The other day I asked a friend if she wanted to come to an event with me. She replied 'No, thank you'.
That was it. No excuse, no prevarications, no 'I'll seeif I'm available'. Just a simple, unequivocal refusal.
I was a bit taken aback if I'm honest. Which is odd, because one of the things I continually say to my clients is that No is a complete sentence. But it's so rare for anyone to actually do it, that I was caught by surprise.
That's the thing, really. We're so used to conditional answers and excuses. 'Oh, I don't think I can, sorry'. 'Can I get back to you?' 'I can't because I have to take my cousin's hamster to the groomers, and I won't be back in time'. What we really mean is 'I don't want to'. But we don't say that, because it might upset someone. It's ok to say no if you really aren't available, but if you don't have a good reason then you just have to say yes.
Of course I'm not advocating upsetting people, and it's nicer to wrap your refusal up in something that can't be taken as meaning 'I'd rather poke my eyes out than go somewhere with you'. But actually if that is how they take it, that says a lot more about them than it does about you.
There's a real, serious problem with our inability to say no to things. Most of us are taught early on in life that we don't get the option to say no. Parents, teachers and other caregivers/authority figures are often outraged if a child says no. I was sent to the headmistress at the age of 9 for saying no to something, which ranks as one of the scariest incidents in my life (she was a truly terrifying figure). But if our upbringing and conditioning teaches us that saying no isn't acceptable, we aren't able to do it when we really should. For girls especially, that creates a vulnerability to all kinds of exploitation and abuse. If we go on a date and the man wants to sleep with us, we can't say no because he might be offended. (Many men will be, but that's so much their problem I don't know where to start with it).
There is a growing tendency amongst some parents to avoid saying no entirely to their children, and that's not right either. We need to learn that other people's boundaries are as important as our own. We don't have the right to do as we please at all times, regardless of the impact on other people. But equally other people don't have the right to expect us to do what they want all the time.
So it's ok to say no, without reason or excuse, if that's what you want to do. Respect it when other people say no without reason or excuse. If your child says no, discuss it with them in an age-appropriate way to find out why they're saying no and why you want them to say yes. 'Because I said so' or 'stop being naughty/answering back' are not discussions and they encourage a child to believe they have no autonomy; that's not a belief they will automatically grow out of.
And if you have trouble saying no, ask yourself whether it's because of a rule that was instilled in you when you were a child and whether you want to continue following it now you're an adult. You have the choice.
Because No really is a complete sentence.
Caeredwen is a counsellor, coach and physical therapist based in Coleford in the Forest of Dean. If you would like to contact her in confidence you can reach her at email@example.com or via her website at www.magichandscalmminds.co.uk.