How I Learned to Say No to Others and Yes to Myself

How I Learned to Say No to Others and Yes to Myself

Written by Editorial Team

Last update: 25 January, 2023

We live in a society where it’s considered that everything must be perfect, dynamic, and happy. Saying yes to the plans and requests made of us has become an unwritten rule.

In fact, saying yes has become the norm in answer to every demand from our environment. However, I’ve learned that it acts like a poison that depletes the essence of who we are. In fact, without us even realizing it, it weakens and deteriorates us until we’re unable to give anymore.

For instance, sometimes, we’re unaware of the things we need and our emotions of emptiness or loneliness overwhelm us. For this reason, I’m going to explain how I learned to walk along the path that meant I started to say no to others so I could say yes to myself.

Saying yes to myself meant taking into account my own desires and my needs. Moreover, saying a calm, caring, humble, and sincere no to others was a really powerful act of self-compassion. It meant I started to look after myself and calmly analyze the messages that my body and mind were trying to tell me. Here’s how I did it.

Couple talking, depicting how I learned to say yes to myself
Saying no to others, in order to say yes to ourselves helps us take into account our own needs.

How I learned to say no

I’ve learned that when the urgent need to say no to something arises from the depths of my soul, I must pay attention. It could be anything, a particular plan, action, event, meeting, call…even an unwanted hug.

I began to say no when I realized that, by doing so, I was becoming aware of a part of me that I’d abandoned somewhere inside myself. That’s because I was only living for others, and had stopped living for myself.

I didn’t quite know how to say no without hurting others. I was afraid of what they’d think or how they’d react to my refusal.

Dealing with guilt

Guilt is censoring. However, I’ll tell you a secret, it’s only a fleeting emotion. It doesn’t last forever, and it’s never permanently installed in our hearts. Everything has a beginning and an end. Guilt is no exception.

I think we all have to learn to say no at some point in our lives. No one is born innately assertive. Assertiveness isn’t a behavior of genetic determination, but is acquired through experience.

Among the strategies that helped me the most to deal with guilt was assertiveness. Being assertive meant I expressed what I thought, felt, and wanted freely, in a transparent and sincere way. In addition, assertiveness is a learning process that’s extraordinarily transformative.

I learned that being assertive meant uniting what I thought with what I felt so that others could understand me. Here are some examples of assertive responses that I’ve used over the years:

  • I’m not going to the meeting because I’m exhausted and need to rest.
  • I don’t want to see that movie because horror movies scare me.
  • I’m not going to spend the night with you at the hospital because I end up feeling mentally exhausted.
  • You asked me if we were going to go into town, but I really don’t feel like it at the moment.
  • What you said before really bothered me and made me feel ashamed and humiliated. I don’t want to feel like that again so please don’t do it.
  • I appreciate that you care about me, but constantly asking me questions exhausts me. Please don’t be so pushy.

Learning to say no was a tremendously liberating act. For the first time, I began to consider what I wanted. I started to value my own thoughts, feelings, and desires.

couple talking
When we say no, we promote the prioritization of ourselves.

Saying no is a necessity

Saying no is a physical as well as a psychological need. Because, when we avoid saying no to something that makes us lazy, hurts, suffocates, or torments us, it decreases our self-esteem.

It happened to my self-esteem. By putting other people first, I was left in the background. Moreover, a background that was so painful it made me feel like a failure.

I’ve learned that, every night, without fail I sleep with myself. Always. It’s an absolute certainty. Now I know that, when I was going to sleep feeling that I’d done everything possible for others, but had pushed myself into the background, I’d been completely neglecting my own self-esteem.

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  • Pérez, A. C., León, N. K. Q., & Coronado, E. A. G. (2017). Empatía, comunicación asertiva y seguimiento de normas. Un programa para desarrollar habilidades para la vida. Enseñanza e investigación en psicología, 22(1), 58-65.
  • Bascón, M. Á. P. (2011). Empatía, asertividad y comunicación. Revista de innovación y.

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