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  • Writer's pictureDayna Sharp, LCSW

The Gifts of Saying "No"

Saying "No" can be hard for people who have experienced trauma or rejection. But it is possible to start saying "No" to others...and "Yes" for yourself!

When toddlers grow up in a safe environment, the two and three year old will be the first ones to say "No!". It is their first opportunity to recognize that there's something they want, don't want, and have the ability to express it verbally.

But as we grow up, saying "No" can get harder. Most kids want to fit in with their peers, and can have difficulty asserting their own needs, wants and boundaries. They can worry that if they do, in fact, say "No", that they might lose a friend or a peer group.

Even as adults, some of us have trouble saying "No". There are times when we might have to flex our boundaries, for example, if we really don't want to work overtime, but we need to in order to pay our bills. These are times that we must weight the ups and downs and make something of a compromise for the good of our selves and those who depend on us. But sometimes, we don't recognize our needs and boundaries at all, or even when we do, feel afraid to assert them.

Trauma and Saying "No"

When we have experienced a betrayal or trauma at the hands of another person, they have literally ignored any needs that we had and imposed themselves onto us, despite our wishes. As a result, we might learn that we don't have the right to needs, that asserting our needs won't matter, or we may simply grow up not realizing that we have needs at all. This is especially true if we deny the harm related to the event(s)--"It wasn't really that big of a deal", "They didn't mean it", "They were drunk", etc--or if we were harmed again and again. In these circumstances, we might not even recognize that we are allowed to have our own needs, our own space, much less that we have the ability to set a boundary. Remember, by definition, a traumatic event is something that happened to us that deeply harmed us--or someone we loved--and we were powerless to stop it. We were unable to "set a boundary", or to assert a need. We couldn't do anything to protect ourselves during that time. These "lessons" can stay embedded in the back of our minds, in our bodies, and even years later, when someone asks us to do something--"Will you watch the kids this weekend?" or "Can I borrow $50", we might want to say "No", but simply can't. So we do it anyway.

Rejection and Saying "No"

When we have experienced a rejection or abandonment, we might be extremely scared to assert our needs, because frankly, what if the person can't or won't validate them, and walks away? When children experience rejection, they often cope by maintain their attachment with their loved one by turning the blame onto themselves. Think: "There's something wrong with me, that's why they left". These types of beliefs can stay with us through adulthood, and we may try to "please" others by fearfully accommodating their wishes in an effort to avoid feelings of abandonment.

If You Never Say "No"...

I had a very wise Supervisor who once said "If you never say No, you never get the chance to say Yes". In essence, you rob yourself of the opportunity to make a thoughtful decision of what you need and want.

If you never say "No", you can't have an emotionally corrective experience of standing up for yourself and truly feeling your power.

If you never say "No", you are invalidating yourself and putting someone else's wishes before your own. In so doing, you may be re-enacting a traumatic pattern of emotional abuse upon yourself.

If you never say "No", you can't protect yourself from being taken advantage of. Worse yet, some people can actually sense when others have trouble saying No, and single them out. Never saying "No" can actually put you at risk for re-traumatization by others.

If you never say "No", you risk living your life as a passenger in a car, being led from place to place by some other person.

If you never say "No", you can never experience the gift of saying "Yes"...

Saying Yes!

Saying "No" affords you the experience of saying "Yes" with intention. It gives you the opportunity to make choices based on what you want and need, rather than from fears of the past. Saying "Yes" enables you to fully experience the excitement of your "Yes" decisions. "Yes" gives you the gift of responsibility and integrity--you own your choices, and you can stand tall in them. Saying "Yes" is a start on the road back to trusting yourself and paves the way to creating healthy, mutual relationships.

Creating Space Counseling and Wellness can help you in your journey toward the gifts of saying "No". Call today to schedule your first appointment!

Say yes to yourself by picking up the phone and making an appointment 856-281-1664


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