to hang on his every word, but not Kristina.
It wasn’t long after they met that he discovered he really liked Kristina and wanted to get to know her better. At the same time, he was a little intimidated by her “in-charge” attitude.
Kristina asked Burt to a swim party. He really didn’t want to go, but he also didn’t want to lose her as a potential girlfriend or maybe wife, so he said nothing. She told him who had been invited to the party. She wanted to introduce him to her friends. He remained quiet, not saying a word which was very unusual for him. But, Kristina, wrapped up in her plans didn’t seem to notice. Like many people, Burt found it hard to say no, especially to Kristina. He didn’t want to offend or upset her. He was afraid it would damage the relationship they had and lose any chance of a closer relationship.
Image by Jefty Matricio from Pixabay
“IT’S ONLY BY SAYING “NO” THAT YOU CAN CONCENTRATE ON THE THINGS THAT ARE REALLY IMPORTANT.”
– STEVE JOBS at
Give Yourself Permission to Say NO
Many of us, especially women, have trouble saying “no” because being capable, helpful and reliable are a part of our self-image. We like to be seen as the kind of person who says ‘yes’, someone who is always willing to help a person in need.
Often, saying ‘yes’ every time we’re asked can create problems either now or in the future. Most of us, especial in the USA, are busy and we seem to get busier every year. We all need to balance our work, family, and restorative time. Too many times saying ‘no’ is viewed as being selfish. But instead, it’s a wise use of our time so we can be helpful at other times.
Saying ‘yes’ when we mean ‘no’ can actually be very unwise causing bigger disappointments and problems. It may be that we get too many things piled on our plate and it comes crashing down. Be aware that an attitude behind the ‘yes’ can indicate that you really want your ‘yes’ to be a ‘no’. If you don’t honestly communicate what you want or how you feel it not only strains your resources and time, it also erodes the trust you have established with the other person.
“Let today mark a new beginning for you. Give yourself permission to say NO without feeling guilty, mean, or selfish. Anybody who gets upset and/or expects you to say YES all of the time clearly doesn’t have your best interest at heart. Always remember: You have a right to say NO without having to explain yourself. Be at peace with your decisions.”
― Stephanie Lahart – Overcoming Life’s Obstacles: Enlighten-Encourage-Empower
Burt reluctantly made an appearance at the swim party. He tried to mingle and talk to people, but Kristina noticed he wasn’t the life of the party, as usual. She thought maybe he wasn’t feeling well or something was bothering him. She asked him if there was anything wrong.
“No, no. I’m fine.”
He then made a concentrated effort to be more friendly and talkative. Kristina kept her eye on him, wondering what was really wrong. They had been dating for some time and she had never seen him act like this before. She felt there was something wrong. Maybe he was going to break up with her. Something!
As the party progressed Kristina got busy with her duties as hostess and forgot about Burt. The party was coming to a close and she wanted to introduce him to her friends. No Burt.
She asked a couple of people if they had seen him. Everybody shook their heads.
“He’s kind of quiet,” one of the guys said.
“Burt, quiet,” Kristina said more concerned than ever. “I’ve never known him to be quiet.”
Suzanne, her best friend overheard the conversation, “I saw him an hour or so ago as he was walking out the door. He slammed the door, but the music was so loud you couldn’t hear it. He had a scowl on his face like he was really upset with something or someone.”
Kristina stepped out on the porch to see if he was outside. His car was gone. You could see the burnt rubber tracks from his exit. Kristina’s anger began to mount.
She started the task of clean-up. Some of the women had helped before they left so there wasn’t a lot to do. Her mind started wandering through the events of the last few hours, intensifying her anger.
She grabbed her purse and stormed out, slamming the door behind her, “How could he do this to me?”
She fussed and fumed all the way to his house, sliding to a stop in his driveway, “I can’t wait to give him a piece of my mind,” she said pounding on his door.
As he opened the door, “How dare you,” she yelled.
He stepped back from the door allowing her to step inside, so her rant wouldn’t be heard by the whole neighborhood. He slammed the door behind her.
“Why did you storm out of my house without saying a word? I wanted to introduce you to my friends. But, maybe that’s best, maybe I don’t want to introduce you. If you’re going to treat me like this I don’t know if I even want to be in a relationship with you…”
Image by PourquoiPas from Pixabay
Burt hung his head with his lower lip stuck out just a little as he walked away going into the kitchen. He continued the cooking that he had been doing before being so rudely interrupted.
Kristina followed him to the doorway of the kitchen where she finally quit ranting. Leaning up against the door frame she watched Burt move about the kitchen as if she weren’t even there.
Finally, in a calmer voice, she said, “Why did you leave? What is going on? I really don’t understand. I haven’t seen you like this before.”
He paused with his head down for a few seconds, “I didn’t want to go to the party.”
“Why not? Why didn’t you just tell me “no”? I really need to know why?” she said.
He took a deep breath and motioned for both of them to sit at the kitchen table, “I can’t swim,” he said.
She didn’t say anything but motioned with her hand for him to continue.
“I almost drowned when I was a kid. They say I was under water for about three minutes before they got to me. I fell out of the boat on the lake. I had been in the water for 10-15 minutes before anybody noticed. I tried dog paddling, but I couldn’t keep it up.”
He stopped talking, lowering his head. Kristina sat quietly giving him the time he needed to continue, “When they pulled me out I wasn’t breathing. A friend was on the boat that new CPR and he finally got me breathing again. I’ve been very afraid of water ever since. I’ve tried swimming lessons, but just couldn’t do it.”
He held his hand up for her to stop. He sat for a long time. “I left in a huff, more or less from fear, when two guys started joking around saying they were going to throw me in. Yes, I stormed out.”
“Jerks! Which two guys?” Kristina asked.
“No. I’m not going to tell you, that’s not important.”
They both sat for several minutes trying to digest the information. Finally, Kristina said, “Why didn’t you tell me earlier? It didn’t have to be a swimming party. It could have been a BBQ. I just wanted you to meet my friends. Saying ‘no’ could have avoided the all these problems.
Your opinions, feelings, desires, and needs are different from mine, but they are just as valid. If you don’t communicate them to me I won’t know. I’m not a mind-reader.”
“I guess I got it in my head that if I didn’t agree with you, you wouldn’t like me anymore.”
Learning To Say No
“The thing that would damage our relationship more would be if you agree with me when you don’t or just don’t say anything and allow me to assume you are in agreement when you aren’t. In that case, it’s liable to come up after the fact, like this time. That’s when I go ballistic. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what to say, you’re afraid to say what’s on your mind, or to say ‘no’. Not saying anything stops all communication and will ultimately cause hard feelings and problems in our relationship,” Kristina said. “Actually, I want to know your opinion, your thoughts and your feelings or I wouldn’t ask.”
She paused for a long moment allowing all of this to soak in, “And, please, ask for what you want. That’s how our relationship will survive and become strong.”
“I hear what you’re saying, but I’ve always had trouble saying ‘no’.”
“Then, practice you ‘nos’ on little things that don’t really matter. Practice makes perfect. Be ready to stand firm. You need to respond in a way that says that although you hear and understand what I or anyone else is saying, you are not going to back down from your position. ‘No’ means NO, and if you say it and then cave in at the first protest, your ‘no’ will never be taken seriously. I know I sound like a teacher or counselor, but please do it for me. I had the same problem a few years ago and this is the advice a friend gave me. I practiced my ‘no’ and it felt so much better than doing what I didn’t really want to do. Trust me. It’ll work much better.”