When my daughter was little, I posted some affirmations up around her room. On heart-shaped post-it notes were statements like, “I am funny” and “I am kind.” In return, she made some affirmations for me.

I walked into my bedroom to find the walls plastered with pink hearts. Every last one of them read, “Say NO.” Out of the mouths of babes, hey?

I used to have a problem with saying no. I was afraid that people’s feelings would be hurt, or that they wouldn’t ask me to do things again if I declined. As a result, I constantly overcommitted myself and - to be honest – was a bit of a flake. I forgot engagements. I hurt people’s feelings. Sometimes, my inability to say no even compromised my safety.

It’s ironic that the one thing I was most afraid of - hurting people’s feelings – is the very thing I ended up doing by spreading myself too thin.

Since learning to say no, my life has gotten easier. I’m less busy, and a lot more sane. I’m truer to my word, and commit to activities that I really value. Two little letters, N-O, constitute a complete sentence. No need to complain or explain.

For those of you still on the hand-wringing side of saying no, here are some tips to make it easier:

Be simple, direct, and kind. No need for lengthy explanations.

Buy some time by saying, “Can I get back to you on that?” This gives you a chance to check in with yourself and formulate what you really want to say, and how to say it.

Remember that saying yes when you mean no invites stress into your life. As they say in the 12 Step traditions: you can have boundaries or you can have resentments, but you can’t have both.

What would you say no to if you had the courage?

About the Author

deirdre mclaughlin (she/they/we) is a counsellor, sex educator, and phd student in clinical sexology. they live and work within the ancestral, traditional, and unceded territories of the tmixʷ (Syilx Okanagan), snʕickstx tmxʷúlaʔxʷ (Sinixt), and ɁamakɁis (Ktunaxa) peoples, as well as many other diverse Indigenous persons, including the Métis.

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