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How to Say “No” Without Guilt (and feel good about it)

I recently spoke at my spiritual church about How to Say “No” Without Guilt (aka Boundary Setting) and boy was it good! It is a timely topic, although, I believe it is the perfect topic all year round. Since I am still writing my book of the same title (I’ve been lagging), it always reinvigorates me to speak about this topic.

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Right after my talk a woman came up to me and said I had described her to a tee. She had so much resentment built up she was ready to divorce her husband. I asked her “do you really want to divorce him or do you want things to change?” Her response was she wanted things to change. Now listen, when you’ve been married for a long time and the patterns are ingrained it’s gonna take some work to make things different.

I am a recovering “people pleaser.” If you are not, you are lucky! I will say that in my experience about 90% of all the women I meet and hear from possess some degree of this characteristic. I personally believe it is inherent in the female genetic code (not to mention centuries of behavioral oppression and socialization). I grew up believing if I just went along with my family or boss or whomever, things would eventually sort themselves out. This is a myth! The more you sweep your frustration, anger, resentment, fear and hurt under the rug, the more it piles up. Then eventually there is a bigger mess to clean up.

People pleasers do not want to disappoint others or engage in confrontation. Generally speaking, people pleasers simply haven’t learned the specific language skills to say “no” and set empowered boundaries for themselves. There is good news though. You can learn these new language skills and the more you work on them the smaller the resentment pile becomes.

Whether it is a spouse, co-worker, friend, family member, or other, if you have the “people pleasing” characteristic it is important to work on it because otherwise you will always wrestle with your self-worth.

I’m going to state up front that you need to be realistic about your expectations. You cannot make these changes overnight. If you try to chew off too big a bite, you may suffer a setback and this is not helpful. So here is a simple strategy to get you started.

  • Start small. Work on your awareness. When do you say “yes” when you really want to say “no”? Look for this specific pattern and once you find it the next step is to change it.
  • You must begin to deliberately and consciously make a change. WARNING: Since you are a people pleaser and don’t want confrontation, switching from your “knee-jerk yes pattern” to an empowered “no” is unlikely right away. You need what I call a “stop-gap” response and I have the language for you start using.

Here are my 7 magic words: Hmm, I’d like to think about this.

Why are they magic?  You’ve been agreeable for a long time. The phrase, hmm, I’d like to think about this gives you time to think about how you feel about what’s being asked of you. When you immediately respond with your knee-jerk “yes,” you are repeating your disempowering pattern. My 7 magic words are very purposeful and specific so DON’T change any of them. Memorize this just as it is.

This phrase is non-confrontational. In fact it is a very respectful response and if someone balks at it you can say to them “well don’t you want me to give you a thoughtful and respectful response?” That should stop them, if it doesn’t simply repeat it all again. You may need to repeat yourself several times. This is FINE!

I tell my students and clients to practice this phrase ad nauseam. Do it until you and everyone around you is sick of hearing it. You need to do this because your subconscious mind will try to play tricks on you and get you to say “yes” because it is your old pattern. You must change the pattern.

Lastly, don’t confuse this phrase with the word “maybe,” it’s not the same. You obviously want to use it where it makes sense. Just do your best and remember, hmm, I’d like to think about this will give you the time you need to be considerate about your responses in the future rather than automatic and this is the first step to freeing yourself from being a people pleaser.

Julie Hawkins is the Biz Psychic and Women’s Empowerment Coach.

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