I believe that many people, if not most of us, have a difficult time saying “No.” We aren’t able to say “No” to requests from others who want our time, talent, money, love, sex or mind. And we have a more difficult time saying “No” to ourselves. We buy things we know we shouldn’t. We go places and do things we know we shouldn’t. We say “Yes” when we’re fully aware that saying “No” would be in our own best interest.
This isn’t because we’re weak or stupid. It’s only natural that we all want to be helpful to others and to be liked and popular. We think that by saying “Yes” to requests we will be liked and popular. Or maybe you say “Yes” because you fear saying “No.” You fear that there will be some argument or repercussions if you say “No” and you don’t want to deal with it. You might fear that you’ll hurt someone’s feelings or you fear that they may get angry and hold it against you. Maybe you feel embarrassed to say, “No, I don’t have enough money. No, I don’t know how to do that,” or “No, that goes against my principles and I won’t do it.” It might also be that you don’t have confidence in your own decisions and say “Yes” just to please or impress someone else. There are plenty of reasons why you don’t say “No” when you should. Just spend a moment to think about a few times when you wanted to say “No” but didn’t. What was the real reason?
Some years ago a good friend of mine who is a singer and popular performer told me, “Mark, the most powerful word in entertainment [and business] is No.” In business and entertainment, the word “No” protects you from being abused, mistreated, taken for granted or underpaid. The word “No” helps build a sense of worth, value and self-esteem. It will do the same in your personal life. You may miss out on some opportunities by saying “No,” but you’re less likely to compromise yourself and fall prey to self-destruction and lowered self-esteem. Say “No” to preserve your dignity.
People will sometimes try to guilt you into changing your “No” to a “Yes.” You don’t have to be rude when you say “No” and it doesn’t mean that you’re uncaring. You can present alternatives or say what you are capable of doing or what you are willing to do. If a friend asks you for money you can say, “No, I don’t have $500 to loan you, but I can help you go through your bills and figure out a budget and payment plan.” If someone you don’t trust wants to use your car you can say, “No, I won’t give you my car for the weekend, but I can give you a ride and I’d also like you to pay for gas.” If your buddy calls and asks you to go out and party you can say, “No, I can’t make it tonight, but we can get together next weekend and hang out, but I’m not just gonna go out boozin’. Let’s go to a movie or something.” And sometimes you can just say “No.” You are not always obligated to give further answers or explain why. The more times you say “No” to someone the fewer requests you’ll get from them.
I like giving real-life examples so please allow me to bore you with one of mine. I recently said “Yes” to something when I should have said “No.” I eventually offered alternatives, but I still ended up doing something I didn’t want to do. However, I learned some lessons from the experience and it was a clear reminder to me that I need to say “No” more often—and it also reminded me of how easily a “Yes” can set the stage for a relapse. What I said “Yes” to doesn’t have anything to do with drinking, but the sequence of events shows how peer pressure can draw you into something you don’t want to do or how a relapse can occur because of one small “Yes.”
I was asked by a friend of mine to do some home repairs for a friend of hers. At first I said “No,” but my friend was pretty persistent. She didn’t beg me or guilt me, but she tried to persuade me by saying all the right things. “Mark, I know you’re so good at this stuff, you’re responsible and I trust you and they’ll pay you cash for your time. Can’t you at least just look at it?” First off, I didn’t have the time nor did I need the money. I already have a fulltime job and work 2 part-time jobs. But it was a request from a friend so I said “Yes” and agreed to at least take a look at the home and give my opinion of the needed repairs.
Well the home was a complete dump and it needed more repairs than I wanted to undertake. As I did my inspection of the property and gave my assessment of what needed to be done, the couple who owned the home kept asking me to do the work for them. I felt kind of sorry for their situation so I said “Yes” and agreed to do some minimal repairs, even though I didn’t want to do any of them. (I guilted myself.)
What I did was I allowed myself to be drawn in by not sticking to my original “No.” I began doing the repairs but then I found myself thinking about compromising my standards. The place was in shambles and such a mess that I began thinking, “Who cares if I drip paint on the floor or don’t do that good of a job, nobody will notice anyway.” And it dawned on me that this is what happens when we put ourselves in tempting situations or we’re surrounded by a drinking environment. We think, “Who cares? Everyone else is drinking. No one will notice.” That’s when I reigned myself in and said “No” to myself. “No. I won’t do a substandard job. I will do what I’m supposed to do and keep my self-dignity by doing a good job.”
After my repair work was completed I felt good that I stuck to my standards. I was proud of my work and proud of myself for not compromising. The couple asked if I would be interested in doing some other work for them. I pleasantly—and emphatically—said “No.” I gave no reasons or explanations. They kept asking but I kept saying, “No.” I don’t have any regrets for getting to “No” them. I retained my dignity and didn’t compromise my position.
Now that I’ve divulged how awful and coldhearted I am because of my willingness to say “No,” let me give examples of when I do say “Yes” even in situations where I don’t want to. I will say “Yes” to a request when I can make someone else’s life easier or happier. But my “Yes” is thought through first. If saying “Yes” doesn’t take me away from a prior responsibility, it doesn’t go against my principles and it doesn’t jeopardize my health or sobriety, then I will oblige the request. But even then I will establish boundaries of what I’m willing to do and will likely offer alternatives. For instance, I help out at a church to prepare and serve free meals to the underprivileged during certain holidays, but I won’t do it every weekend. I don’t help out because I have strong religious feelings or any sense of spirituality, I do it because it makes the couple who ask me to do this happy. It takes a few hours of my time and I usually meet some interesting people.
Because of my mechanical aptitude I am often asked by my friends to look at their car, home, RV or boat and give them my impression of what needs to be repaired or replaced. I’m usually willing to say “Yes” to those requests and I may even offer to do some of the repairs myself. But I’m also willing to say “No” if I don’t have the time or the job is beyond my skill level. And if I do say “No” I will offer an alternative or some suggestions.
Saying “No” to someone’s request isn’t being mean. It’s a way to protect yourself from harm and to retain your dignity. However, the most important person you must learn to say “No” to is yourself. You need to be able to tell yourself: “No, I’m not going to drink even if I do feel sad, mad, depressed (whatever). No, I’m not going out with those guys because I’ll just get into trouble. No, I’m not buying that because I can’t afford it. No, I’m not going to do that because it’s a waste of my time or it goes against my beliefs. No, I’m not going to put up with this abuse any longer. No, I’m not going to live like this anymore.”
Once you’ve told yourself “No,” what alternatives will you come up with? What will you do instead? Those answers are yours and yours alone. You must decide what will be best for YOU. Don’t be afraid to say “No.” It’s a powerful word and using it more often may just preserve your sobriety and your dignity.
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