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5 Steps to Say "NO!" Without Feeling Like a Jerk

Mental health, people pleasing, therapist, Melanie Rodrigues, Woostock
You know you want to say it!

We all know the moment. The moment a friend, family member, coworker, or random stranger makes a request that makes you think, “oh HELL naw” internally. It's probably another Tupperware party. Or a fundraiser. No, scratch that, they want you to help them move (to a second-floor apartment with no elevator - and you have a bad knee!).

You don’t want to do it. You don’t have the time to do it. You might not even have a good reason to do it (Brenda, we're coworkers, why would I come to your cousin's best-friend's stag and doe?). But when the moment comes, what comes out of your mouth?

“I’ll have to check my calendar”

“I’m not sure if I can”

“Let me think about it and get back to you”

“I might be able to shuffle some things around”

You can’t say “no” can you?

You’re not alone. I notice this is often true with folks who would describe themselves as “People-Pleasers”. You might be a People-Pleaser if:

  • You can’t stand the thought of letting someone down.

  • You do things you don’t want to, or act in ways that don’t feel genuine, in order to fit in or make other feels good.

  • You hesitate to disagree with others, and voice your own opinion.

  • You avoid conflict like the plague

  • You’re constantly stretched too thin, and dread the commitments you’ve made.

  • And of course, you can’t say no.

I’m willing to bet that in the process of making sure everyone else is happy and taken care of, that you completely neglect your own needs, desires, and dreams. I’m also willing to bet that you’re sick and tired of living like that. So, here’s a People-Pleaser’s guide to saying “NO!” Without feeling like a jerk.

Self care, saying no, mental health, therapist, Woodstock.
You don't have to have a good reason to say "no" - taking care of yourself is reason enough!

1. Know Why You’re Saying “No”

At the most fundamental level, you’re saying no because it’s okay to prioritize yourself. You’re saying no because you have a right to your own time. You’re saying no because everyone needs time to recharge - even you, working super-mom of three. You’re saying no because you don’t want to say yes! If none of those are good enough reasons for those of you who are caregivers, and helping professionals: you’re saying no because “you can’t fill someone else’s glass if your own cup is empty”. And believe me, if you never say “no”, people around you will take advantage, and empty your glass 10 times over.

2. Actually say “No”

When the time comes to utter the words, don’t be ambiguous. When you make weak excuses such as the ones I listed above or defer the decision to a later date, you:

A. give the person hope they you might do it, and

B. make it much harder to say “No” when they follow-up because now you’ve been guilting yourself into it for a week.

To be honest, if you’re worried about upsetting other people, a straight-forward “no” that’s clear and concise is easier to accept than the person waiting around for a week, wondering if you’ve forgotten their request, and then saying “no” at the last minute - so just rip off the band-aid!

Hamburger Method, Saying No, Mental Health, Therapy, Woodstock
Embrace the Burger

3. Try the Hamburger Method

The hamburger method is essentially a way of framing something you don’t enjoy saying in a light that leaves both parties feeling comfortable. You can do this by prefacing and following your “No” with comments that let the person know that although you have to say no, you do still love and support them. Example:

“It was so sweet of you to invite me to your party - it sounds like it would be a lot of fun! I won’t be able to make it, but hope you have an amazing time, and congratulations on your (new house/birthday/Tupperware empire)."

4. Add a Few Toppings (but only of you want to!)

Another way I could have hamburger’d the request above might look like this:

“It was so sweet of your to invite me to your party - it sounds like it would be a lot of fun! I’m sorry to say, I’m already at an event that day, and can’t make it. I hope you have an amazing time, and let’s meet up later so that we can (catch up/exchange gifts/ go bananas for Tupperware)."

Self Care, Saying No, Woodstock Therapist
Extra "fluff" isn't necessary to every burger, but it's nice to have the option.

This example has a lot more fluff. It offers an apology, an explanation, and a suggestion for an alternative. I gave the No-Fluff example first because in many scenarios you don’t owe anyone an apology, explanation, or offer of an alternative. It is okay to simply say “No” without any of these! If, however, you actually would have wanted to satisfy the request, were sorry that you couldn’t, and would like to make alternative arrangements - go for it! Just don't guilt yourself into a "yes, later!" if the answer your heart screams is "NO, NEVER!"

5. Don’t Sweat the Reaction

Finally, after you have said “no”, please remember that the asker’s reaction is a reflection of them, not you! Some people simply do not respond well to “no”. They might not be used to hearing it (do they surround themselves with People-Pleasers?). And you know what? That’s not your problem. You were polite and supportive, but firm. If they're going to have a tantrum, you don't have to stick around and hear it.

Relax, self-care, therapy
Start enjoying the power of "NO!"

Go forth: say "NO!"

Just think… now that you know how to say “no” without feeling like a jerk, your cup is going to be so full! I hope you enjoy that full cup (tea perhaps?) with your feet up, enjoying a long night of doing absolutely nothing.

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