Saying “no” can be a really hard thing to do. We don’t want to reject others or hurt the feelings of people close to us.
Maybe you don’t want to look like the bad guy. Or you would do anything not to disappoint certain people in your life. The uncertainty about how they might take no for an answer could leave you feeling anxious and even paralyzed. If they’ve done a lot for you, you might even feel obligated to do what they’re asking, even though it goes against your better judgment.
As midlife women, most of us were conditioned to react to the needs of others first. Others’ feelings. Others’ safety. Others’ health. We want to make those around us happy, and we feel safer and more comfortable when we do. But if we can’t maintain our boundaries, we may be putting ourselves and those we care about at risk.
Making good decisions in the time of COVID means making wise choices about what you need to do to stay safe and holding your ground about which social invitations you’ll accept. Determine for yourself what type of contact you feel comfortable having with others. Where is the balance for you between safety and connection? Identify where you feel the benefits of a social interaction outweigh the risks. Remember to take into account the health concerns of others near to you, such as an aging parent or an immunocompromised spouse.
The first question to ask yourself when considering an invitation is: do you really want to do it? We often feel like we need to have a reason to say no, when not wanting to do something is reason enough.
Tips for Saying “No”
- Don’t make excuses for your choices. Be as clear and neutral as you can: “I just can’t do it right now.” Excuses often give the other party an opening for trying to convince you to go against your gut instincts, so don’t let someone talk you into doing what isn’t right for you.
- When saying “no” in especially difficult circumstances, calm down first. Wait until you’ve gotten yourself to a calm, neutral space before you speak.
- How you communicate is important. If you don’t think that you can hold your ground over the phone, for example, you can write an email or a text instead.
- If you’re open to negotiating boundaries with those you trust, can you negotiate a compromise that ensures your needs are met? Don’t agree to what you know won’t be healthy and safe for you, even if it ruffles feathers.
When you find yourself agreeing or going along with something you don’t actually feel okay with—the neighbor who stops to chat much too close or the invitation to the indoor holiday party, for example—consider why you aren’t being true to yourself.
Being True to Yourself Can Be Painful
Taking care of yourself can be painful when it means turning people down. It can be a huge tug on your emotions that stimulates a fear of uncertainty. Saying “yes” when you want to say “no” is often about avoiding pain. It can also be about fear.
When we prepare ourselves to say “no,” we face the unknown. Our brains are wired to expect the worst when things are uncertain. If we’ve had past experiences that support this, then our fears may be even more pronounced. At a minimum, it’s likely you fear hurting other people’s feelings.
You can’t control the perceptions others have of you, or how they will react when you set boundaries. Staying true to yourself often means dealing with the pain that results when others don’t respond well. When this happens, acknowledge that you are triggered by their negative reaction and spend some time calming down. Allow people to have their own feelings, but with the knowledge that taking care of yourself is your primary responsibility, and in the end, the best thing you can do for everyone involved.
Whatever reaction you fear the other person might have, the fact is you can’t predict the future. This means that whatever energy you spend trying to anticipate and prepare will likely be wasted. All you can really do in the face of uncertainty is make the wisest choice you can.
If you find yourself on the other side of things and someone turns down your invitation, do your best not to take it personally. Remind yourself that your friend’s commitment to their own authenticity is a big part of what makes them a valued friend.
How to Determine Your Authentic Boundaries
What are the things you feel safe doing? Maybe meeting outdoors for a masked activity. What are the things you don’t feel safe doing? Maybe that extends to any social activity indoors.
Explore your fears. What do you risk by being authentic to yourself and maintaining your boundaries?
Are you afraid people will be disappointed in you? Or hurt or upset?
Are you worried that you will have to defend your decision?
Do you fear being verbally attacked?
Do you want to avoid being judged or talked about?
Are you afraid you’ll miss out on something?
Until the pandemic finally ends, boundaries are more important than ever. Your authentic boundaries result from taking responsibility for yourself and your health, and you need to honor them. To do anything else means ignoring your inner wisdom, the voice you should be listening to above all else. When you choose authenticity, risk is always there. But there is no greater gift you can give to yourself than being true to yourself by honoring the boundaries you have set for yourself and respecting the boundaries others set for you.
Take good care : )