Think about saying "NO" for a second.
How does that feel? Does it make you feel panicky or like you couldn’t possibly do it? Maybe some stress or anxiety came up. Or perhaps memories of moments when you wanted to say no but didn’t feel you could. Or maybe you’re like, “Hell yeah! I LOVE saying no!” For many folx, the idea of saying no feels scary and like something that is really out of reach. But remember, every time you say yes to one thing, you are saying no to something else – so actually you already have lots of practice in this.
As a performer and a psychotherapist, I know how important boundaries and saying no are. Trust me, I lived for YEARS taking every contract that came my way because I felt like I had to. I believed that if I didn’t take every role and show offered to me that I would miss out on an awesome opportunity. What happened instead was that I burnt out because I was doing shows and roles that I had no interest in. I started to feel cranky, tired, and my substance use went way up (P.S. I’m now 2 ½ years sober – but that’s a different tale to tell).
I’m not doing theatre full time anymore, and that was a huge part of what I needed to do in order to feel fulfilled when I am performing. Nowadays I am a psychotherapist and yoga teacher, and have just started my own business with the lovely Michael Delsine (check out Sea Glass Healing Arts below for more info!). I’ve said no to a lot so that I could say yes to the things that make me truly happy – like singing, yoga, dancing, supporting people, and being present for the pain of other folx in my therapy practice.
So. I want to support you in feeling confident and prepared to say no and love it. Well, you may not love it at first, but with practice you can totally get there! I want you to be able to say “YES” to the things that truly bring you joy and make your heart sing. And in order to do that, you have to be able to say no to things that don’t.
Here a few things to think about when you are saying no to all that no longer serves you and/or to the people, places, and things that are pushing your boundaries.
First of all - NO IS A FULL SENTENCE.
Yup, you heard me. You don’t have to apologize or make up excuses. You can absolutely just say no without explaining yourself. This one can be pretty tricky for people, so practice it in situations that don’t feel dire – like if you are out to a restaurant and the waiter asks if you are ready to order, say no (even if you are and also as long as you’re not starving).
We do this thing in our culture where we apologize for literally everything. Once you start paying attention to the words “I’m sorry,” you will hear it everywhere! You don’t have to apologize for saying no. However, sometimes it can feel challenging to use no as a full sentence. So consider “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to join you,” or “I hear that you are feeling that way,” and see how that feels instead of apologizing for something you probably aren’t even sorry for.
Here’s the thing, when people are used to pushing your boundaries and have experiences that inform them that your no is really a yes, then they are going to push until you cave. This is where boundaries are super important! I am a big fan of the broken record technique…
Broken Record Technique.
This one is a classic. Literally all you have to do is be a broken record – pick your short and to the point reply and repeat it without changing it. Often when we answer “No thanks, I don’t want to,” then the person who originally asked the question will try asking in another way, get manipulative or pushy, or try to guilt trip you. Instead of joining them in this dance, simply repeat your answer, “No thanks, I don’t want to.” I will usually give my answer twice and then on the third time add, “… and if you continue to ask/push/disrespect my boundary, I will be walking away.” Then if they STILL don’t take the hint, you say, “No thanks, I don’t want to. And as I said before, if you continued to ask/push/disrespect my boundary, I would be walking away. So now I am leaving,” and then go! One of two things generally happens with this technique. 1. People finally hear you and leave it be. Or 2. They’ll ask something like, “Why do you keep saying the same thing?” The answer? “Because NO IS MY ANSWER.”
I could write about this forever, but I’ll leave you with these few points: No is a full sentence, be firm and do not apologize, and be a broken record. And remember, you are saying no to the request, not to the person.
Oh and one more thing! Here is a great structure for writing out responses. This can be useful for emails and texts but also to prepare for in person conversations and phone calls.
Describe the facts
Express your opinion or feelings
Assert what you want or say no; be assertive
Reinforce what the consequences are of getting what you want or not
Maintain your position in face of distraction, manipulation, guilt tripping, criticism, or anything else. Repeat DEAR parts above and/or say no using your broken record technique.
Appear confident. Make and hold eye contact and adopt an upright and confident posture. Maybe even try Power Posing like Wonder Woman.
Negotiate. If the other person is still pushing back and not accepting your no, you could consider negotiating with them and pulling back a bit on what you are asking for. However, this one is OPTIONAL. Only use this if it feels safe and appropriate to your situation.
Make sure to check out Meghan and Sea Glass Healing Arts
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.