Welcome back to the Therapy Spot, everyone! This week, I’m pleased to welcome back my friend and colleague, Susan Reyland. Susan is a clinical and developmental psychologist who works in Denver, Colorado. Our friendship began when we met at an IFS conference, and Susan offered me a glass of water.
In Susan’s own words, “I believe that people are fundamentally motivated toward growth and connection. The work in my psychotherapy practice involves removing the obstacles that keep us from achieving satisfying relationships with others, ourselves and our work. Whether the obstacle is an unprocessed trauma or maladaptive thoughts leading to anxiety and depression, managing these obstacles promotes personal growth and increased happiness.”
Why is Saying No So Hard?
Saying no just feels wrong sometimes, doesn’t it? You might even start to hear the theme music from Jaws in your head if you even think about saying no to someone you love! A part of us believes that something terrible will happen if we say no.
According to Susan, we need two essential things to be happy:
- The ability to meet our own needs
- Security in our relationships
How do these two things go together? Essentially, it means you feel confident that your friends won’t abandon you simply for saying no.
Just to be clear: Susan doesn’t think we should do whatever we want, whenever we want, no matter how anyone else feels. Rather, she wants to help people navigate those daily interactions where they can either say “yes” — and make someone else comfortable — or say “no” — and make themselves comfortable.
“Comfort” is key here, because these decisions make us very uncomfortable. So, how do we transition out of that habitual, shark music thinking, and into a place where we feel more comfortable saying no?
Yes or No? Ask These 4 Questions
Let’s walk through a hypothetical scenario with a friend where you want to say no, but feel like you should say yes. In this situation, you’ve had a long week and you’re looking forward to a quiet Friday night at home. Then, your friend calls and begs you to go to a party with her.
Here are four questions to ask yourself as you decide what to do next. When we ask these questions, we move from the middle of the situation, to thinking about the situation. Just by getting curious, we step back from all the emotions, and feel less reactive.
Question number one: Who owns this problem? In this example, it’s your friend. She doesn’t want to go to the party alone.
Question number two: Is this a need, or a want? This one can be tricky! Often we use both of these words interchangeably. Does your friend simply want your company, or does she need you by her side?
Question number three: Am I the only one who could fix this problem? Sometimes, we forget that people have many resources — not just us. Maybe your friend could call someone else.
Question number four: Will I feel burdened or resentful if I say yes when I really want to say no? Resentment can poison an otherwise healthy relationship.
“The Truth Comes in Short Sentences”
I know some of my listeners out there have been in “people pleasing” mode for most of their lives. How do you get comfortable doing this? Remember this piece of advice from Susan: “the truth comes in short sentences.”
In our scenario up above, your short sentences might sound like this. “I’m sorry, [friend]. I’m just too tired tonight. I won’t be able to help you out this time.” Write them down. Read them aloud. Feel the words, hear how they sound.
And then… Say them to your friend. If your friend pushes back, keep saying your truth. You might hear some shark-music after you hang up the phone, and that’s okay. Prepare for this with some more short sentences, this time ones to say to yourself. “I’m fine. My friend is fine. Our friendship is fine.”
Reassure yourself. In a healthy relationship, asking for what you want should get easier with time. That doesn’t always mean things will go your way — just that you will feel less anxiety about asking.
The Road Ahead
Susan, thank you again for returning to the Therapy Spot to share your wisdom with us! I want all of you reading and listening to remember that sometimes, saying no can make your relationship even stronger. When you work to meet your own needs, you’ll feel better in yourself, and be better with those you love.
I hope you have all had a wonderful holiday. As December draws to a close, let’s look ahead. Together, we can make 2018 the year of Self compassion.