I can't SAy No Without Feeling Guilty
November 24th 2017
Saying "no" can be very difficult if you have developed the habit to please others. In this video I share the turn-around point for me that started to break the pattern of feeling uncomfortable when speaking my truth.
This week I wanted to talk about how to say ‘no’ without feeling guilty. It’s something that I learnt many years ago but it took a long time for the penny to drop about how do you do it without feeling bad, how do you do it without feeling ashamed or like you’ve done something wrong.
I think a lot of us are conditioned to oblige other people before we oblige ourselves. To be pleasing we pick up habits of being people pleasers. Perhaps we’ve grown up in environments where our voice was suppressed so we weren’t allowed to express ourselves, our opinions. You might have grown up in a household where you were not asked what you think. You weren’t asked your opinion. So your voice was not given the space to relax and say exactly what you think and express how you feel.
Then, when you come into adulthood there’s still these mind games going on inside you that prevents you from being very clear and transparent with your communication simply because you weren’t given the skills or the environment to build the skills when you were younger. As adults then we then have to figure out how to do it on our own.
I was not someone that could say no if someone asked me to do something or if they asked me to buy something. I would feel really guilty and I would feel uncomfortable saying no especially if I’ve walked into a store and I’ve taken the sales assistant’s time, you know, buying shoes for example. I’ve spent like twenty minutes there trying on different shoes. I would feel obliged to walk out with a purchase even if I didn’t want the shoes. Oh the money that just gets wasted.
I remember not being able to be polite to telemarketers. You know, even though they’re frustrating and they’re annoying and they call right on dinnertime, I was unable to just communicate to them in a way that was respectful and honest. So I would become quite aggressive. I would either just hang up the phone… when I realise I’m speaking to a telemarketer I just hang up the phone with the attitude you shouldn’t be calling me, I’m trying to eat dinner, you’re interrupting my day.
It’s natural to feel frustration with you know, something like telemarketers. Well they are interrupting your day, you’re not interested in what they’re talking about, you don’t want to talk to them, but they’re so well-trained that they know how to keep you on the line. So it’s easy to see how one could react in frustration and anger, especially if it’s a daily occurrence or a weekly occurrence it can just build… this frustration can just build, and then one little telemarketer call and all the frustration gets dumped onto that person.
So, how do we speak our truth without feeling audacious, without feeling aggressive, without being aggressive, and without being disrespectful to the other person? Despite feeling anger and frustration and annoyance on the inside, how do we then allow those feelings to be there but not act from that space which is not really our true self?
There are few things that helped me speak my truth and let go of the guilt. In no particular order because I can’t remember sequence, one of the main things that helped me was Don Miguel Ruiz’s book ‘The Four Agreements’. It’s a brilliant book if you’ve not read it. It’s simple. There are four agreements you make with yourself that allow you to contain your energy and not allow your energy to leak out and your power to leak out. And one of the agreements is always speak your truth.
When you want to say ‘yes’ say ‘yes’, when you want to say ‘no’ say ‘no’, so harmony of your word with your mind and your heart. So I remember reading that chapter in the book and I thought wow, okay, it’s permission to say ‘yes’ when I want to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ when I want to say ‘no’. And then he went through the consequences of not being able to do that. Certain situations can leave you feeling frustrated with loved ones, with close friends if you’re unable to just say ‘yes’ when you want to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ when you want to say ‘no’ without feeling guilty or obliged to do something that you don’t want to do.
For example, someone asks if they can borrow your car for the weekend as an example, and like in the previous month you’ve just borrowed… let’s just say their laptop, you know. You’ve just asked to borrow their laptop. They said yes and it was all fine. And so now next month comes and they’ve asked to borrow your car. So it’s like a dilemma inside you. Do you say yes because they were so gracious with their stuff and they lent it to you? So do you feel obliged to say yes when in fact you need your car this weekend? You’ve got several things to do at the weekend and you actually need it. So what do you do? How do you balance looking after others and looking after yourself without feeling selfish or guilty?
In Don Miguel Ruiz’s book he talks about always be impeccable with your word, and impeccable means truthful, honest. So if you need your car you are allowed to say no. You’re allowed to say no. You’re allowed to say no, I’m sorry, I need the car this weekend, is there anything else I can do to help without feeling guilty, without feeling obliged.
Most of the time your friends and family are fantastic and that honesty will be respected. On occasion there will be conflict when you do speak your truth, and your ability to manage that conflict is going to determine whether you speak your truth or not. So if you’re worried about an aggressive attack back and they come at you saying you’re selfish, I just lent you my laptop last month, all I need is the car, I’m in a real bind, I am stuck, my car is broken down… and they lay the guilt trip on you, it’s very challenging to maintain that agreement with yourself of being impeccable with your word.
It feels like in that moment you’ve either got to sacrifice your friend or sacrifice yourself. You can’t make everyone happy. But when you learn about this agreement it really is about honouring yourself and the other person, because if you say yes to the other person when you really wanted to say no, a small dollop of frustration or dollop of anger or even worse, dollop of resentment goes into your system. And when you consistently say the opposite of what you want to say that builds and builds and builds and builds and it can lead to behaviour that’s very passive-aggressive.
When you’re with family members and close people that you can just throw your anger around and they’ll forgive you the next day you become aggressive and dominating and disrespectful. And then when you’re in situations where you feel powerless, maybe with your boss or with certain personalities that are too dominating like you don’t feel you’ve got the power to dominate them, you’ll become passive. So you swallow your words and then you’ll throw that built-up emotions on the people that you probably care about the most that just won’t retaliate. You’re not scared of losing them. They’re not going to go anywhere. They’re stuck with you. They could be your children, they could be your husband, they could be your wife. It could be your mum. You throw it all on her.
And so, coming into this place of permission where you allow yourself… allow the words to match the feeling, say ‘yes’ when you want to say ‘yes’ and say ‘no’ when you want to say ‘no’ with kindness rather than aggression, it’s a skill that takes time to develop, especially if it was not developed when you were young.
There’s a lot of things you’ve got to overcome when you’re older because when you were young perhaps you were told children are meant to be seen and not heard. Perhaps you grew up with a very dominating parent that told you what to think and told you how to think and was not interested in hearing what you had to say, not interested in asking your opinion on anything.
How do we feel okay with saying ‘yes’ when we want to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ when we want to say no? There’s a few rules. So that book helped me… The second thing that helped me was an experience from the universe when I was asking for help from the universe, like help me, help me, I feel so frustrated and I feel so annoyed and angry all the time because I’m not expressing myself but I’m too scared to actually say what I want to say. And an interesting thing happened that really shifted me.
It was all to do with a course that I was thinking about going on. And it was a really expensive course. It was a few thousand dollars and I had just done the starter course that was maybe like a few hundred dollars and I was contemplating whether I should go to the next level and spend a few grand and do this next course. So I was indecisive about it. And so the sales… they’ve got a sales team and one of the sales guys called me up one day and told me about the course and I was like okay, right, I’ll think about it, and he was going to call me back the next day.
I had thought about it after I learnt what it involved and I decided in myself that I don’t want to do it but I didn’t know how to express that. So the next day when he called, I was on the phone in my lunch hour for the whole hour talking to him about this course. And I was trying to say no to him. I was trying to say no, look, I just don’t have the money right now… no, I don’t have the time, I need time off work… no, I just… I’m not sure if this is the right course for me.
And with every single reason that I gave to why I don’t think I should do this course, he had a perfectly logical solution for it. So he had a solution for each of these things. You don’t have the money, payment plans, pay it off over a year. If you don’t have the time, sign up to the following course when you can have more time to arrange leave. If it’s not the right course for you, he went through all the reasons that I thought it wasn’t the right course and he kind of educated me or explained to me why this course would help me.
After an hour I was exhausted. I was hungry because I didn’t get a chance to eat my lunch. I was so angry. I was so annoyed. He said look, have a think about it again and I’ll call you back tomorrow and I thought okay fine, yes. So I was seething. I was sitting with this anger. I’m like why couldn’t he just take the hint? Why didn’t he understand? I was saying no. Why did he just keep persisting? I was so angry with him. I projected all of this anger onto him and really what I was doing was my inability to communicate strongly what I was feeling and what I was thinking, I was just projecting on him and perceiving that he was being aggressive and not listening to me.
And so, I sat with that feeling and I was thinking universe, help me. I don’t want to spend this money. I feel I’m going to spend this money because I feel obliged to and someone spent time with me, to hand over the money and just pay for it. But I don’t want to, and I’m angry, and I don’t want this.
Something happened when I was reflecting. I realised that all my excuses… they weren’t reasons, they were excuses for not wanting to do the course, were legitimately solved by him. So this is the problem I have with signing up to the course, oh okay I can help you out with that problem. Here, this is a solution. But this is another problem I’ve got with signing up to this course. Okay, I’ll help you out with that one. Finished.
I had to keep coming up with excuses to justify why I didn’t want to do this course. And when that penny dropped that these were not reasons, they were excuses and justifications for not wanting to do the course, I realised I don’t have to justify why I don’t want to do the course. I just don’t want to do it. This is it. I don’t need to give a reason. I don’t need any kind of excuse or reason or justification.
And that realisation was so huge… This is about ten years ago now. It was so huge that I felt really relaxed about the phone call the next day. Normally I would’ve been so anxious in anticipation of how is this going to work, I hope they get the message, you know, fingers crossed I don’t lose a few thousand dollars to this training centre.
He called the next day in my lunch break and I thought alright, I’m just going to tell him ‘no’ because ‘maybe’ means ‘yes’. Any excuses, any justifications mean ‘maybe’, and to them ‘maybe’ is a possible ‘yes’. I had not told him ‘no’ even though I thought I had several times. I had not once told him ‘no’.
So, when he called it was a twenty-second conversation compared to the one-hour conversation the day before, and I just simply said hey, I’ve had a think about it and I’m not interested in doing the course. It’s a no for me. It was just the way I said it. There was no questions, there was no inflections, there was no invitation to solve it. And he was like okay thanks, cool, great talking to you, bye, and hung up the phone and I was gobsmacked. I thought oh my gosh, that worked. What did I do differently? And it was honestly the energy of the ‘no’. It was firm. There was no room to wiggle. There was no room to manoeuvre me. I was certain. I had no confusion in my voice. And he heard it and respected it.
That understanding of ‘maybe’ means ‘yes’, ‘no’ means ‘no’ really became solidified for me. So any time a telemarketer would call and I’m not interested I would just say thanks so much for calling, I’m not interested, have a great day, bye. And if they still keep talking I don’t hang up on them. I just say look, I am going to hang up the phone now, thanks so much for your time, goodbye and then I hang up. I don’t just slam the phone down on them. It’s helped with so many instances when I know for sure what I want and I’m able to communicate it. I just say no. I say yes when I want to say yes as well.
So that understanding of ‘maybe’ equals ‘yes’ was a huge turning point for me in letting go of this guilt and this discomfort with saying ‘no’, because I would just project on other people and think they have got the problem, they’re not listening to me, don’t they know how busy I am, why are they asking me to do this. And it had nothing to do with that at all. It was all about my inability to say ‘no’ with conviction, with firmness, and with kindness. And once I got that everything changed. My time was my own again and I felt this freedom because the energy that was leaking got plugged up. Game changer, absolute game changer.
This is my offering to you. It’s a difficult skill and it takes time to develop if you’ve not developed it fully, this ability to speak your truth. I would say and this is how it started off for me, start with the small things, the small things that are inconsequential. So when you’re at the restaurant decide what you want on the menu. Don’t give up that decision to anyone else. If you’re not happy with the food speak to the waiter about it and say look, this is not what I ordered, this is not quite right, this is cold, this has got a fly in it, whatever it is but speak up, speak your truth, and express yourself. Give yourself permission to speak in the small instances.
And what this does is it builds that muscle of being able to speak up and speak your truth and express yourself in a way that’s assertive and not aggressive. Word of warning: when you do it for the first few times and you’re communicating to another person it will come out as aggressive if you’ve been passive before. It will come out as aggressive because that skill, that fine-tuning has not developed yet. So from not saying anything to saying what you want it’s going to be a roar, it’s going to be huge, it’s going to be uncouth in a lot of ways, it’s going to be a bit disrespectful because the throat is not used to it and you’re not used to speaking up, but what’ll happen is you’ll temper it over time and you’ll… when you find your power and you find your voice, you’ll be able to just stand in that and not need volume and not need aggression to communicate that firmness. It’ll just be inside you. It’ll be strength coming from within.
Start off with the small things of saying ‘yes’ when you want to say ‘yes’ and saying ‘no’ when you want to say ‘no’, just the little things, and what you’ll notice is that when you get comfortable on low level stuff you’ll go to the next level stuff and find more comfort there, and sooner or later you’ll be saying no to people that were very difficult to say no to before. You’ll be expressing yourself to people that you know will judge you for it and you’ll still do it anyway with kindness and you will feel this freedom come over you because there’s… in that place where you’re expressing yourself freely it’s not in a binary situation of sacrifice myself or sacrifice other people. It just does not exist there. It does not exist. That game is over. A new way of being will replace that game and what that is is speaking your truth. So when you speak your truth you give other people permission to speak theirs and it’s just this game of freedom. It’s a beautiful game.