How to Say “No” and Stay Grounded

Dear Nayla,

I struggle with saying “no” to people in more areas of my life than I care to admit. I find myself second-guessing what I did, while at the same time feeling angry at how the other person treated me. What can I do to regain my balance when my emotions are all over the place?

Signed,

Frustrated

Dear Frustrated,

Saying “no” to someone can feel “icky”. Regardless of whether the other person is your spouse or a co-worker, it can stir up a lot of uncomfortable emotions in us like anger, fear, doubt, guilt, and resentment.

In some instances we may end up blowing up and losing it with the other person, or on the flip side, we may end up shutting-down and withdrawing. None of these options leaves us feeling satisfied, as we are not able to have a healthy discussion when we are in fight, flight or freeze-mode.

When our boundaries are crossed, we often have a lot of unhelpful mental chatter running through our minds. Does any of this sounds familiar?

It’s not really a big deal that she raised her voice at me. She was having a hard day. I should just try and let it go. (And at 1:37 a.m. you find yourself having a staring competition with the cat… still thinking about the situation with your coworker.)

Why didn’t I say something?!!?!? He totally took credit for my work and I just sat there like an idiot. (And at this precise moment you happen to “coincidentally” stumble across the ice cream and think, “Ooooh! Haagen Dazs… this seems like a healthy distraction…”)

She should have come to talk to me first and then I could have handled the situation without any drama. Why are people so ridiculous? (And, of course you know that this isn’t the time for a full-out Facebook rant, but the keys seem to somehow mysteriously be calling to you…)

None of these ways of thinking about the situation actually helps us and some of them may actually do us harm. Focusing on getting grounded, however, can shift us into a more healthy head-space. 

Getting grounded involves cutting through all of this mental chatter and simply acknowledging (a) the reality of what occurred and (b) how you feel about it.
 
As a first step I would encourage you to focus on accepting what happened. Now keep in mind that acceptance doesn’t mean that you have to like or agree with what the other person said or did to you. Accepting reality means just that: accepting the reality of what occurred. If you don’t like what happened, you can certainly change the future. However, if you don’t acknowledge what actually transpired, you won’t be able to move forward or have a clear sense of what you want to change. 
 
Instead of wasting your energy blaming yourself, trying to sweep it under the rug, or on questions like “how could she?”, allow yourself to sit with the idea that the other person crossed a line with you and how the situation made you feel without judging yourself for how you feel about it and without blaming the other person.

Now again, you may be saying “What do you mean? But they’re at fault here. They did this horrible thing to me!!” and I’m not saying that they didn’t. This, however, is about getting yourself grounded with your reaction, so we’re not going to be focusing on the other person right now (that will come later).

In essence, getting grounded involves replacing all of the unhelpful mental chatter – the doubting, self-questioning, and the blaming – with a different internal dialogue: “She did X and I felt Y.” For example: “She raised her voice at me and I felt terrified.” 

Think of a difficult interaction and try coming up with your own grounding sentence. Sit with it for a few moments. Allow yourself to sink into the feeling of it. Make a mental note of what you notice and congratulate yourself for getting in touch with your true emotions. Feel as ease to just leave it at that for as long as you need to and move on to whatever else you had planned for the rest of your day.

Happy reflections!