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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Pollard, MSW RSW

Saying ‘No’ with Compassion, Saying ‘Yes’ with Intention


My children often ask for a ‘yes day’. If you’ve seen the movie, parents agree to say yes (with safety limits) to anything the kids ask for. As expected, fun and chaos ensue! However, the idea of a 'yes day' makes me literally cringe, let me explain why.


When to say yes


Saying yes is powerful. I encourage myself and other people to stretch themselves to do and say things that make them feel uncomfortable but (and this is the important bit!) align with their values. This allows us to grow, challenge ourselves and experience new things. I recently said yes to doing a podcast even though the preparation of it triggered intense nervousness. At the end, I got to talk with two incredible women and I graciously received feedback from others that some of what I said resonated and helped them. This makes it worth it to me as one of my guiding values is to help people. Saying yes, however, is only helpful when it is done mindfully.


The actual reality of haphazardly saying yes too much or too often can be harmful and result in a disconnection with ourselves and our own needs.

When to say no


Self-disclosure, I struggle with saying no and say yes automatically. I compassionately understand the experiences in my life that have contributed to this problem and that to change this pattern I need to work on it regularly. Ironically, the more I say yes, the more overwhelmed I feel... and the more overwhelmed I feel, the harder it is to connect with what I want or need and respond with intention.


There are a variety of reason to say no, including not having the time, the capacity, or the energy for the request. You may say no because the person or request ‘feels wrong’, is the ‘right thing (or person) at the wrong time’ or it simply doesn’t connect with what matters to you. These are all valid reasons to say no; however, you don’t need to have a reason or an excuse to say no, you can just say it!


How to respond


Each day there are likely several big and small requests made of you. Think about today, how many times have you been asked to do something or provide something in person, by email or text, or over the phone?


  1. Take a deep breath and then ask yourself if this is something you want to do. If your ‘gut’ or inner voice provides you with an answer then give it.

  2. If this process is hard to do with time pressure- someone waiting for a text or email response (or even worse looking at you with hope and anticipation) you’re not alone! Often times we need more time to consider the outcomes of our answer. This is when we say, 'let me think about it and get back to you.'

  3. Write it out. If you get stuck in your head, try journaling and consider the pros and cons of a choice.

  4. Talk it out. Sometimes talking with others helps guide us to what our inner voice is trying to tell us.

  5. If your answer is yes, consider if there are boundaries or limits you need to put in place. Yes with conditions can be healthy! Read more about boundaries in my past blog "Creating Healthy Boundaries."

  6. If your answer is no, you can offer it straightforwardly: "no". You can offer it with gratitude, "no thank you." You can offer with compassion, "I can see why this matters to you and it’s not right for me and I wish you all the best." You can even say no for now, "this is a really great opportunity, I’d like to consider this for the future."


Try the above steps and if it’s hard to connect with your needs and wants, consider working with a therapist and/or doing your own inner, self-reflective work. I’ve listed some books below that have helped me. For now, I’m going to avoid ‘yes days’ and rock out to Meghan Trainer’s song ‘No’, so I can keep listening to myself. I’m practicing saying no, so I can say yes with intentionality and wisdom.


Books

Nedra Glover Tawwab, The set boundaries workbook

Harriet Braiker, The disease to please

Brene Brown, The gifts of imperfection

Najwa Zebian, Welcome home

Amy Morin, 13 things mentally strong people don’t do

Emily and Amelia Nagoski, Burnout: The secret to unlocking the stress cycle

Elaine Aron, The highly sensitive workbook

Mark Wolynn, It didn’t start with you

Alison Mc Kleroy, The self compassion journal

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