My name is Mike Jensen, and I am new at writing for the Messenger. My purpose is to write articles that will discuss and define possible interventions for things like anxiety, fear, depression, self-defeating beliefs, suicide, hopelessness, self-esteem, perfectionism, anger, empathy, and failure, just to mention a few.
My background is in law enforcement/corrections and mental health. After spending 22 years in corrections, retiring as deputy warden, and 22 years as a mental health psychotherapist in private practice, I have decided to write and hopefully help other people with their mental health needs.
I have advanced degrees in human resource management/economics and social work. I am currently licensed as a clinical social worker, and am a board-certified diplomate in clinical social work.
In this first column, I want to discuss an important tool for establishing healthy boundaries and creating mental stability—the ability to say no.
How many of us recently wish we would have said “no” instead of “yes” to a certain situation? (Me too! . . . which resulted in placing myself into a position of “Wish I would have said no!”)
Possibly you are anxious now, nervous, and sweating. We probably learned as young people to always say “yes.” We may think, “If I say ‘no’ now, it may be hurtful and embarrassing. It may hurt the other person’s feelings.”
Your thought process might continue, “So what do I do now? I feel as though I need to explain.” Now the element of fear has taken hold.
“What will this person think of me? I shouldn’t have said no…I always say yes.” This thinking gets me into trouble and raises my anxiety. I have repeated this behavior over and over.
Many of us are afraid of conflict. We don’t like others to be angry with us or critical of us. We therefore avoid saying “no” when we are afraid that it will put us into conflict with someone else, whether that someone is an intimate partner, a colleague or friend, or a supervisor or boss.
Do you have difficulty saying no when you should?
Sometimes you may find it hard to say ‘no’ to someone because you genuinely want to help out, but can’t. Maybe you’re already overworked and don’t have time, or maybe you don’t have the skills or the experience to help, but it can be uncomfortable not being able to help when you really want to.
Even though it might feel contrary to what we’d initially think, saying “no” can actually create more mental stability by helping with self-care and building self-esteem and confidence through setting boundaries.
Saying no gives you the ability to make decisions. When you say no to things, it is giving you the power to make choices for yourself. It means you become capable enough to stay firm with your selections and preferences.
When we say no, it means that we are making our lives less complicated and tension-free. Saying no won’t be easy if you’re used to saying yes all the time, but learning to say no is an important part of simplifying your life and managing your stress. And with practice, you may find that saying no gets easier.
Here are some strategies that may help:
Take guilt out of the equation. Don’t agree to a request you would rather decline because of feelings of guilt or obligation—doing so will likely lead to additional stress and resentment.
Focus on what matters most. Examine your current obligations and overall priorities before making any new commitments. Ask yourself if the new commitment is important to you. If it’s something you feel strongly about, by all means, do it. If not, take a pass.
Be brief. State your reason for refusing the request, but don’t go on about it. Avoid elaborate justifications or explanations.
Be honest. Don’t fabricate reasons to get out of an obligation. The truth is always the best way to turn down a friend, family member or co-worker.
Be ready to repeat. You may find it necessary to refuse a request several times before the other person accepts your response. When that happens, just hit the replay button. Calmly repeat your no, with or without your original rationale, as needed.
I hope this brief article was helpful. Look forward to the next issue of Thriving.