Why You Can’t Say No

Why You Can’t Say No

As women, we often find ourselves saying yes as a snap reaction. “Yes, I’ll take on that project,” or “Yes, I’ll help you move.” But do we really want to? Here, Kellie Currin, MAMFT at Henegar/CBI Counseling Center, shares with us some of the common reasons women fail at saying no and tips on how to make it happen.

By Candice Graham

We want to please others.

Simply put, women are people pleasers. “A lot of us have grown up thinking it’s very feminine to be nurturing and kind and to surrender and share,” says Currin, who explains that this ties in with women’s fear of boundary setting. “It’s the fear of name calling or the fear that someone is going to make a value statement about us and what we’re like.” We want to please others because we’re fearful that part of our identity will be seen differently or categorized negatively if we make a choice that’s more beneficial to us than them.

We’re not sure how to say no in a “nice” way.

Saying no is all about setting boundaries, but setting boundaries can come off as stern – a characterization many women shy away from. “It’s hard to say no and do it nicely because it can be seen as aggressive, instead of assertive,” Currin explains. However, she has a few tips for saying no in a way you can feel good about. One tip is to offer to do something else instead. No, you can’t dedicate a Saturday to helping your neighbor move, but can you bake them a casserole to have for dinner before all their cookware is unpacked? If not, don’t sweat it, says Currin. “You can always just say no and leave it at that. No is a full sentence.”

We don’t know how to set boundaries.

“It’s really important to establish boundaries up front, because it’s difficult to establish boundaries once someone has crossed them,” Currin says, explaining that boundaries are defensive by nature, so you may have to say no a lot in the beginning to get them established. One good way to establish boundaries is to be consistent. “One of the things my mentor regularly tells me is that I need to say ‘I don’t do that.’” Opt for a similar statement so there’s no gray area. And don’t be afraid to feel uncomfortable when setting boundaries. “We’ll get more comfortable as time goes on, and over time, people will begin to recognize your boundaries and respect them,” Currin adds.

We feel guilty to say no.

“Remind yourself that this is what is best for you and that by saying no, you get to say yes to other things,” advises Currin. With each yes you reluctantly say, you have to say no to something that may be more valuable. “Often we are hypercritical of ourselves and the guilt lingers, so reminding yourself of this can help you let go of the guilt.”

Beware of Resentment

A reluctant yes turns into a resentful no. Really didn’t want to loan your favorite dress to a friend, but did so anyway? When she returns it with a stain, resentment will abound. Beware of any reluctance that you notice, and pause to really think it over before saying yes or no. “In Rising Strong by Brené Brown, she says when we don’t set boundaries, we’re giving others free rein to step on us. Anytime I feel guilted into doing something, I know I’m crossing my boundaries,” Currin says. By setting boundaries, we’re guarding ourselves not only against the sometimes uncomfortable situation of saying no, but also the resentment that can accompany a reluctant yes.

Sidebar: Recommended Reading

If you find it hard to say no and want to learn more, Currin recommends two books on the topic.
Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
Rising Strong by Brené Brown