The Creativity Cure

A do-it-yourself prescription for happiness

I Am Afraid to Say No

Refusing a Request Makes Me Fear Retaliation

Why is it hard to say no? To refuse to do a favor, decline an offer, stay home instead of go out? Saying no can feel like a huge risk. You might worry that your rebuff could elicit rejection, retaliation or rage. And in fact, it might. In an ideal world your need/ wish to say no would be respected, honored and not questioned with no pressure to explain.

When I was a first year medical student I had to leave an ob-gyn. rotation one day for a doctors appointment. I meekly informed my attending by launching into a lengthy explanation. She gracefully stopped me, looked me in the eye and said, “Do what you need to do.” Then she smiled her wide smile and moved on with the group. I was fascinated and relieved. To this day, I think of her in the most elevated way.

 It’s all about boundaries. The other person has their reasons. They may want to tell you about them or they may not, but either way, you get it. You understand. This is so good for a healthy relationship.

But what if you really feel dependent on the other to do something with you or for you? Chances are you can handle many tasks alone or find another option. If not, being judicious about your demands is more likely to yield a generous response. Honoring their need to say no preserves the relationship because it makes the other person feel taken care of. Why would you want to force someone or coerce them into doing what they do not want to do? I once said this to a family member and it did not go over well. Alas.

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If you refuse a request you may worry that the other person will be unhappy with you. But complying at a great inconvenience to yourself could render you resentful. A conflict of interest gives rise to bad feelings that have to and can be managed. Another attending of mine, a psychiatrist said, ”Never schedule a patient at a time you are going to resent.” With a bitter brain, you may not deliver the best care, whether you are conscious of it or not.

 Elizabeth Bernstein, in her WSJ article, “The Right Answer is No, http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303795904579431093572107898

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writes, ” “One tiny word can be very hard to say.” She quotes Dr. Vanessa Bohns, assistant professor of management sciences at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. “One of our most fundamental needs is for social connection and a feeling that we belong. Saying no feels threatening to our relationships.”

Saying no may feel and actually be threatening to relationships. But, saying yes can undermine the self and therefore also be threatening to the relationship. If you annihilate you in order to bolster them, harmony is not happening. You may be secretly disgruntled and recoil.

The bottom line is to seek relationships in which you can be who you need to be and do what you need to do.

That said, sometimes, saying yes, when you want to say no, is an intelligent choice. Gather, reflect, weigh. If you are clear about your true feelings and thoughts, it is easier to ascertain how to compromise without resentment. It may be giving in or it may be holding out but if it is your decision, it will probably work out.

 

 

 

 

 

Carrie Barron, M.D., is a psychiatrist and co-author of The Creativity Cure: A Do-It Yourself Prescription for Happiness, which she wrote with her husband, Alton Barron.

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