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The Power of Saying No

How to say "no" and increase your self-esteem and overall mental health.

Key points

  • Feeling confident in saying "no" can help people set clear and consistent boundaries in their relationships.
  • People can find a way to say "no" that feels natural to them, such as by sandwiching the refusal between positive comments.
  • Different forms of self-care include saying "no," positive affirmations, and creative activities.

While saying "no" can be empowering and liberating to some, for others it can be intimidating or uncomfortable. At times society teaches us the word “no” is impolite and inconsiderate. We feel more obligated to go along with things we honestly do not want to do in order to be socially accepted. However, there are benefits to the word no. Saying no can create more mental health stability by helping with self-care and build your self-esteem and confidence by setting boundaries. Saying no may be a daunting thing to do, but there are ways to make the process a bit easier.

Different Ways to Say No

One of the first steps to harnessing the power of no is to find a way to say no that feels natural and authentic for you. Perhaps you may find the “sandwich method” helpful. The sandwich method is an approach that involves sandwiching something that individuals may consider negative between two positives. Tell the person something positive followed by the no and end with something supportive or positive. For example: “Thank you for inviting me. I really appreciate you including me and being thoughtful; however, I won’t be able to make it. I would still really enjoy meeting up with you. I’ll look at my schedule for some dates I’m available, so we can spend some time together.”

You may also want to reflect and figure out why you’re saying no to something. Is it because you don’t want to go to a certain event with certain people? Do you feel uncomfortable going out due to the pandemic? Are you tired and need a break from a busy schedule? Reflecting on your feelings, understanding why no might help you, and recognizing behavioral patterns can all help you feel more confident in saying no.

It’s also important to keep in might that saying no to something but giving other options that better fit your needs can also be an effective way to harness the power of no. Remember that your needs are important and your decisions can directly affect your time and energy.

Setting Healthy Boundaries

We all have various roles in our work, parenting, social obligations, and family dynamics. These roles can challenge our abilities to set boundaries. Learning about yourself and finding your inner power is crucial to your health and wellbeing.

Consider setting boundaries around goals you have for yourself. For example, if one of your goals is to create a better work-life balance, you may say “no” to a call or meeting outside your normal work hours using some of the techniques outlined above.

Saying yes or no to something can also be effective in something as small as your social media. Understand that not everyone is a friend and it’s ok to say no to a friend request. If you are uncomfortable with certain posts from followers perhaps you can tailor as much as possible what comes across your feeds. Sometimes these small steps towards setting boundaries can dramatically improve your mental health.

Boundaries can be flexible when appropriate. Take time to reassess your boundaries, taking into account the pros and cons. And remember: Boundaries do not have to be permanent.

Forms of Self-Care

While working on saying no and setting boundaries, the act of saying no can actually be a form of self-care for some individuals. In addition to saying no, you may also want to incorporate additional self-care activities. Saying no to certain things can be an act of self-care by creating time or energy for things that help you feel better about yourself, your relationships, or your overall experience in this world. For instance, by saying no to an invitation (even if it is something you want to do) when you are stretched thin, you give yourself the opportunity to have more energy and less stress for the next activity on your schedule or for your important relationships.

Another type of self-care to try is positive affirmations, which is a great way to remind yourself of your victories and the positive qualities you possess. Another type is of self-care is engaging in creative activities such as art, dance, and meditation, and yoga.

It’s important to find ways to better your mindset. Our thoughts can play a key role in our happiness and triumphs. Studies show self-care can improve our overall health and relationships, and the benefits can last for years.

When to Recognize Concerning Patterns of Behaviors

Standing firm in your decisions and being able to express yourself can be so rewarding, but there are also some signs to keep in mind when it is not being harnessed in a way to empower. Isolating behaviors, withdrawal, loss of interest in activities, or having feelings of worthlessness are examples of signs that your no means something more. These can be more indicative of saying no because of a depressive struggle or a more serious mental health struggle. If you find yourself saying no in a way that leads to isolation or withdrawal, then it might be time to see a mental health professional.

Overall, there isn't a “right” way to say no. There are so many approaches to expressing yourself. Try out a few ways and see what works best for you. You will never be able to please everyone, and you’ll never know an outcome if you don’t try. Remember to let your inner confidence shine in your decisions and ability to say no.

Keisha Moore, LCSW, is a therapist at the Menninger Clinic with special interests including anxiety, depression, grief, life transitions, LGBTQ+ related concerns, chronic illness/disability, and medical crisis. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Prairie View A&M University, Keisha earned a master’s degree from the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.

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