The Empath’s Guide to Saying No to People
Empath’s Guide to Saying No
Research identifies the word “No” as the most challenging word to say in the English language. Okay, that’s not true. I made it up. To my knowledge, such research has not been compiled but I bet if they did, they would verify my assumption.
Why then, is it so difficult for some people to say no to others? Why do some people override their “No” response? Why do they continue to say yes to people’s requests when all they really want to say is “Nope. I cannot fulfil your request”.
So, why is it so hard to say ‘NO’
Granted this issue does not affect everyone but I have noticed some common characteristics of those individuals that it does affect. In general, people who struggle to say “No” tend to be people-pleasers, are hard on themselves, have low self-esteem, are often concerned about what others will think of them, have perfectionistic tendencies, and are more susceptible to people’s suffering (aka. The empath). Being known as an empath is not a diagnosis, but merely a “pop culture” phrase denoting an individual’s strong emotional reaction to sensing feelings and pain in others. This is certainly not intended to downplay such an individual’s need to try to ease the suffering of others. The Greater Good Science Center labels empathy as “a building block of morality” and is a crucial component of developing successful relationships.
The need to comply at the detriment of one’s own well-being is not just about empathetic responding. It is also necessary for many collectivist cultures that value cooperation, selflessness, and altruism over independence and autonomy.
From a religious perspective, the need for social conformity is an important factor that keeps such communities connected and saying no can potentially hinder this connection. Furthermore, saying no can come across as selfish and arrogant, which also weaves into issues of cultural, societal, and familial morality.
As you can see, it’s not always easy to say no.
And yet, being able to say no is also an important aspect of building one’s self-esteem, establishing effective boundaries, and developing a healthy sense of self. Children, whose parents struggle to say no to them run the risk of lacking self-regulation and self-control. This can later manifest as unhinged behaviour in adults.
However, saying yes also has its perceived benefits. My clients often report that it demonstrates their value to others so they can be appreciated for their worth… At least, this is what they hope to receive by saying yes, all the time. More often than not, they simply become a “doormat” that is under-appreciated, under-valued, over-worked, and overwhelmed.
How to say No
Allow me to illustrate what goes on in people’s minds. When a person has a problem, their brain will search for resources in order to solve the problem. If you always say yes to this person, then you will become the resource they are looking for. This is where it gets interesting. Before they even approach you, they would have played out the scenario of approaching you in their head. In their head, you’ve already said yes! Now they just need to play it out and confirm their assumption. Furthermore, each time you say yes to this person their brain will reinforce neural pathways that indicate you as a trustworthy and reliable resource.
Learning to say no has some inherent challenges though. There are 2 obstacles you are almost guaranteed to face when you say no. Number 1: Both you and the person making the request will feel an awkward tension when you say no… and trust me, sometimes it can be awkward! Number 2: They will not like what you have to say. You will be letting them down and they will most probably feel quite disappointed. By saying no to this individual, you will be disrupting the reinforcement process of an important neural pathway that helps them solve their problems. However, there is a silver lining to this conundrum, and both you and this person shall receive the gift.
By saying no, you will help this person become more empowered as their brain will have to commit to some deep processing in order to solve their problem.
By saying no, you will help yourself by demonstrating courage and a willingness to put your needs first. Consider this, how often have you had to figure out your own way forward, with no help? How often have you had to solve your own problems? Just like you, people are not helpless. Just like you, people are in fact capable of effectively managing problems in their life.
Lastly, you are probably quite a nice person, so you are not going to turn into a monster that always says no to people when you start practising this new skill. If, though, you sense that you do not have the capacity to comply with an individual’s request then you have the choice. Whatever choice you choose will be up to you.
From one empath to another, I hope this, in some way, eases your own suffering. 😉
Thank you for reading
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