Saying ‘no’ can be a difficult skill to learn, especially in cases where a person is in recovery and attempting to remedy relationships.
While it’s with good intentions to desire to be peaceable, not setting healthy boundaries can add up to a lot of unnecessary stress and discomfort.
Obviously, saying ‘no’ should never be done out of spite. When spoken for the right reasons, however, saying ‘no’ is empowering. Saying ‘no’ to requests that don’t fit your recovery priorities can be a way of expressing what your heart and soul desires.
In the chaos of the world, it can feel frightening to do something different. It’s much easier to go along with the crowd, then to have to stand a moment in opposition. However, saying ‘no’ is not an expression of judgment against others. It is an act of self-love.
Why We Dodge Saying ‘No’
Everyone’s situation is a little different, but there are some common reasons people in recovery struggle to set boundaries with their loved ones.
No Feels Negative
Saying ‘yes’ tends to hold a feeling of openness and a spontaneity for life. On the other hand, saying ‘no’ tends to denote negative associations, like the slamming shut of a door. A Psychology Today article differentiates between the two, noting that negativity is more geared toward an ongoing perspective; whereas, saying ‘no’ is “a moment of clear choice.”
For a person in recovery, having the power to say ‘no’ is a way to promote sobriety. For example, if few friends are drinking beers, being able to hold loyal to one’s own best interests and stick to non-alcoholic beverages can be the difference between relapsing or holding steady.
Being able to say ‘no’ for the right reasons is a sheer act of maturity and respect for one’s future.
We Fear Conflict
Being agreeable is what bonds people. You like the same things. You want to go to the same places. You root for the same team. Even situations where saying ‘no’ does not pose any great threat, such as when someone asks if you have time to talk on the phone, can eventually build up to years of denying oneself of critical needs.
Fearing that saying ‘no’ might erupt into an argument is often our own self-made façade. Realizing your fear is irrational can help you change this behavior.
We Fear Disappointing Loved Ones
This can be a major fear, especially when one is new to recovery and trying to rebuild trust with friends and family. It can seem that saying ‘yes,’ in some way, expresses loyalty or a way to prove oneself to others. However, saying ‘yes’ to things that go against oneself will only cause harm and create potential resentment.
Techniques for Saying ‘No’
If saying ‘no’ seems difficult, there are some simple techniques you can use to become more comfortable expressing yourself.
- Try to gain clarity as to why you are saying ‘yes.’ Is it because you don’t want to upset someone? Are you trying to impress someone? Seek to understand the driving impulse.
- Begin by saying ‘no’ to small, unimportant situations, like not going out for pizza if what you really want is a home-cooked meal. Saying ‘no’ to pizza is okay. It does not represent a situation that threatens the well-being of anyone. There will be pizza tomorrow, too. It’s not necessary to go today.
- Stop and breathe. When you are so used to responding with ‘yes,’ it can be challenging to actually take a moment to consider what you actually want. Taking a breath allows a measure of space to listen to your own heart.
- Seek advice. Asking trusted people what they think can allow you to feel more grounded in saying ‘no.’ This is not to say that you need another person to justify your response, but in cases where there is more at stake, having support can help alleviate worry or stress.
- Don’t be bullied or fooled into feeling wrong for saying ‘no.’ If someone gets aggressive or tries to make you feel small for your decision, then they are most likely not someone that you want to be around in the first place.
- Take a moment to take honest stock of the situation. What are the real consequences to a ‘no’ answer? What degree of guilt, anxiety, disappointment, or other emotions might you feel if you don’t do whatever is being asked. Is the potential emotion you might feel if you say ‘no’ great enough to sacrifice your own well-being?
- Remember, if you are unsure, you don’t need to answer right away. Take the time needed to make a decision. You can change your mind in most cases.
The Importance of Saying ‘No’ in Recovery
In many cases, saying ‘no’ is necessary for self-preservation. Regular life is full of chaos and the constant rush of keeping up with all the daily tasks. In order to carve out time to practice self-care, saying ‘no’ becomes critical.
It would be nice to be able to do everything, but wearing oneself out can be a slippery slope—especially for those in early recovery. Self-care is essential for the longevity of your sobriety.
Having the courage to go against the grain is ultimately empowering, not in the way of being a rebel without a cause but being able to know yourself well enough to make a decision. The more you listen to your needs and desires as they resonate from a place of well-being, the more you will begin to trust the voice within.