If you’d like to learn the art of saying no without feeling guilty at all, this article will give you the education and information you need to get started! You see, in my work as a specialist with clients who struggle with anxiety, self-confidence, overeating, or dieting and weight loss, at some point we naturally address the topic of how to say no without feeling guilty.
I often hear things like:
- “If I say no to someone, they are going to think I’m mean or that I don’t care.”
- “If I only did what I really wanted to do people will think I’m selfish.”
- “If I ask for what I need, people will judge me as demanding or high-maintenance.”
In other words, a common theme that many men and women struggle with is that they are stuck in the belief that it isn’t possible to get what they need and want without offending or hurting others, and ultimately winding up rejected and alone.
Given that people naturally need to feel loved and accepted, this doesn’t feel like a stellar outcome. And because we don’t know that there is another option, we sacrifice and compromise ourselves for others and wind up feeling overrun, resentful and using food or alcohol, shopping, or T.V. to cope with our frustration and fatigue.
And, in reality, it is true that you cannot guarantee that you won’t “hurt” or “offend” or downright “piss off” others when you take care of yourself. But rather than being proof that you’re doomed to sacrifice and compromise yourself forever, this fundamental truth is actually your key to freedom.
You see, the trick to saying no without feeling guilty, and to being truly happy on this planet is that you must be able to trust yourself that you are not going to agree to anything that doesn’t feel truly right for you.
Whether it’s what you’re eating, drinking, watching or doing, or what other people want you to do or agree to, you have to know, not just in your head, but deep down in your gut, that your primary responsibility on this planet is to make sure that you are taking care of yourself physically, emotionally and psychologically.
Therefore, you are doing life right and being a healthy, responsible adult if you notice that you feel uncomfortable about something and say so, regardless of what others might think or whether they agree.
You are doing life right if you realize that you don’t want to do something and you stop doing it regardless of whether others may want you to continue or believe that you are weak, lazy, lacking willpower, or ‘giving up,’ or that you are preventing them from having or doing what they want if you stop.
You are doing life right if you take the time to decide how you truly feel about something before agreeing to it, and you trust yourself to say no if it isn’t up your alley, regardless of the pressure others might put on you to make a decision pronto, and to decide in the way they want you to.
If you think otherwise, all that means is that somewhere along the line in your socialization and training to be a human (typically stemming from your family of origin) you were told, through the words or actions of others, that the only way for you to be a ‘nice’ person or a ‘good’ boy or girl, and therefore be acceptable and lovable as a human, is to do whatever you have to do to make other people happy.
In this backwards training – also known as co-dependence – you are brainwashed to believe that the only way you’re going to be seen as a good person and liked by others, and therefore safe and secure in your relationships, is if you put the needs and feelings of others above your own.
In truth this is not healthy or reasonable or conducive to functional relationships and happiness. In fact, it is highly immature and confused thinking and it is the root cause of most of the dysfunction in our society today.
You can prove this to yourself by simply asking yourself:
- Do you think it’s appropriate to expect someone else to compromise themselves (what they really feel, think, or want) in order to make you happy.
- Does that seem healthy or reasonable?
- Would you actually want someone to do that?
- Would it make you feel loved, trusting and truly secure in the relationship?
- Does that way of thinking lead to healthy, open, respectful, warm, friendly relationships or does it lead to relationships where people feel insecure, burdened, obligated, guilty, and just plain anxious because they don’t know if the person they’re relating to really likes them or just what they can do for them?
What is the Reality?
In reality, it is impossible to expect yourself to feel happy and secure in a relationship where you, and/or the other person, are not being your true selves. The connection won’t be able to be solid and deep and you’ll feel that as something missing and/or as insecurity. This is fundamentally because if you’re not being honest in a relationship about what you really need and want and feel, you never truly know if the person really likes you for you.
In this type of co-dependent relationship you can’t just relax because you feel obligated to always filter your thoughts, feelings, and needs through the lens of ‘What do they expect me to say/do? What do they need/want? What would they like?’ rather than ‘What am I truly feeling and needing right now, and how can I communicate that as respectfully and reasonably as possible.’
That way of relating is exhausting and not at all fulfilling or sustainable, hence the high ratio of unhappy relationships vs. happy ones and high rates of divorce/break-ups.
This is because, really, no one can stay happy and fulfilled in a relationship where they don’t feel they can ask for what they need and want, and simultaneously feel that they have to make sure that everyone else gets what they need and want. It is a recipe for divorce before the relationship has even begun.
I don’t know anyone who can sustain that for too long without becoming depressed, leaning on some junk food or other substances, or an extra-marital affair to cope.
The main issue really is that the co-dependent – ‘I’m responsible for your feelings and needs’ – approach to relationship doesn’t even allow for the possibility that who you are is enough; that who you are is lovable, as you are; and that there is always a way for both people to get what they really need if they’re well suited, open to talking about it, and willing to work together to find a solution.
If someone is upset by the fact that you aren’t willing or interested in doing something with or for them because it doesn’t feel right or you don’t have the time or you simply don’t want to, it means that they, themselves, are stuck in the old immature, irrational, co-dependent training that insists that you should be willing to compromise yourself for them simply because they think you should.
From that mindset we also believe that ‘If you loved me you’d do what I want, whether you want to or not, just because you love me.’ And that goes hand-in-hand with another common, co-dependent story: ‘If I have to ask you for it, it doesn’t count!’
In other words, if you really love me you’re supposed to just know what I want, how and when, without me having to ask you. You’re supposed to focus so much attention on me and my life that you should be thinking of what I need and never do anything for yourself without considering me first.
This is an exceptionally common perspective and yet none of these thoughts have any basis in reality and cannot be a part of any healthy relationship. Instead they lead to pain and suffering and to the greatest likelihood that you do not get what you need in this relationship or any other connection to which you bring this belief system.
Think about it this way, how many times have people said (or you heard later through the grapevine) that they were upset with something you did or said that in your mind was truly innocent or which you had no idea they did or didn’t want because they never said anything?
I’ll bet it’s been happening since you were a little child. If you overeat, or struggle with weight loss, or feel like areas of your life are in disarray, I’m going to bet that you also struggle with some of this co-dependence stuff (it’s actually exceptionally common to varying degrees as it hails from our social training as humans but also from our evolution and brain development as children).
I’m also going to bet that you work very, very, very hard to intuit (guess) what others want or need; to meet their needs without them asking; and to never do or say anything that might upset others or reveal a strong opinion about yourself.
This approach to relationship, if you’re an adult, has very little to do with the people around you and more to do with your confused perspective on what a good person does and what a healthy/normal relationship looks like.
What are Your Needs?
In reality, if loving you means I have to compromise what I truly want and feel, the truth is you and I aren’t right for each other. It doesn’t in any way mean you’re wrong for feeling and wanting and needing what you do, or that I’m bad or mean, or don’t care about you because I won’t meet your need.
It simply means you’re looking for something that is different from who I am or what I feel right about giving at this time. This goes both ways. I’m not a lesser person or lacking in some fundamental way if you don’t want to be my friend or have a relationship with me, I’m just not your kind of person and unless I’m telling myself you’re god, and what you think is what everyone thinks, and also RIGHT, all we have is a difference of opinion and interests, likes and dislikes and that’s natural and healthy too.
We are not going to be a fit for every one of the 7 billion folks on the planet right? And neither is everyone going to be a fit for us. Our job as individuals is to learn to be as respectfully authentic as we can and give ourselves the chance to see that many great and wonderful people with whom your relationship just fits and hums are attracted to you professionally, friendship wise and romantically when you are yourself.
The co-dependent approach to relationship implies that deep down inside you believe that if you were yourself people would not like you; that who you really are is just not acceptable; lovable; or good enough. And I can assure you that is total crudola! And I can prove it to you too if you’re interested; let me know.
A healthy approach to relationships requires you to think in a different way completely from the old co-dependent training. If doing what is truly right for you doesn’t work for someone else you still get to do what’s right for you. You are not obligated to compromise yourself for them (This does not count for any dependent children you have but for anyone else it’s a natural law).
As an adult you truly are allowed to focus on you and your needs first and foremost and anyone who doesn’t agree is very immature and confused in their thinking and needs some education and support to get with reality.
And don’t worry, you are not going to become a narcissistic, selfish you-know-what simply because you take the time to listen to how you feel and what you really need and prioritize finding ways to do what feels right to you over doing what others want of you. (Believe me – there’s a lot of room between where you’re at now and that extreme other end of the spectrum – and if you’re reading this article you’re smart enough to find the sweet spot in the middle.)
The Interdependent Approach
In truth, this interdependent approach to relationship naturally leads to you becoming:
- A strong, confident, secure person who knows what she feels and needs and doesn’t let others tell her otherwise;
- Someone who really can be there for others because she only makes commitments that feel right and that she knows she both wants to, and can, uphold without compromising her self-care or her integrity in any way; and
- Someone others truly respect because they know they can trust that whatever you are doing is what you really want to do, not what you feel guilted or obligated to do.
So, yes, taking care of yourself means that sometimes people will not get what they need from you, at least in that moment, and possibly never if what they want compromises your values or integrity in some way.
But the reality is, unless you’ve signed a contract to put others’ needs first and to not get what you need until everyone else is happy, happy, happy, that’s not actually your concern – and you will soon see this clearly, trust it, and feel okay letting all that old pressure go.
In reality healthy relationships consist of people who know that they are responsible for getting what they need and want and that the other person is ultimately responsible for their own needs.
They know that a healthy relationship is one in which we often do meet each other’s needs, not out of a sense of compromise and obligation but because our requests are reasonable, don’t compromise the other, and because we have enough in common that what they want is often the same as what I want.
In healthy relationships if there are times when their needs don’t jive with the other’s (and there will be, sometimes), people do not try and force or manipulate an outcome that works for them only. Instead, they are committed to working with the other involved to find a solution that works for us both, equally.
This is because these folks know that any time a person compromises their needs for another, there is a cost to the relationship and it feels a little less safe and a little less satisfying. Relationships can only withstand so many of these compromises before we are feeling so overrun we’re looking for an exit strategy so we can just be happy.
So, saying ‘No’ is not only ok, it is a necessity if you want your relationship to be healthy and to last.
And, if there is a time when you really want to say no and it seems your needs and someone else’s are in conflict, see what happens when you approach the situation from this perspective:
“I care about you and about our relationship. I want us both to be happy. So I commit to not moving forward with a decision until we’ve done what we can to find a solution that meets needs for us both.”
What is it that you really need/What is most important to you about X? Here’s what’s most important to me about X…What are some ways that we can both get what we need?”
So, now instead of assuming that you’re screwed if what you want is different from what someone else wants, you can trust that, in every situation, there is almost always a way for you and another reasonable human being to get what you both want and need.
If you struggle with saying no and taking care of yourself, I assure you that thinking in this new way will lead to greater peace, happiness and self-confidence, and to healthier relationships than you have ever had.
Please leave a comment, ask a question, share your own experiences and above all, if you’d like help to make this your reality, fast, email meand let’s get started.