In the past I have talked about how to say no to selfish friends ; but that’s no easy feat. In the post I talked about clear ways to tell your friends “no” without saying “no” and when to evaluate and communicate in a relationship where you feel you are being used by a selfish or toxic friend.
Sometimes learning how to just say the word “no” is the real challenge, but you also need to practice using “no.”
A lot of us feel that the word “no” makes us disagreeable and may lead to confrontation. A lot of us have been in relationships and situations where our “no” was disrespected, ignored, or lead to some form of abuse. This can make saying “no” to anyone terrifying.
Some of us, particularly women, have been taught that being anything less than agreeable is rude and that we must place the feelings of others above our own wants and needs. I wasn’t raised this way but society has a way of brainwashing you regardless of your upbringing. I used to have the hardest time saying “no” to my friends, family, and often complete strangers. I used to agree to social situations with people who made me uncomfortable because I was afraid to say “no,” because I placed the other person’s feeling above my own needs and discomfort. It took a lot of retraining my brain to say “no” to people and situations that made me uneasy. It also took a lot of training to say “no” to people I loved. Finally, I had to learn how to say “no” without offering any reason or excuse.
With people who want to take advantage of you, say “no” and don’t cave.
My counselor told me to always trust my gut after I told her about how my inability to say “no” often lead to potentially dangerous situations. She said if you don’t feel good about something or someone, it’s important to say “no” and to stick to it. With general safety concerns, do not allow yourself to be alone with someone who makes you uncomfortable. When you tell someone who makes you uncomfortable “no” say it publicly and clearly. Do not allow them to manipulate you into a “yes” because then they will never leave. Being clear in my “no”s took a really intense encounter for me to learn, please be more careful than me and don’t let a situation get out of hand before you start saying “no.” Always.Trust.Your.Instincts.
I started with saying “no” to social situations and dates. I would say “I’m sorry, I can’t because…” I would create up an excuse or sometimes a flat out lie because I wanted to protect them and myself. This went on for a long time. Then I found myself in a situation with someone who didn’t take that answer as a “no” and I ended up in a situation that haunts me to this day and could have been a lot worse than it actually was simply because I was particularly persuasive that night. Long story short, I let a classmate manipulate me into taking him to an event with me and then I ended up held hostage in my own car two hours from home in a dark and unfamiliar parking lot.
After that instance, the same man approached me and tried to give me a gift after class (we had a business class together). I was terrified of him at that point, my brain was telling me to accept the gift and not ruffle any feathers, but the idea of accepting anything from him meant that I forgave him and would encourage him to continue harassing me so I said “no.” I think it was because I had two female classmates next to me that made me brave, one woman around the same age as my mother, and another around my age. He insisted I take the gift. Again I said “no, I do not want it. I will not accept it.” He continued to insist and I continued to say “no.” The first “no” was terrifying and I broke out into a sweat. The second “no” was easier. Every “no” after made me angrier. I said “no” until our instructor who was still in the room came over and kicked him out of the classroom. At this point I wanted to cry.
My female classmates who were with me said nothing the whole time but stayed right by my side. Once the man had left, the older woman said “Your mother would be so proud of you for standing your ground.” While she didn’t know my mom, I knew she was right. I had never felt so proud of myself either. While I was still jittery and jerky from the encounter, I felt a massive relief. He never bothered me in person again. Over the phone was another story but it stopped eventually.
After that, I decided that “no” was important to have in my vocabulary and I needed to say it more. I didn’t get much practice with it for a while though and practice is key. Regardless, knowing I could do it once meant I could do it again.
Say “no” and talk about why when someone you love is taking advantage of you
When my little brother moved in with me I was challenged again with saying “no.” Much to my surprise, I had the hardest time saying “no” to him. He would ask to borrow my car and I would say “sure.” Then he would bring it back to me in a sorry state either without gas or covered in mud. He would ask for other things and I would say “sure” then I would regret it. I would say “sure” or “yes” when I wanted to say “no.”
I decided that I needed to practice saying “no” so whenever my brother asked me for something and I didn’t want to do it or give it to him, I would say “no, because…” no matter how much he really needed something. This would lead to negotiations and half the time I would give in, but talking about why always made the situation better. He would ask to borrow my car, I would say “no, because you always bring it back muddy.” This would upset him but eventually he stopped asking to borrow my car and when he really needed my car he wouldn’t bring it back muddy or disgusting. This strategy allowed me to practice saying “no” to someone I had a hard time saying “no” to and also talk about the issues surrounding the “no.” It wasn’t easy because each “no” usually ended in explosion or a fight, but over time it got better.
Say “no” and don’t provide a reason, you do not owe most people a reason for saying “no.”
“No” is a complete sentence. Most people do not deserve a reason when you tell them “no.” When someone asks me “why” after I tell them “no”, little red lights go off behind my eyes. This person either thinks 1) I owe them something, or 2) They don’t respect me or my right to say “no.” I’m a firm believer that at a social level, we do not owe anyone explanations. Someone who thinks you do probably also doesn’t respect your autonomy. It’s entirely up to you who you give your time and energy to. If someone asks you for something and you say “no” that should be enough; especially if their request is inappropriate, unreasonable, dangerous to you, takes advantage of you, or violates your rights or needs.
To bring this full circle, now when I am asked to attend a social situation, event, or date by someone I am uninterested in or uneasy around (or just don’t want to) I say “no” and thats it. I do not engage further. Anyone who doesn’t respect that “no” is not someone I want anything to do with in the first place. It took me years to realize saying “no” was an act of self respect and not selfish.
We should all say “no” more often.
Saying no is like writing or drawing; It’s a skill you need to develop. Learning how to say “no” isn’t good enough, you need to practice saying “no.” Whenever you want to say “no”, just say it. Practicing saying “no” can protect you from being taken advantage of or can save you from a dangerous situation.
With that said, women are more at risk of danger when they say “no.” Please protect yourself and make sure that if possible, say “no” to someone who makes you uneasy in a safe and public place. It sucks that women have to protect themselves instead of society making it clear that being violent and abusive towards women is unacceptable. And like those ladies in my business class, women should protect and support each other. I wouldn’t have had the courage to protect myself if I didn’t have my female classmates there with me when I was being harassed.