It’s ok to say ‘no’
by Mita Mistry
IT’S human nature to want to make others happy and it is wonderful to spread joy, but at what point does it become unhealthy?
In a recent article, Bollywood actress turned writer Twinkle Khanna eloquently discusses how hard it is to say no and it’s something that continues to rear its head during my work with clients in therapy. Interestingly, this tendency seems more apparent among south Asian women. But why? Many of us have been raised to be helpful, kind and to self-sacrifice our needs. It’s ingrained in our culture to serve others. And while it is great to strive for harmony in relationships or selflessly put others before yourself, there’s actually a lot of negative emotion attached to it.
Not only do you want to please people, but you feel a huge amount of guilt and anxiety when you can’t. You fear being judged. You might think you are not good enough and fear disapproval. You don’t want conflict as being the brunt of someone’s anger is unpleasant and best avoided. So, you end up saying “yes” even when you mean “no”. Eventually, you feel resentful and exhausted from constantly giving. You end up letting people down because you are overstretched, which perpetuates the entire cycle.
But you would think in 2021, expectations placed on women to make everyone happy would be a thing of the past, but sadly, it is still the case. Notions like “I shouldn’t eat before the children” or “I shouldn’t wear what I want to” are ever-present.
And unhelpful judgments about what makes a good wife, mother, sister or daughter only add to the guilt we might already be carrying. it raises the question, is it surprising south Asian women are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than any other group when we are loaded with guilt and fear? And how do we unlearn this conditioned thinking?
A great place to start is by challenging any people pleasing tendencies. Listen to your gut feeling and if your inner voice says it doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t for you. You don’t have to respond with a “yes” immediately to a request. It’s ok to take time to reflect. Take a step back, just breathe and observe your thoughts. Are you agreeing because of a desire to be kind? Or do you feel pressured to say yes? Are you worried about being judged?
It’s ok to say “no,” “not now,” or “I disagree.” It can be hard to find courage to say what you really want to, but you can do it firmly without confrontation. And people might not like it when you say no, especially if they benefit from your kindness. But even if it feels uncomfortable, sit with it. It will pass, you will get stronger and they will get used to it.
I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t respond to others’ needs, it’s fabulous that you are supportive. But, if you are willing to say no when it really matters, you will have more energy and time to make a nourishing difference in their lives and in yours. We can’t change others, so challenging people-pleasing characteristics could be a game-changing way to say “yes” to people without saying “no” to yourself.