Teach Me How To Say “No”

I’m working on saying, “No,” as I struggle to keep my head above water with my current load of responsibilities. And I’ve been doing great! Sort of. It’s more not saying, “Yes,” than it is saying, “No,” but the end result is the same.

The first thing I had to do to develop this power (because I know we all struggle with it) is to look realistically at my life one week…two weeks…or a month in advance and ask myself, Can I handle anything else this month? And I mean really look at things. Do I have at least one (but ideally 2-3) week nights with NO obligations? Do I have hours to loaf on the weekends? Are there some mornings I won’t have to run? Because – here is what I’m trying to value: FREE TIME. So – I look into the future and get a gauge: Do I have enough free time?

And if the answer is, “No.” Well, then I should take on absolutely NO OTHER OBLIGATIONS.

But here’s the kicker: I have to decide that and then STICK TO IT. No matter WHAT arises.

And y’a’ll? That’s hard. Because it turns out a lot of stuff that seems small pops up a lot of times in our lives. Have you noticed that? Maybe you have and maybe you find yourself overwhelmed now, too. But here’s the thing: Small things still take up time. Even if it’s just one hour, one night. And when something small pops up, maybe it’s cooking a meal for a friend, maybe it’s organizing the snack schedule for a soccer team, maybe it’s a social gathering…you think, This is small! It will barely take an hour! Of course I can do that!

But then 3 hours of your free time that week – that you didn’t have enough – of ARE GONE.

And I’m retraining my brain: My free time is as important as a meeting with the boss. As a doctor appointment. Maybe even more-so. Because it turns out that when I’m GO! GO! GOING! – I emotionally collapse and panic attacks ensue. Free time in my week is necessary just like rest days are in my ultramarathon training. If I run 10 days in a row, I’m going to get injured. If I go several days without any free time, my brain gets injured.

So I say “No” to everything, even if it only takes an hour.

Well, like I said before, I don’t really say, “No.” I just simply don’t say, “Yes.” And it’s come up several times recently for several “small” things but I keep telling myself, No. You can’t do that, Kim. You are already teetering on the edge. Small things can push you over.

And so far, so good.

But – let’s get to what I keep repeating: I’m not saying, “No.” I’m simply not saying, “Yes.”

Like when the coach asked that someone just print up a game schedule so people could just sign up for snacks. I just looked the other way. Or when an email went out about a social gathering…I just ignored it.

Because here’s the crux: I don’t know the right way to say, “No.”

I’ve been the one recruiting volunteers and attendance before and hearing, “No,” is so difficult when you’re trying to get help with something. So I feel like I need to say, “No,” and then follow up with the nine million other things going on in my life keeping me from doing that one thing.

But I know what they’re thinking! Because I thought it too! It’s just one hour, jeezus. You can’t spare that for this important cause?

And then there’s the people who complain about how busy they are but they’re not really and it makes everyone roll their eyes. I DON’T WANT THEM TO ROLL THEIR EYES AT ME!

So I just ignore everyone and talk publicly about mental health hoping they’ll put 2 and 2 together.

But that’s shitty.

I need to find a way to say, “I’m not taking on any extra responsibilities right now, no matter how small, at least not until we sell the house and get settled into a new one.”

Because truthfully, that’s the biggest burden right now. The house.

And I need to tell myself that anyone who gets bitter or rolls their eyes at that is not a person I care about. Right? If they’re going to be an ass about things like that (like maybe I used to be?) then they’re not someone whose opinion should matter. RIGHT?

But it does matter and remember: I traced my difficulty in saying “No” to some unknown abandonment issues. WHAT IF THEY LEAVE ME? WHAT IF THEY ARE NOT MY FRIEND ANYMORE? WHAT IF THEY DON’T EVER ASK ME A FAVOR AGAIN? I NEED THEM TO NEED ME!

And man, that poor Zoot – the one scared of being abandoned by everyone who might be asking for her assistance? She’s hard to deal with.

So for now? I’m ignoring requests and not quite braving saying, “No.” But at least I’m not taking on any more responsibilities, right? That’s the end result that will give me more free time, so for now? I’ll take it.

But if you guys have any advice on ACTUALLY saying, “No,” I’d love to hear it. Ignoring people is kind of rude. 🙂

13 Comments

  • Sonya

    If I need to buy myself time, I say I will have to check my calendar and get back to them. Then I let them know I already have something scheduled, or I am just not able to do it with no explanation. Just…I’m sorry but I can’t add that to my schedule now. Every now and then I may do something I don’t quite have time for, just so people don’t get the impression I am a slacker (my big fear!), but otherwise I just say No without explaining why I can’t do it.

  • Sarah

    I like to say, “Sorry but I am subtracting things from my life right now, not adding things.” People seem to really understand this concept and you aren’t actually saying no.

  • Fraulein N

    I think you actually gave yourself the advice you’re looking for. And I quote, “I’m not taking on any extra responsibilities right now, no matter how small, at least not until we sell the house and get settled into a new one.” Look at how smart you are! 🙂 You can even add a “Sorry” at the end to soften the blow.

    Eventually, once you realize that decent people won’t abandon you because you have other responsibilities (including to yourself), you can take the “training wheels” off and start simply saying, “No, sorry, I can’t.”

    • MrsDragon

      Thirded! Also, remember “no is a complete sentence”. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. I used to run into (typically older professional women with children) who alway struck me as cold because they would just say “no” and move on. What? Did they not care to even TRY to pretend like this was important. As a now professional woman with children. I GET IT NOW. Ain’t nobody got time for that. If they can’t handle hearing “no”, it’s their problem not mine.

      Also? If these requests are coming in via email/facebook/etc…SIT ON YOUR HANDS. I see it as an opportunity for other people to step up! Do NOT let guilt dictate you schedule. It is so tough. But the payoff is so worth it.

  • Elaine C. B.

    Woof, this is a hard one. I struggle with that one too, especially as I get requests to donate money for various causes and families in the community going through hard times. When I can, I do. But sometimes I can’t. I may be able to donate stuff, or time. And sometimes I don’t have time for things either. I think you kind of already did say it as Fraulein N quoted above. Other phrases I use, “I can’t commit to that at this time.”
    “I’m spread pretty thin” (Until x event or after x date)
    “I’m unable to help with this fantastic project, event, goal, meeting. But I sincerely wish you luck getting the help/money/stuff you need.”
    It’s hard because I always feel I owe people an apology or an explanation…but I don’t. And when I spin it around on myself, if people tell me they can’t I just accept it and move on. I don’t think you surround yourself with people who don’t understand. I also like the suggestion above of having to run things by your calendar. Also my husband doesn’t mind if I make him “the bad guy” and use him or his work schedule as an excuse if I need to. Good luck. I will be following this thread for other suggestions!

  • Samantha

    I think you should keep in mind that a lot of people are expecting a “no,” or at least aren’t always expecting a “yes.” They ask because, what’s the harm in asking? But I think people in general are busy, they understand that others are busy, and they want to be inclusive so they ask. But offended at a kind, “I’m sorry, I just can’t right now.”? No – people have priorities and obligations, and I think the world at large understands that.

    Personally, I would MUCH rather have a quick “no” than be ignored. Once i get the no, it’s on to the next person to ask!

    • Lisa

      This is such a good point! Nos aren’t terrible; they tried, they asked, no loss.

      Also, “no is a complete sentence.” I’ve been reading a lot of the relationships Reddit (I get in weird habits and find strange things and “places” comfortable) and that one is mentioned a LOT. Just a constant reminder, no is a complete sentence.

  • Susie

    Two ways that work for me: Sorry, that’s not going to work for me. Or I have another commitment (which could need to my sanity, my need fire family time, a desire to nap… None of anyone’s business).

    Also, if you feel compelled to give a reason, you stated things beautifully yourself: need to find a way to say, “I’m not taking on any extra responsibilities right now, no matter how small, at least not until we sell the house and get settled into a new one.” 🙂

    You’ve got this. You’re making space for self-care and that is fantastic.

  • Kate W.

    I struggle with this, too, so I came over to read everyone’s comments. Smart people here!

    I actually thought of a script you could try based on what you said in your post — how about something like, “I’m looking forward to having time to take on more responsibilities like this after our house sells.” That might signal people that you’re not uninterested in helping, but that it just isn’t an option NOW. And it reframes it as a positive, forward-looking response, I think.

    Now I just need a good script for myself…

  • Shannan

    I think a simple ‘not this time, maybe next time’ works. And advice is usually to say no with as little explanation as possible. Still working on it too!

  • Megan

    Put it on your schedule! Seriously, I have the same problem. I’ve found that “scheduling” time to myself means that I actually GET that time. Add it into your scheduling apparatus of choice (calendar, phone app, bullet journal, what-have-you), sort of like a date with yourself. That way you can honestly tell someone, “no sorry, I’m already booked that day” 🙂

  • Cara

    I’m struggling with this right now, too. I look at my life and it really looks like I should have time. But, that isn’t how it feels, and I’m learning to recognize that is what matters. I do what feels right for my family, and then I remind myself that other people can step up. If no one does, then it wasn’t a community priority.