Dear Therapist: I can't say 'No'

By Prateeksha Shetty

Published: Thu 30 Sep 2021, 6:43 PM

Last updated: Thu 30 Sep 2021, 8:19 PM

I can never say no if anyone asks me to do something. I just get a constant feeling of regret if I do so and end up exhausting myself trying to juggle everything at once. How can I learn how to say no? – Name Withheld

Dear Writer, it is quite possible that you are not an assertive person! You may be racked by guilt after refusal for a number of reasons. It could be due to the identity that you have created — ‘helpful’, ‘friendly’, among others; people around you may also have learnt that you cannot say no, which could be taken advantage of. Sometimes, it could also be trying to please everyone and wanting to be validated as a good person. It could also be a desire not to hurt anyone. You could also be someone who hates confrontations or conflicts. These barriers for assertiveness can only be overcome when you realise that you can be good AND say no when you just cannot help them. Prioritising yourself is also equally important.

For better refusal skills, practise in graded manner, either on your own or with help of a friend. Cognitive rehearsal of past scenarios with strong confident statements can help you feel more confident. Choose situations that are common and recurring aiming for easier ones first. It’s important to use “I” statements when you refuse someone while being polite. Avoid being passive aggressive or being rude. Monitor body language and tone of your voice, having good eye contact helps immensely. Setting personal limits could also help you prevent act of juggling too many tasks. Sometimes, you may need to persist on your refusal as people may continue to ask for your assistance for the same task in different ways.

Being consistent with your refusal, therefore, will provide others a new understanding of you.

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