Saying “no” might be just what you need.
It’s impossible to have CONSTANT insight and awareness to how your emotional energy is expended throughout the day and how your reactions and responses to others will impact future days. Or have your emotional intelligence so finely tuned that you are certain how your decisions and behaviors will emotionally effect professional and personal relationships and family dynamics. If you have those things dialed in, then you've mastered the ability to set boundaries and achieve a level of self awareness that never leaves you feeling exhausted, over-committed or overwhelmed.
Most of us are powering through our days to the best of our abilities utilizing the most efficient coping skills we have acquired along the way. As the holidays approach and the calendar seems to fill up more quickly than usual, I’m reminded that saying “yes” to everything is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, it could be actually be a bad thing- not just for me, but for my family too.
First, let’s be clear about what “saying no” means in this context; I’m not referring to the “no” you say when your kid is trying to eat a crayon or cut their sister’s hair. We’re talking about the “no” that is necessary to set boundaries. ALL kinds of boundaries— the boundaries that foster emotional well being, the boundaries that support healthy functioning in a nuclear family and the logistical boundaries that have to deal with every day commitments.
How do I know if I need to say “No?”
Ever feel like you're losing control of your own emotions? Or that others are dictating how your day goes? It’s time to say no. Recently, a client shared a story about her mother’s constant criticism and judgment of her parenting; her mother is always weighing in with an opinion about how something could be done better. My client was losing herself in self-doubt and fear that she was making decisions that would be detrimental to her children. It was time for her to say no. “No, you cannot project your own regrets and fears about your own identity as a mother onto me. No, I am a good mother and I won’t hear you anymore.” She set an emotional boundary that no longer allowed someone else’s feedback to rule her emotions despite her own ability to validate her role as a mom. If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed and anxious - chances are good you need to check in with yourself and see if you're emotionally exhausted or over-committed. If you are feeling like you have no choice or no say in your relationships or schedule or interactions - its time to slow down for a moment and re-access.
What you're saying "yes" to when you say "no."
Saying “No” means— I am taking care of myself, so I can take care of others. I value my own mental health. I know my limits.
While some people will take your ability to say no as a personal insult, its important to reinforce (not just to others, but also to yourself) the need to care of yourself. We live in a relational culture that emphasizes or puts a high value on active lifestyles, community and efficiency. If you're not taking of care of yourself first, it can be difficult to authentically and satisfyingly participate in family and community. Setting emotional boundaries with the toxic friend is ok, not over-committing yourself and your kids to parties and activities so you can spend extra nights at home together is ok, deciding not to spend an hour on Facebook comparing your relationship to someone else’s is ok. In fact, it is necessary to do all of the above from time to time!
Why it can feel great to say "No."
Saying no can feel empowering, like you have control of your emotions and your time, like you have a choice. Saying no will feel different for everyone; it might feel the opposite of overwhelmed, exhausted and stressed. It’s not just freeing your evening up from a holiday party, it is creating space for and activity or experience that feeds your energy. Saying No is independence. Saying no is permission to be you and make your own choices, free from the influence of others. Saying no is choosing you.
As the holidays approach there were be many extra curricular activities for kiddos, holiday parties and more extended family time than usual. Take some time to check in with yourself, your partner or your family. Do you need to say “no” more?
To schedule an appointment with Caroline Harris, LMFT-Associate, call 512-915-3063.